Baylor Press Sale 40% Off (Gupta)

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From Friday, June 22, through Sunday, June 24, Baylor University Press is offering 40% and free shipping. Please note: not all books are 40%, but many are.

 

Do you have to be an official “grad student” to get the deals? No—you just need the discount codes. This is only available at http://www.baylorpress.com.

 

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Second Edition of Prepare, Succeed, Advance: Need YOUR Help (Gupta)

One of my first published books as a scholar was Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Wipf & Stock, 2011). In the last six years or so, I have received lots of positive feedback—more than any other piece of writing I have done to date. It feels gratifying to know it has helped lots of people who are interested in doctoral studies.

The reality, though, is that the path to getting a PhD and a permanent job has evolved and changed since 2011. Frankly, some of the material in my book is now outdated (e.g., the GRE process). So, I am working on an updated, second edition. I am even planning to incorporate some new material written by current or recent doctoral students from elite programs (since I earned my PhD almost ten years ago!)

Here’s where YOU come in. What are the most pressing questions you have (or hear about) when it comes to navigating biblical studies academia—related to doctoral programs, publishing, interviewing, research, etc.? 

Crowd-Sourced Wisdom:

Also, what advice helped guide YOU through the labyrinth of academia? What do you often pass on to others?

Please leave a comment here or, if you prefer, you can dialogue on Twitter: @Nijaykgupta

THANKS!

If I Could Go Back…15 years (Part 2) (Gupta)

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Let me take you back 15 years. The year was 2003, and I was about halfway through Seminary (and 2 seasons into Alias). I studied for my M.Div and Th.M. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I chose GCTS for its emphasis on biblical languages and Christian discipleship. When I started at seminary, I didn’t have a particular vocation in mind, but I will say teaching/academia was not on my radar. Because my studies (from grade school through college) had been in the secular educational world up to that point, I just had never imagined what it would have been like to be a “Bible prof.” But as I journeyed through seminary and came alive in these Scripture courses, I had a fire in my heart for lifelong study of the Bible and the compulsion to share with others what I was learning.

When did I “know” I wanted to be a prof? Probably that second year of seminary.

Good Decisions

Well, Gordon-Conwell was a good decision. It had an excellent language program. I tested out of both basic Greek and basic Hebrew, but at GCTS I took advanced Greek, advanced Hebrew, LXX Greek, patristic Greek, Ecclesial Latin, German, French, Aramaic, and Akkadian! I took 7-8 Greek-level exegesis courses. All of these have helped me immensely.

I applied every year to be a TA—most years I got this opportunity, and for a few years I was a Greek TA, which gave me lots of teaching experience. The institution came to trust me enough that I taught a course (Paul and His Letters) on my own as an adjunct at the urban extension campus. It was an amazing experience!

Instead of switching to a “pre-PhD” style MA, I stayed in the MDIV. Even when I knew I wanted to be a professor, I still felt that the MDIV would round me out and help me to be a “pastor” to the students. I have never spent even a second re-thinking that decision.

By a kind of happy accident, I spent six months working in sales for a theological publishing company. This gave me lots of industry information and I have made friendships and connections that have thrived over more than a decade.

 

Done Differently

There is a long list of reconsiderations! None of these keep me up at night, but I try to counsel students to do better than I did.

Master of Theology. I did my Th.M. at GCTS out of convenience (my wife was finishing her degree at GCTS at the time); but my desire was to do the Th.M. elsewhere. I didn’t have a problem with GCTS, but I knew a different faculty and community would offer something new and special. I always encourage folks to get diverse experiences with different people. But I enjoyed my Th.M. at GCTS in any case.

Thesis. I chose not to do a thesis in my Th.M., mostly because I couldn’t find a supervisor. So I went into my doctoral program having never written a paper longer than 25 pages. That made the dissertation learning curve very steep. Looking back, it was not wise. The experience of crafting a proposal, thesis, and going through a defense would have given me important pre-PhD experience in advanced research.

Consortium Courses. At GCTS, I could have taken courses through our consortium (Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, etc.). I chose not to mostly because I didn’t want to commute into Boston. I regret not taking at least one course in one of these elite institutions.

