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i never could get into shakespeare

Well said. If I don't get a job after 15+ years of school then oh well? It's worth the risk, I think.

Professors like to talk about themselves, so I like asking informed questions about their research. It helps to have read something they have written so that you might engage that while talking to them.

The types of questions you can ask graduate students are different - these are the people who will typically be honest with you about the ups and downs of the program, a question you don't want to ask the professors. Ask around, see if the students are on the whole pretty happy.

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I know a lot of folks who have gotten accepted to PhD programs disappear, but I am trying not to do that. So, as I mentioned on the 2011-12 thread, I check in here from time to time, so if you have questions and concerns ask away and I'll try my best to answer. My area is Ancient Christianity, so I don't know how well I can speak to those who are far outside the field for their applications, however, I did do a BA in Hebrew Bible, and a MAR in Biblical Studies, which straddled the line between HB/NT so I can speak to some extent to those areas as well. Either ask here or send me a PM (probably better to post here for the benefit of all unless it is a sensitive questions of some sort).

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Hey! Likewise! I'm doing the Ph.D application thing now. The MA goes by too fast.

Same here. Still narrowing down the application list, trying to talk to everybody I need to talk to. Applications are going more slowly for me this go-round, with having to also write an MA thesis at the same time. :)

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Outis: Some thoughts about your writing sample question. I'm no expert, so my first suggestion is to ask a biblical studies professor who makes decisions about Ph.D. applicants. My thoughts, though: If the biblical studies paper is good enough for SBL, it seems to me that it would be good enough for a writing sample. Based on my perusal of various graduate program websites, they seem to appreciate writing samples in the same field. It demonstrates engagement with contemporary scholarship (at least ideally) and demonstrates interest, as well as showing more generic research, writing, and analytic skills. Even if you think the quality is slightly below that of your theology paper, I suggest using the biblical studies paper (unless the theology paper could pass for a biblical studies paper).

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I am an advanced Phd student in a top institution. Just wanted to make a suggestion that very few people consider: adviser's personality. I am very very lucky and got the most wonderful one ever, but I know of many students that have dropped programs because the situation was untenable. Ask grad students in the program (sbl is perfect for that) and read between the lines.

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I'll throw myself in here since I'm procrastinating writing my personal statement as I write this. I'm on a pendulum swinging wildly between overly optimistic and despair. I exchange emails with a potential advisor, they seem to like me, I have a face to face meeting with a potential advisor and I'm shoved in and out the door in 15 minutes. One of my recommendors that is quite fond of me even told me not to have high expectations for being accepted (though this was specifically to Harvard). I know he will write me a good recommendation, and my other two recs are from people at the top top of their field so I'm not sure how to feel about this.

One thing I'm afraid is really going to be a dark spot on my record is having a B+ and a B on my transcript from the Spring. With these due dates at Dec 1 and Dec 15, are they even going to see my grades from this Fall semester?? The B+ is from a notoriously difficult professor, though he also happens to be the director of one of the PhD's I'm applying to! The B is in a language so that's not that bad, the TF that was teaching it had an absurd pedagogy, and I've earned an A in a class in the same language since then. The way it actually shows on my transcript makes it even worse, I was actually taking 5 classes in the Spring, and earned A's in the other 3, but because one of the 5 was a year long class, the A shows up with the Fall semester grades rather than the spring, even though the main project for it was heavily weighted to the Spring. So basically, it makes it look like I did really awesome in the Fall, got straight A's and then crashed and burned in the Spring semester. /rant

EDIT: to the Notre Dame folks in here!

The Notre Dame CJA PhD is one of my top choices but I'm still looking into who would be an ideal advisor and could use your input.

Conceptually my studies focus on understanding Christianity in the context of other Israelite religion in the centuries around the turn of the Era, and rabbinic literature in the context of early Christianity. Practically I imagine this would involve continued work in the “Jewish” aspects of early Christian gospels and Q, the issue of the “parting of the ways,” “Jewish-Christianity,” the development of religious identity in antiquity, and Christian and Jewish portrayals of one another like the Adversos Ioudaios tradition and the Minim. I'm also interested in working in Syriac literature for the way it uniquely sheds light onto these issues.

Edited by 11Q13
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This isn't meant to be antagonistic but, as a Jewish woman, my alarm bells ring out with the phrase "rabbinic literature in the context of early Christianity", just so you know. If you've phrased it that way in your SOP, I wouldn't. It sounds a bit too much like trying to understand Judaism through the framework of Christianity or, worse, Rabbinic Judaism as emergent from Christianity. I am sure this is not what you mean.

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This isn't meant to be antagonistic but, as a Jewish woman, my alarm bells ring out with the phrase "rabbinic literature in the context of early Christianity", just so you know. If you've phrased it that way in your SOP, I wouldn't. It sounds a bit too much like trying to understand Judaism through the framework of Christianity or, worse, Rabbinic Judaism as emergent from Christianity. I am sure this is not what you mean.

