Peter Enns has written a post making its way around my Facebook thread entitled are PhD programs in biblical studies ethical? a final thought from SBL.
This is obviously a complex issue, but I see posts like this often enough that I’ve wanted to sit down and blog my experience for quite a while. When I look back on the reasons why I finished my PhD I think the reasons were threefold:
- I had a sense of vocational calling when I started
- I didn’t accumulate school related debt
- I always had what I felt like was a legitimate plan B other than teaching at a college or university
Of course, memory is a fragile thing and I’ve probably forgotten many things I thought along the way, but I can say that I almost completely lost number 1 in the list above at different times for a variety of reasons.
I think a big part of what kept me working through was knowing that I wasn’t really putting my family at any kind of financial risk. And, I also knew the PhD would give me a better shot at even my plan B job a little further down the line. So, even when the feeling of calling had gotten buried somewhere along the way and I may have felt like scrapping the whole thing for that reason, I still had the sense that it was a good idea to finish.
I should say that my PhD story did have a happier next chapter than I ever imagined at times. I was offered my current position working with Logos Bible Software which has been a blast. I work with Hebrew day in and day out and am picking up valuable programming skills along the way. I’ve been able to work with a ton of great people. So, this all probably colors the way I look back at my PhD work.
At any rate, the one piece of advice I would give to incoming students is think through the whole debt thing and the plan B thing ahead of time. With all of the reports about the job market for PhDs, a sense of vocational calling may not be enough to get you through your program.