Study Abroad. I toyed around with the idea of studying abroad for a term (e.g., London), but again I chickened out. I wish I would have done it, but eventually, I went to the UK for my PhD. 🙂

Guild Involvement. By 2004, I was pretty certain that I wanted to do a PhD and enter into academia as a career. But I didn’t manage to go to SBL until 2006. I wish I would have made more of an effort to get “guild experience” – I did not know how such conferences worked. I needed someone to come alongside. I also did not understand very well that there were regional meetings. Again, wish I had help with these things.

Narrow Focus. In seminary, I loved taking language courses and biblical studies courses—to a fault. By that I mean I chose not to use any of my electives on theology or church history. Now I regret that, because we had a church history professor (Isaac Gordon) who taught a course on Luther, and another on Bonhoeffer. I look back and I wish I could have taken both those courses. I narrowed my educational focus too much and dismissed learning opportunities that would have helped me to be well-rounded. As a bit of karma, I am working closely with Luther’s works these days, and I wish I had taken that course!

GRE Prep Course. When I was applying for PhD programs, I chose not to take a GRE Prep Course. Suffice it to say I bombed the GRE. Twice. That is one of the reasons I ended up going to the UK. A prep-course may have helped me get a better score. But maybe not. 😦

Self-Care. In the throes of seminary and PhD-prep, and working and family, I just didn’t do a good job enjoying the moment and taking care of my body. Late nights. Bad eating habits. Little exercise. And these become a way of life in academia and next thing you know you are sick and fat and tired all the time. Not ideal, trust me. I would have focused more on work/life balance. I am trying to right that ship now (~ a decade into my career), but easier to do earlier.

 

If I Could Go Back (20 Years)…: Preparing for a Career in Biblical Studies (Part 1)

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I am starting a new series called “If I Could Go Back…” I am now almost a decade into my teaching career, and it has given me a chance to look back and appreciate some things I did right, and also to consider how I could have better prepared for this vocation as teacher and researcher.

In this first part, I am going back 20 years to 1998. I was a sophomore in college at Miami University (OH). First I will talk about good decisions, then about what I could have done differently.

Good Decisions

I kind of stumbled into a major – I started first in music education. But I realized quickly this was not that interesting to me as a career. Then, I switched to “Speech Communication” as a placeholder. I had some interest in ministry (youth or college ministry of some kind). It didn’t occur to me at all to become a Bible professor. I wasn’t even interested in seminary at the time.

Probably the first good decision I made (accidentally) was taking Attic Greek. This was my first learning experience in Greek. I needed to take a language to fulfill my “language” requirement, and I thought it might be fun to learn ancient Greek and maybe study the New Testament. I took 8 credits my first year of college and LOVED it. So, I ended up taking 20+ credits of ancient Greek and had enough credits to be a major (even though I never officially declared it as a second major). This knowledge of Greek gave me a leg up (and I tested out of Greek in seminary). Now (2018), I am working closely with Plutarch, Xenophon, and other Hellenophone writers, and some of that knowledge is coming in handy as I return to classical resources.

Another “good decision” I made back then was taking journalism writing courses. My Speech Com concentration was “Public Relations” – I had to take two journalism courses. I cannot tell you how helpful these were both for learning about “research,” but especially for learning to write clearly, factually, and compellingly. I think every aspiring writer should take a journalism course. I also had to take marketing courses, and these came in handy when it came to learning how to “sell” an argument, article, book, idea, etc. And I had to take “interpersonal communication”: I don’t think I need to make a case for how crucial this is, but whether it is working with students, colleagues, or editors, you just can’t be a recluse in the academy and make it very far!

Done Differently

Ok, so what could I have done differently? I was at a public university, so I wasn’t confident in the strength of the religion courses. I took one (with James Hanges to boot!), but I didn’t understand a lick of it at the time (on apocalypticism in the ancient world). I think I would have benefited from a good course in ancient Greek and Roman history and civilization. Also, I wish I would have taken courses on archaeology and ancient historiography.

Perhaps the biggest regret I have from that time is that I didn’t heed people’s advice that I should do a semester abroad. We had abroad programs all over, and I just was too lazy to put any effort into it. I don’t have just one single benefit in mind from this, but I know now (having done my PhD abroad) that it helps to see other education systems, learning styles, and to explore and navigate other cultures.

