For the past few years I have been a regular reader of the blogs maintained by Ben Blackwell and Nijay Gupta.  Now teaching at Houston Baptist University and Seattle Pacific University respectively, I found their blogs when they were slogging away at New Testament doctoral work at Durham University.  They have both been extremely gracious to me in providing counsel as my wife and I made our own venture Durham-wards (and fittingly, I ended up with Ben’s old Ikea wardrobes in my bedroom!).

Quite conveniently from my perspective, Wipf & Stock released a book by Nijay on pursuing a biblical studies PhD just before I boarded the plane for England.

Nijay was kind enough to endorse my book, Faith Without Illusions.  I am going to offer some blog posts on his book, but just know that this is not just some quid pro quo sort of thing—I am so pleased to see that a book is now available for aspiring doctoral candidates and I want to make sure folks are aware of it. 

The title is Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond.  As the title indicates, there are three sections to the book.  The first: PREPARE.  Here are some of the questions addressed in this section, questions that burned in my heart for a long time and that I have been asked myself repeatedly by other students interested in academic work.

How do you choose the right program?

How does the application process work?

What are schools looking for in the application?

What distinguishes American programs from British programmes?

How should I be academically-equipped?  (More to the point: How well should I know German, Greek or Hebrew?)

(And one that is still burning in my heart): How do I pay for doctoral work?

Nijay addresses these questions and many others in about 50 pages.  Of all the info I collected through blog-reading, through long conversations with students, and through nerve-wracked encounters with professors at SBL meetings, Nijay has it all nicely condensed and accessibly provided in this opening section on “Prepare.”

I know from experience that prospective students who are dreaming of the grandeur of those three romanticized letters (p-h-d) need some straight, honest talk.  And Nijay provides it.  Doctoral work is almost faddish these days in some circles, so I am pleased that this book offers the de-romanticized reality of how challenging this vocational venture can be.  He is in no way gloomy about doctoral work—clearly he is an advocate of anyone with a sense of academic calling.  But his pragmatism will be extremely helpful for those of us with that academic glint in our eye who can’t stop dreaming about theological books splayed open in prestigious libraries and cool coffee shop tables.  The process of embarking on a biblical studies PhD is painfully difficult, and not something to be approached without massive amounts of wisdom, so much of which Nijay deftly provides.

In short, this opening section on choosing a program and applying for one is extremely informative and helpfully practical.  Nijay is also a good writer—presenting facts and details like those found in the book in an engaging and readable fashion is a gift!

I will be addressing the other two sections in upcoming posts….

(Thanks to Wipf & Stock for a free review copy of the book!).

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