I do think some aspects of rabbinic Judaism come from exchanges with Christianity, if not imitation of Christianity if you'd like to put it that way. My knowledge of the arguments for this have come entirely from Jewish scholars actually, one of which would be a PhD advisor. I do think we can learn new things about rabbinic Judaism based on what's going on in early Christianity, or "the context of early Christianity". It's been the counter-swing to the last generation of historical Jesus scholarship uncovering Jesus' "Judaism" and the "jewishness" of the New Testament. Jews seemed to like this quite a lot, while the "alarm bells" were going off for Christians. I do appreciate your concern for phrasing things with sensitivity to contemporary religious communities, it certainly is a minefield. I'll be sure to run my statement through some of my Jewish studies friends and mentors.

Edited by 11Q13
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Well, this is going nowhere good.

Saying that early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism share a common ancestry and that looking at the origins of Christianity can instruct about the origins of Rabbinic Judaism is saying something quite a bit different than Rabbinic Judaism has a Christian context. They emerge from the same context and influence one another, but one does not emerge from the other. It's a significant difference in wording. For what it's worth, I ran your statement by my best friend, who is a Rabbinic Judaism scholar, and he was just as disturbed as I was.This isn't just me, and I think it's a bit offensive to say 'But Jews like this' when I was just speaking to you as a Jew.

Also, my field is late Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins and nothing in your phrase about, as you put it, Jesus' "Judaism" and the "Jewishness" of the New Testament required quotation marks, except maybe around the "New". There's nothing particularly "new" about the New Testament. There's plenty that's Jewish about it, though.

You're right. It is a minefield. Kaboom.

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Well, this is going nowhere good.

Saying that early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism share a common ancestry and that looking at the origins of Christianity can instruct about the origins of Rabbinic Judaism is saying something quite a bit different than Rabbinic Judaism has a Christian context. They emerge from the same context and influence one another, but one does not emerge from the other. It's a significant difference in wording.

You're right, I wasn't being clear enough in my chronology. It will only be more difficult to be clear in these tiny personal statements. I'm interested in Christian and Jewish origins in the context of one another. A rather minor difference in wording, but a big difference in meaning it seems.

For what it's worth, I ran your statement by my best friend, who is a Rabbinic Judaism scholar, and he was just as disturbed as I was.This isn't just me, and I think it's a bit offensive to say 'But Jews like this' when I was just speaking to you as a Jew.

Well, I'm hardly surprised your best friend didn't rush to my defense. I am really struggling to see how you might be offended by a general observation about the reaction to the last generation of Jesus and New Testament research by Christians and Jews...as far as I'm aware this is widely observed.

Also, my field is late Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins and nothing in your phrase about, as you put it, Jesus' "Judaism" and the "Jewishness" of the New Testament required quotation marks, except maybe around the "New". There's nothing particularly "new" about the New Testament. There's plenty that's Jewish about it, though.

I put Judaism and jewishness in quotes because these are the terms that were used in the last generation of Jesus research by some of the watershed works, and which I, and a growing number of scholars beginning about that same time recognized to be inadequate terms. I avoid using "Judaism" and "Jewish" especially, when referring to this time period because I think it anachronistically connotes a continuity with contemporary Judaism and jewishness as a religious identity. It doesn't work in the sense that it privileges contemporary Judaism over Christianity as a "mother daughter" relationship, which, like you said, actually both emerged from the same milieu as contemporaries. I avoid the terms for their association with the concept of religion itself, which for Judaism came much later. Finally, I avoid the terms because they are etic. I used "Israelite," whenever possible, and when I wish to convey the ethnos or the cultic practices of said ethnos I use "Judaean" or "Judaeanism." Depending on what you mean by "jewish" it may be throughgoing in the New Testament or it could have nothing to do with it.

http://books.google.com/books?id=dOf6HhffWO4C&lpg=PA295&ots=mrylNxIuRL&dq=TERMINOLOGICAL%20BOOBYTRAPS%20AND%20REAL%20PROBLEMS%20IN%20SECOND-TEMPLE%20JUDAEO-CHRISTIAN%20STUDIES&pg=PA295#v=onepage&q=TERMINOLOGICAL%20BOOBYTRAPS%20AND%20REAL%20PROBLEMS%20IN%20SECOND-TEMPLE%20JUDAEO-CHRISTIAN%20STUDIES&f=false

so how's everyone else doing? (no offense!)

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On a lighter note: I'm creating CDs right now for my recommenders. Basically the CDs will have my transcripts, my SoP, any papers or projects I did for the professor, and a list of schools to which I'm applying, their deadlines, and the relevant contact person at those schools. I figure my professors are probably overwhelmed every year by the amount of recommendation letters they have to write and so I'm trying to help streamline the process for them. This way they don't have to try to remember what I wrote, what grade I got, etc. Anyone else do anything like this?

