I graciously received a review copy in the summer of Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond.  When Pickwick Publications (Wipf & Stock) sent the book, I read the first 1/3 of the book and immediately wrote a post.   But then I actually started doing a PhD in Biblical Studies and got delayed in my reading!

That delaying plunge into doctoral candidacy actually helps me appreciate even more what Nijay Gupta has done in this guidebook.

Doctoral work in New Testament studies has loomed like some mythic dream before me for 11 years now.  I remember printing off webpages from UK theology departments and later reading them to my wife during a road trip (a long journey being a fitting context for introducing that idea to my sacrificial wife).  Sorting out my motivations, slogging through the intimidating practicalities, and wrestling with my sense of vocation has marked this past decade of my life.  Was the call to proceed issued from misleading Sirens or from God himself?

Nijay does not offer oracular insight for conflicted souls, but he does offer solid, sensible wisdom for those who intend to place the hand on the academic plowshare.

The section I just finished is called “Succeed.”  Here, Nijay walks his readers through the actual doctoral program, from choosing the research topic to defending the dissertation/thesis.  Having just finished a doctoral program himself a few years back (from Durham), Nijay is able to retrospectively see the experience from an aerial view of sorts, letting readers know what they should know at orientation as well as what they should know and be able to do by the time of the defense or viva.  If you are anxious about your language capabilities (modern and ancient) or about your competency in the field, Nijay offers gracious but challenging wisdom.  He has a good sense as to what is reasonable and unreasonable in terms of expectations.

There is also a lot of counsel not only on researching the project but on writing the blasted thing.  And he offers advice that extends beyond the technical know-how and into the relational matrices of academia.  Nijay understands that the doctorate is not just a solitary, cranial enterprise, but one that requires extensive and sometimes difficult interaction with other scholars.  Unwritten policies as to how one should interact with seasoned scholars in the field are now not so unwritten—Nijay offers brotherly advice on what to say (or not to say) in an email and on how you interact with a senior scholar over coffee at SBL.

The section closes with a look at the defense of the dissertation/thesis.  That 1-3 hour session is the ultimate gauntlet for the doctoral candidate.  The vocational path is blocked unavoidably by that moment of sitting before expert academics who have your textual rendering of blood, sweat and tears placed on the table between them and you.  Again, Nijay’s guidance encompasses not just what to do to get to this point and what to do when you are actually sitting there, but also how to interact and relate in this most fateful of encounters.

The next section, called “Advance,” addresses the other stage of the process: getting a job/entering the field as a bona fide scholar.  The prospects right now are so grim for men and women with freshly minted doctorates.  I will be reading and posting on that section with keen interest soon….

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