So you want to be a scholar? You likely already are aware of the fact that you are going to be reading a lot and writing heavily footnoted academic papers while engaging in discussions about methodology while analyzing and assessing arguments. You’ve probably weighed the challenges to actually getting a job after you’ve finished graduate school and have a backup plan that includes having a spouse who is employable. These are all certainly great steps toward becoming a scholar.
But there are some things, rather unique, that no one will tell you that you need to be aware of, so I’ve taken the liberty to put together a little list:
You’ll be seen carrying a milk crate. What, in the world, would cause someone to be seen walking around with a milk crate? Simple: books. If you’re like me, you like to work at a variety of locations, including your home, your office, coffee shops, parks, and other places that inspire creativity. So how are you going to read through the books you engaging if they aren’t with you? Sure, you might be like me and have over 4,000 electronic books, but some of the best stuff has yet to go digital! So what are you going to do? You are going to find a milk crate, fill it with books, and carry it around with you. Why? Because you are a scholar.
You’ll drink lots of coffee. Some of you are well aware that in addition to dark beer and single malts, I love coffee. Fully adhering to Eph. 5: 18 and shaped by my arguments here, I don’t drink the former nearly as much as the latter. So this unexpected characteristic of scholars was welcomed. But there are some wannabe scholars who are unaware of why they would both want to and should drink more coffee. They may be wondering right now why this suddentlifestyle change. This video says it all:
You’ll be the subject of people’s pitty. “Oh, you’re 35 years old and still in grad school?” “Don’t you know that having a graduate degree won’t likely lead to a serious job or more money?” “Pastors don’t need theological education.” “I bet you wish you could afford _________.” Of these statements, I’ve heard every. single. one. Just get used to it. People will fill sorry for you because you “have” to read so many books and write papers. They obviously don’t realize that you, as a wanna be scholar, love books and likely have ideas floating around in your head that you want to get down on paper. So take the pitty, smile, nod your head, and laugh.
You’ll form strong relationships with unlikely people and those relationships will last and contribute to your sanity in ways you will, until doing scholarly work, not understand. Forgive me for getting a little sentimental here, but once you get into the schedule and disciplines required for scholarly work, you’ll face situations (timelines!), challenges (funding!), and more that most people won’t be able to relate to. So where will you turn to? Who will God use to help keep you going? You’ll likely develop deep relationships with unlikely people, often with other scholars who know well these situations and challenges. No one told me that in the midst of my scholarly work I’d become friends with people that I think I’ll always consider close.
You’ll get Amazon Prime. No matter what you think about electronic books, the Kindle, or ordering through the Internet, after you’ve been forced to purchase a few books (or perhaps some helpful technology such as an iPad or laptop), and you realize that you will end up paying an arm and a leg for shipping, you’ll break any and all rules that formerly kept you from getting Amazon Prime. Why? Two words: free shipping.
At the 2014 Society of Vineyard Scholars’ annual meeting, Dr. Craig Keener delivered a powerful message to the many scholars in attendance that acknowledged some of the challenges and what can only be described as the “unknowns” of the scholarly task. While my piece here is more tongue-in-cheek, I was profoundly impacted by seeing so many Vineyard scholars served well by Keener’s remarks. I think it’s important for people realize that scholars face challenges and just because they are often involved in higher level intellectual interaction (aka they know some stuff) doesn’t mean they couldn’t use your prayer and support.
- If you are a scholar, what would you add?
- What has been surprising to you?
- What’s gotten you through the situations and challenges?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
You’ll only get amazon prime if you can afford it. 🙂
You’ll find a family member that gets it and then get it.
If you are a grad student, you can’t afford not to get it since you’ll be saving 100’s of dollars per year. At least that has been my experience.
Luke asked me to drop in after a FB conversation on this and offer some of my own thoughts. Things I would add are:
1) If you are going to do grad school in Biblical Studies/Theology, especially as someone aligned with the Vineyard, debt is part of the package. The financial aid just isn’t there for us, either institutionally or denominationally. If you don’t want to spend 20 years getting your grad/post-grad degrees, you will take on debt. Don’t be afraid of it, but make sure it is manageable. Keep an eye on it and make sure you can reliably pay it back with a 40-50k/year salary. There are calculators to show you how much you can borrow and still live on this salary (I think it is total 30-40k borrowed).
2) Line yourself up for success by choosing an institution that is reputable and has scholars you want to learn from and be formed by, because you will be shaped by whatever institution you do your grad work at (this is particularly true of Masters degrees). This is less true of PhDs but, for these programs, who you are studying with is as important as what you are writing on. This means that you need to know your field of interest well enough to not only know the landscape of scholarship but also where your doctoral advisor fits within that landscape. You need to be informed as much as you can for these decisions that will set a trajectory of your scholarship.
3) But more than just informed, you need to be called. God needs to have spoken clearly to you that he has someone for you in this discipline. Being a scholar is a hard life of dependency. It will be hard on your family. It will be hard on your relationships. It will be hard on your own inner life. You, and your spouse (if you have one), need to be rock solid in your calling if this is where you are headed, and prepared for the cost, because, not unlike following Christ, which in a sense is what you are doing, it will cost you everything.
4) You need to have an exit plan. Not from being a scholar, because if you are called, you’re stuck. But an exit plan from academia. Despite the certainty of your calling, the certainty of an academic post is not assured. The amount of elements for and against your employability are innumerable (your publications; your specialty; your minority status; your institution; needs of the hiring institution; professional connections at hiring institutions; theological or professional commitments or biases of hiring institutions; etc.) it is something you can certainly influence but not control. By getting advanced degrees, you are limiting your hirabilty in ways you probably haven’t even imagined. On the flip side, options in the publishing field can open up. There is no shame in serving the church through your scholarship while working in a job with a non-academic post. Plus, you can always pastor (which your degree should help you with) as long as you haven’t taken on too much debt.
Those are my initial thoughts.
When you talk about because of being in the Vineyard are you talking about masters or phD level? In my understanding phD funding just depends on the institution? Do they check what denomination you are from at the doctorate level?
Great question. I was talking about graduate programs, masters and PhD, generally in that post. Yes, some institutions have very good financial aid packages but most of those institutions (talking American programs here) only accept 1 PhD student in your disciple (NT, OT, Theology, etc) per year. So, in those circumstances, you’ll be competing with a couple hundred other people for a handful of positions. Beyond these top institutions, financial aid is a mixed bag for most other PhD programs (tier 2 schools mostly).
Most schools won’t necessarily look at your denomination. My comment about denomination was that Vineyard itself doesn’t help their graduate students with school in any way financially. For example, I could have received 10s of thousands of dollars had I went against my conscious and claimed UMC membership (technically I came to Christ in the UMC and I’m still on the membership role at a church in NW Ohio! That counts right?). But I’m Vineyard through and through. My calling is to our movement so that was a non-starter. Thus no denominational aid.
I am of course speaking in generalities here, but that is my perception of the landscape as a current PhD student.