I actually don’t look back to my college years with much regret. I seriously had no idea I would head down a professorial career. So I don’t beat myself up much in retrospect. Much of what I ended up learning has helped me, even though I made many course choices haphazardly.

When undergrads approach me, asking me how they can prepare for a path to doctoral studies and a career in academia, I often tell them to focus on languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German if you can. Learn history. Explore the world. Become a better writer.

Oh, and sleep while you can. 🙂

What Does a Seminary Professor do? (Part 4): Committees and Meetings

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It is easy to think of a seminary professor as an ivory tower intellectual with nothing to do but contemplate existence and give the occasional lecture. We do get brief moments of pensive repose, but it is a reality that seminaries and universities require faculty to commit to institutional “service.” Little did I know as an aspiring professor just how many meetings and committees there are. Currently, I serve on several permanent committees such as the library committee and the diversity committee. Then there are departmental meetings that happen monthly or more often. And bi-annual all-faculty workshops. On top of that, there are ad hoc situations like a faculty or staff search committee, or a curriculum revision committee. And a small group of faculty serves on faculty senate or the personnel committee.

Some faculty feel called to make major contributions through institutional service, so their time can easily get filled with the meetings or the work of the group. As for myself, it depends on the year and the opportunities or needs before me. Probably I spend 3-5 hours per week in meetings or in committee work. There are some “light” weeks where I don’t do much at all. There have been occasions where my whole week is almost completely filled up with meetings.

Wait—there’s more! I have just been describing internal committees and meetings. There are also many opportunities to serve in the wider guild. One might serve on an accreditation board, a regional or national society board, chair of a program steering committee, etc. This work is usually unpaid, but it tends not to be a weekly investment, but more something that happens in bursts – i.e., close to the time of a conference or major meeting.

Truth be told, there are usually two things that professors complain about: grading and meetings. But it is not always a drag. It can be exciting to serve on a search committee and make a major impact on hiring. Or to be a formative part of re-shaping curriculum. And sometimes you establish friendships with committee members, and sometimes you get to travel to interesting new places. We see “service” as a sensible obligation: time and energy that simply needs to be put in to keep everything running smoothly. (How much we celebrate, though, when a meeting is canceled!)

 

What Does a Seminary Professor Do? (Part 3): Care for Students (Gupta)

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When people think of the life of a professor, lecture prep, grading, and research (and meetings!) come to mind as the most time-consuming activities. Yes, these all take considerable time. But, by and large, we are able to schedule and predict this in terms of time management. What outsiders and students often don’t realize is how much time is poured into “care for students.” This is a very broad category, but includes everything from answering student questions via email, and advising on degree programs and course selection, to vocational discernment, and working closely with struggling students. Seminary professors are often attentive to when students are in a health or bereavement crisis – our role may be small (a sympathetic email or note), but lots of these occasions happen in a term.

I meet one on one or in small groups with lots of students over the term and often this is spontaneous as a concern arises or someone pops into my office. The meeting may take a minute or an hour. A difficult situation may be resolved in an email, or may take months to resolve.

My own perspective is that the ideal seminary professor exhibits gifts in pastoral care. We need to model the heart of a caretaker, because our attitude and interaction with students leave an effect on them. It is not enough to be a theology egghead. It is not enough to be great at Greek or Hebrew, or church history, or theology. It is not enough to have great ideas and a sharp critical eye.

Care for students, then, cannot be seen as a burden on seminary faculty. It is a central part of a seminary’s community ethos and it should be treated as a privilege. Of course it can be frustrating and tedious (e.g., dealing with plagiarism), but there is much to appreciate when this care can turn into lifelong friendships with students who stay in contact and go on to have generous and benevolent ministries.

SIDENOTE: Many seminaries pay attention to this “pastoral care” personality dimension of faculty candidates because it helps massively with student satisfaction and student retention. Just anecdotally and from personal observation, I think that this factor has become prominent in new faculty hiring across most seminaries, more than ever before. Of course, it makes good sense, and I am pleased with this development.