Whatever Happened to Ph.D Studies?

January 19, 2015 — 4 Comments


Roughly a year ago, I announced my intention to pursue Ph.D studies at SBTS. At the end of February, I took the entrance exams, and then mid-April, received an acceptance letter.

Since then, I haven’t said much about it, and so depending on how attentive you are to my blogging and Twitter feed, you might be curious how things are going.

The rest of the story, that I haven’t blogged on so far, is that over the summer I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of starting Ph.D studies in the fall. I prayed about it, sought wisdom, and eventually realized for logistical reasons with my teaching job, I needed to defer to January. This seemed to relieve much of the anxiety, and so I set about planning out my fall with the expectation that it would be my last for quite a while without assigned reading.

Had that plan stuck, I would be in Louisville right now for my first two seminars getting acclimated to Ph.D studies (and hopefully meeting Michael Bird). Instead, I am still in (moderately) warm sunny Florida (see picture for general idea). Back maybe late October, early November, the anxiety about starting in January crept back in, and since this time deferment wasn’t an option, I had some sorting out to do.

On the one hand, if you don’t have anxiety before embarking on a seminary degree, especially Ph.D work, you probably haven’t really counted the cost. On the other hand, sometimes it’s really a lack of peace with the decision at hand. So, as is my custom, I decided to withdraw, but then did nothing about it. Having made the decision to take a definite course of action, I wanted to see how it sat in my soul for a month before actually doing anything about it.

As Thanksgiving approached, it was pretty clear that this was the right decision. From a logistic point of view, waiting to start until a later time seemed to make the most sense. We had originally planned on Ali starting a different job that would last the duration of the program and I would only need to work enough to pay for school. That opportunity fell through shortly after I was accepted, but I kept thinking that something else would come together. Something else in fact did, but it was my private music studio growing rather exponentially over the fall. In order to start, I would have to turn down work, but then also take out loans to pay for school. Coupled with the SBC discount no longer applying, the whole enterprise began to lack financial sense for the time being.

From a subjective point of view, I had a clear peace about it. All things being equal, if this were the only reason against starting Ph.D studies now, I still would have withdrawn. It was the primary reason, but it in conjunction with the financial logistics, it was pretty clear that now wasn’t the time. While I could look back and feel like I was misled last fall, I think it was actually part of clarifying the future rather than being a dead end. By actually applying to SBTS and going through the whole process, I was able to know that I was academically “Ph.D material” so to speak. SBTS has an excellent program and I was honored to be considered capable of entering it.

While I have only admiration for the program there, I don’t think I’ll ultimately be coming back when the time is right. As I was doing my “pleasure” reading over the fall, I realized I was ultimately more interested in theology than philosophy. This would mean a change of program if I were to still pursue Ph.D studies at SBTS. Not only that, it would be a change to a program that is not offered in modular format, and so would require re-location to Louisville. Because of family ties here in Florida, a growing music studio, and a job teaching the Bible, re-location for Ph.D studies doesn’t really make sense. True, two of those things are potentially transferable to Louisville. But right now, we want to stay here in central Florida long term.

Another factor lurking in the background is my dislike of classes. Even at Dallas, I generally made good use of the 3-4 skips I was allowed in each class. One particular class, with the late great Harold Hoehner, did not have an attendance policy. When I realized class consisted of working through an extensive outline step by step, I decided to not return until the final. I probably missed some good discussion along the way, but I also got a 90 in a class I never went to because I can study an outline faster on my own time.

Now, from the Ph.D seminar I did take, I realize they are not structured the same way. But, from what I understand, the Ph.D classes are aimed at developing a general competency in the field and narrowing down a dissertation topic. Also, if you have a good idea going into it what you want to write on, you can use papers in your seminars to build up research for your dissertation.

This is all well and good, but it doesn’t really mesh with my learning style and if there’s another way to go about it, I’d like to explore that instead. Thankfully there is. So, over the next several posts, I’m going to talk about it and what I’m doing instead of pursuing Ph.D studies at SBTS. Hopefully my thinking out loud will prove useful if you’re considering Ph.D studies in particular, or even seminary in general. While I’m not technically starting any formal program this year, I am starting to be more intentional with my scholarly goals and I’d love to share that with you as it unfolds.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

4 responses to Whatever Happened to Ph.D Studies?

  1. I was indeed wondering 🙂 appreciated the update, and looking forward to hearing about your new direction in the months to come!

  2. Hi Nate, new to your blog. Thank you for your thorough explanation of your journey through this decision! You did some very valuable learning about your own learning style. It’s interesting how when we navigate the paths of a plan we make, sometimes we come to those “dead ends” (for lack of a better phrase) and realize that His idea is different than ours. I am sure you can contribute greatly to Christ with or without a PhD! I, too, enjoy theology, and I look forward to hearing from you on this blog from time to time! Peace in Christ, brother.

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