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10 Steps for Choosing a Seminary…The Right Way

academics school teaching learning seminary graduate graduationSince this is the season when many begin looking at seminaries and trying to decide which one to attend next year, I thought it would be fitting to repost my advice on how to go about choosing a seminary. This is a difficult and important decision. Unless someone tells you that you have to go to seminary X or they will shoot your dog, you have to sift through a surprisingly large number of schools, weighing things like cost, location, theology, personal fit, and mascot quality. That’s a lot of work.

So I’d like to help. I’ve been in the seminary world for a while now, and I’ve helped students wrestle through this process many times. Some will try to make it far more complicated than it needs to be. Using the right method and a few carefully thought-out steps, here’s how to make this life-changing decision more manageable.

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8 Tips for Being a Productive Postgraduate Student

[This is a guest post from Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary. Michael blogs regularly at The 3 in One.]

Now that I am halfway through my Master of Theology (Th.M.), I have learned a thing or two about being a productive postgraduate student. I would love to share some of the knowledge I have learned, so that you too can be a more productive postgraduate. But even more, I would also like to know what you would add or take away from this list. Here is some practical advice I have adopted which could possibly help save you hundreds of hours.

student, research, study, studying, postgraduate, postgrad, doctoral program, Ph.D., Th.M.

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Meet Our Master of Theology (Th.M.) Grads

One of the great joys and disappointments of directing the Th.M. program at Western Seminary is watching our students graduate. It’s always a joy to see them make it over the finish line and reflect on what God has done in their lives during the course of their program. But it’s also a disappointment because I know that it’s time for them to move on, and I won’t be able to connect with them as often. Though growing rapidly, our program is still small enough that I get to work closely with all of my students. Once graduation hits, though, the lunches, coffees, and office visits are somewhat more challenging – especially when they move overseas!

But that’s what happens when you have great students. And this year’s graduates are no exception. Between them, I think they really demonstrate the breadth and diversity of our program. In their coursework and theses, you can see their interests in Old Testament, New Testament, historical theology, and systematic theology. I’m always pleased to see the integrative nature of our students’ work. And they also exemplify the two main vocational trajectories of our students: teaching and pastoring. In general, half of our students plan to pursue doctoral programs and academic teaching, while the other half are using the program to provide more biblical/theological depth for their pastoral work. I love having that mix because it’s what helps our program maintain its emphasis on being rigorously academic while always keeping everything focused on the needs and purposes of the church.  And that’s exactly what you see in this year’s graduates.

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How to Avoid Postgrad Burnout

Every journey begins with the first step. But too many journeys end before the last one. Tragic.

I once knew someone who completed all but the last two classes of his bachelor’s degree. Two classes. The finish line not only in sight, but within reach. And he faltered.

That is the unfortunate reality for many postgrad students as well. According to a recent article in Inside HigherEd, as many as 37% of doctoral students never receive their degree. Somewhere between the first and last steps, they falter. Tragic.

I’ve recently written a couple of posts on the difficulties of the academic job market. (See How Bad Is the Job Market for PhDs? and More Bad News on the Ph.D. Job Market.) But I know that many will pursue postgrad programs anyway. And, to be honest, I can’t blame them. That’s precisely what I did. I knew the risks. And I took the blue pill anyway.

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More Bad News on the PhD Job Market

I hate watching game shows where people have already won a certain amount of money, and then they’re asked to risk it all for the chance to win even more. No matter the odds they always seem to go for it. Idiots. I find myself torn between the desire to yell at the TV or go find my daughters and explain things like logic, odds, and financial management. Usually I just turn off the TV and get a book.

job market for PhDs teachingUnfortunately, pursuing a Ph.D. in today’s job market feels a lot like this. It’s not that you can’t win. But the odds are not in your favor.

Last month I posted some troubling statistics on the realities of the academic job market in the U.S. (see How Bad Is the Job Market for PhDs?). But those statistics covered doctoral programs across all fields of study. So, if you’re interested in the specifically Christian fields, those stats were a bit too broad.

Now I have better stats.

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6 Challenges Every Postgrad Faces

Every now and then I hear people talking about the jobs that are the toughestmost dangerous, or most stressful  Interestingly, no one ever puts “postgrad student” on those lists. I suppose that’s because the actual death rate for postgrad students is relatively low.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

If you’re thinking about pursuing a postgrad degree (e.g., Th.M. or Ph.D.), or even if you’re already in one, you really need to consider the challenges that you’re facing. Otherwise, it’s a bit like rock-climbing with a blindfold on. I suppose that’s good if you want to make it more challenging. But a postgrad program is challenging enough by itself. Trust me.

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How to Survive and Thrive as a Postgrad Student

Some time ago, I began writing a series that I called “Tips for the Th.M.,” in which I offered thoughts on things like whether you should even consider pursuing a postgrad degree, how to find and apply to a good program, how to research and write your thesis, among other things. And, along the way, I’ve had many requests to expand the series so that it covered even more issues of interest to Th.M. and Ph.D. students. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ve created a page on How to Survive & Thrive as a Postgrad Student. That page contains all of the posts that I’ve written in my Tips for the Th.M. series, as well as a number of others that relate to succeeding as a postgrad student. Over the next few months, I’m going to add some more posts to the series and revise some of the older posts so that they fit in the series a little more coherently.

If you have any specific issues that you’d like me to write on, let me know in the comments.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/16)

Good Reads

  • Tim Tebow and the Worship of Darkness: “Here is a question: Why do some people get so upset by even fleeting displays of piety while they remain largely unbothered by all the filth that is being constantly spewed out by our culture?”
  • MLK’s Philosophical and Theological Legacy: “the truth about King is that his primary motivations, his most fundamental commitments—the very core of his thought—were rooted in a worldview repugnant to many of those who now claim his legacy.”
  • How to Influence a Younger Christian: “If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again.”

What to Put in Your Dissertation

I recently ran across this fun description of what you should include in your dissertation. So, if you’re working on yours now or will be in the future, here’s some great dissertation writing advice.

The Ph.D. thesis usually begins with a pithy quote, after which there will sometimes be a dedication to one’s parents, life partner, and/or pet tapir.

Following this is probably the most important part of the dissertation: the acknowledgments section. This is the only section that everyone who picks up your thesis will read. They will happen upon your dissertation in the library and flip through the first few pages, looking for a juicy acknowledgments section. This is your chance to make obscure references to secret loves, damn various faculty members with faint praise, or be very mysterious by having no acknowledgments section at all so that everyone wonders what you’re hiding.

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The Manifesto of Done

Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.

That’s my favorite quote from the Manifesto for  The Cult of Done. The Manifesto offers 13 rules  for getting things done. Although they apply to people from every walk of life, I think they’re particularly relevant to students and writers.

Now I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m encouraging sloppy writing/thinking. Some students could use a little more striving for perfection in those areas. But some (and I’m one of them) struggle more with the ideal of perfection, an ideal that can prevent us from finishing anything. If that’s you, feel free to laugh at perfection every now and then.

Here are some other gems:

  • Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  • The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  • Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  • Done is the engine of more.

So, if you’re working on something, great. If you get it done, better.

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