This article in The Nation is not encouraging to those of us pursuing higher education in the humanities:
A few years ago, when I was still teaching at Yale, I was approached by a student who was interested in going to graduate school. She had her eye on Columbia; did I know someone there she could talk with? I did, an old professor of mine. But when I wrote to arrange the introduction, he refused to even meet with her. “I won’t talk to students about graduate school anymore,” he explained. “Going to grad school’s a suicide mission.”
The policy may be extreme, but the feeling is universal. Most professors I know are willing to talk with students about pursuing a PhD, but their advice comes down to three words: don’t do it. (William Pannapacker, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education as Thomas Benton, has been making this argument for years. See “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind,’” among other essays.) My own advice was never that categorical. Go if you feel that your happiness depends on it—it can be a great experience in many ways—but be aware of what you’re in for. You’re going to be in school for at least seven years, probably more like nine, and there’s a very good chance that you won’t get a job at the end of it.
This week, I feel disillusioned with academia, and inclined toward simply finishing off my MTh, pursuing ordination, and ministering the gospel in a church or church plant.
I knew this going into my huge round of PhD applications last year. When nothing panned out, I was depressed…but also relieved. I knew going in that it was most likely a suicide mission, and I felt like I had been given a license to go serve and teach instead of living in a research bunker full of dusty books for the rest of my life.
And go with the church plant. It’s awesome!
I think I’m half-consciously preparing for what seems to be the inevitable death–or at least postponement–of a dream.
But God’s ways are best–and I trust that if one dream dies, he’ll give me another one, a better one.
And, maybe his answer won’t be “no,” but “wait.” In any case, “no” to one thing will be “yes” to another.
From my perspective, ministry in a church or church plant would likely prove tremendously MORE difficult than the achievement of a PhD… Just a thought, though!
Maybe compared to completing the PhD–but the academic life, especially one in Christian institutions, is no free ride, either.
I’m with you Benj. My own dream’s demise seems inevitable.
Some people get paid to think thoughts. I know that I’m called to be thoughtful, no matter where my paycheck is coming from. It would be nice if I were getting paid to think or help other people to think; maybe someday. Until then, I have a good job and the opportunity to read, write, learn, and teach–so I’m grateful.