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That sounds like a great idea, but it's way more organized than what I'm doing. I'm hoping that I've made a strong enough impression on my recommenders that they can write about me without much prompting. I've also been told that I can ask them to mention specific points, but for some odd reason that feels too intrusive.

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I've also been told that I can ask them to mention specific points, but for some odd reason that feels too intrusive.

I was told this too and it just felt weird. I was even told that I could ask certain professors to write on things to which they are entirely unrelated (my rocky start to undergrad success). They're already agreeing to write a letter that is a page or two of bragging (weird), I don't want to ask them to write about specific things within my academic past, particularly those things which have no direct relation to them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ask grad students in the program (sbl is perfect for that) and read between the lines.

I think this is great advice, but so far I am getting only positive answers from students about their supervisors. I feel like students who are willing to talk with me about their experience, but don't know me personally, are reluctant to say anything negative about their supervisor. Are there any specific questions you recommend asking that might give them an easy way to be honest about what it's like working with their supervisor?

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I think this is great advice, but so far I am getting only positive answers from students about their supervisors. I feel like students who are willing to talk with me about their experience, but don't know me personally, are reluctant to say anything negative about their supervisor. Are there any specific questions you recommend asking that might give them an easy way to be honest about what it's like working with their supervisor?

The amount of students working with someone in a department will also be an indication whether people like working with them. If someone has only had 4 Ph.D students in the last decade and 3 of them are still ABD, I wouldn't go with that professor.

I think you'll find people are able to be more honest in person as well (again, SBL is great for this). I wouldn't necessarily be comfortable putting some of my critiques in an email (though I don't sugarcoat or lie), while I'm quite happy to speak my mind when applicants are visiting campus. I don't think anyone's going to give you a complete opposite picture of how things are. If someone writes an email and says they're very happy with their program, you can be pretty sure they're happy. If they write you a lackluster email and damn their program with faint praise, you can be relatively sure that they haven't had a great experience.

Also, I agree with the above: be specific in what sorts of qualities you think you want in an advisor. If you're one who likes a lot of hands-on advising (as I do), ask around and see who fits that style.

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Thanks for your thoughts on this. Much of my correspondence so far has been over email and I suspect students who don't know me won't put in writing what they may say in person. I will definitely try to engage some folks at SBL about this.

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  • 2 weeks later...

LateAntique is,in my opinion, spot on: see who is working with whom on the department. A professor with 2 students in the last decade is probably not a good advisor. Other hints: look at your advisor's record as editor: Does he include former students in the contributions? This shows that he/she is really committed to help students thrive. Some advisors are known for not getting their students through: look at records, how long do students take to finish? compare statistics among advisors... and then talk to students to find out the rationale... and again, read between the lines.

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I'm a little bummed that the board isn't more active this year. I felt like there were more posts a couple of years ago when I was applying to my MA. At any rate, I wonder if any of you are choosing schools to which you will apply based on economic factors. That is, because of how the overall economy is, coupled with how bad the hiring scene in academia is right now (particularly in religion), are you only applying to top schools? Or are you casting your nets nice and wide and taking what you can get?

I think there are schools that I would have considered if this were 25 years ago, but I'm at the point that if I don't get into one of the top programs, there seems to be little to no reason to do a Ph.D. When even students from top programs are having trouble finding TT jobs, why go elsewhere? The one exception I can see is if one wants to teach in a school affiliated with their denomination and said school doesn't care about having a degree from Yale or Princeton. Any thoughts?

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LateAntique--Let me echo the feeling of being bummed about the lack of discussion and contribute my own thoughts in response to your questions. It does seem to be the conventional (and smart, so far as I'm concerned) wisdom that Ph.D. in religion --> tenure-track job is a tenuous connection even for the best of students (well, maybe not THE best) and that it accordingly makes no sense to incur debt or attend a less-reputable institution (provided one needs a job and income upon completion). I'm applying this year to American religion programs; as it happens, the geographic factors constraining my applications also constrain them to "top" programs that happen to fit my interests reasonably well. Even if that weren't the case, I wouldn't apply anywhere that does not offer sufficient funding and does not have a good reputation. Even if I am fortunate enough to be admitted, I plan to seek as much detail as possible from my prospective advisors about their placement records with their advisees as well as their expectations for how my dissertation, etc., might look, and condition my acceptance on what I learn.

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To be honest, the immediate financial future is more on my mind than the long term prospects. I would go to a second tier school with reasonable funding before I would attend a poorly funded top tier program. Thankfully, at the PhD level, program strength and funding seem to correlate well enough. As far as the long term prospects go, I'm pretty unconcerned. If the nice tenure-track positions don't work out, private high schools might be an attractive option. If teaching doesn't work out at all, I'll just finally get a real job like the rest of the world and read Greek in the evenings. Academia is such a imprudent career choice that once I started on this track, I just stopped worrying about it.

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