A postgrad survival guide

Quite a few of you are either current, former, or even future postgrad students (Th.M. or Ph.D.). For those of you who have been down at least part of that road, what do wish wish would have been included in a “postgrad survival guide” that someone just handed to you before you started your program?

I was looking back over the posts that I’ve written in the last year in my Tips for the Th.M. series, and I ran across quite a few others that revolved around the idea of how to succeed/survive in a postgrad program. So, I’ve started to wonder if it would be worth supplementing those with some other posts on the subject and eventually compiling a free resource on how to survive your ThM/PhD program.

I’d love to hear what you think. What would you add/delete? Would something like this be useful?

Here’s what I have based on what I’ve already written, grouped into a few logical categories.

Part 1: Introductory Issues

  • Are you sure that you want a postgraduate program?
  • Is academic Bible/theology a waste of time?
  • Should pastors pursue postgraduate work?
  • How to choose a postgraduate program.
  • How do you apply to a postgraduate program?

Part 2: Surviving Your Classes

  • How to succeed in a postgrad seminar
  • How to read well

Part 3: Surviving the Research Process

  • Why you should use journal articles
  • How to use journal articles well
  • The danger of over-research-itis
  • Using Google Scholar in research

Part 4: Surviving the Writing Process

  • Constructing strong arguments
  • The importance of clear and concise writing
  • Writing research proposals
  • Understanding the research proposal process
  • Finding good thesis/dissertation topics
  • Picking a thesis/dissertation topic
  • How to tackle something the size of a thesis/dissertation
  • How to use quotations
  • Common errors in research writing
  • How to take criticism

Part 5: Surviving Your Oral Examination

  • Answering concisely
  • Saying “I don’t know”
  • Summarizing your research

Part 6: Surviving after You Graduate

  • Writing the perfect resume
  • Advice on applying for a teaching position
  • What to do when you don’t get a teaching position

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on August 19, 2011, in Th.M. Program and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I think it would be great!

  2. Marc, I have really enjoyed reading through your posts on this subject and found them really helpful. I say yes…do it.

  3. I need this!

  4. Marc, I think this is a great idea. A couple of things about your list though. I think the finding and picking a thesis topic more naturally go under 3) Surviving the Research process (maybe even how to tackle something the size of a thesis as well). Also, in the research or writing section you may want to add something about actually surviving the process, such as the goals or motivating factors of a thesis. When you’re writing a thesis you invariably end up spending tons and tons of time (as I know you know, I did read your thesis after all) on minutia. Now, unless you are a certain kind of person (and I’m not), you need to be reminded of a bigger picture or a context for why you are working on this: for a job, to build a skill, to strengthen your knowledge in a certain area that will serve you in the future, etc. Whatever it is, it helps. I have friends that have gotten a couple of years into their PhD and then realized they didn’t like their topic and lost their motivation. You don’t do a thesis (PhD or Masters) to change the field we work in, you do it to contribute to that field in a small way, to help you to build the requisite skills for an academic (in whatever capacity), to earn the credentials to be hire-able as an academic. Doing a thesis is an arduous task, and one needs to keep in mind what the end game is, both for the research project and for the degree, otherwise you can get lost in it. I once heard someone say that doing a PhD without a context or a goal is like chewing nails. I know some people for who this is absolutely true, but it needn’t be. This post was too long, but there you go.

    • Ben, great thoughts. Thanks for passing those along. You’re right that picking a topic really belongs under research rather than writing. I’ll make that change. And, I can definitely see a need for something on the “psychology” of writing a thesis. Good suggestion.

  5. Hi Marc,
    You’ve got some great stuff there. I’ve seen several things on how to survive an academic program, but I’d love to see something that addresses issues for degree seekers like workaholism, spouse and family neglect, addictions (I have friends and friends of friends who’ve turned to both coffee and speed when studying for theology comps), etc. that represent a drastic failure of discipleship. Having been through an M.A. myself and then worked for an academic department, I’ve watched inordinate numbers of friends and students expend themselves to reach the pinnacle of academic success only to realize they’ve trashed their personal lives to do it. I’d like to see someone address issues like: Where should grades, etc. have in your priorities? What questions should you talk to those close to you about before you get a degree? What if you can’t get a job? Under what circumstances should you abandon a degree? How do you incorporate community who will help you put who you become above tenure? Who can you ask to stage an intervention if you lose your bearings? What are other careers for the academically inclined? Professors tend to assume students know this, but I’ve had too many students sitting in my office wondering why they’re having panic attacks and their marriage is a wreck who have never thought this stuff through. All false gods require sacrifice including the theological academy–but because this particular idol is the theological academy rather than climbing the corporate ladder, it’s easy for students to rationalize their sin as making hard sacrifices for the gospel. The academy tends to passively enable this kind of behavior by it’s silence. It would be great to see students, profs and administrators discussing these things at the beginning of a student’s academic program

  1. Pingback: Elsewhere (08.22.2011) | Near Emmaus

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