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PhD in OT in Boston


newenglandshawn
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I have really enjoyed reading all the tips and advice in pursuing a graduate degree in religion. My question is this: I am planning to apply to doctoral programs a year from now at the Boston schools (BU, BC, Brandeis, Harvard) for OT/Hebrew Bible studies. With my background, I am wondering what my chances would be in getting into any of these programs.

Undergrad GPA: 3.2 (like many others, I goofed off my first two years)

Seminary MDiv GPA: 3.85

GRE: Taking it in the spring

Other factors: I have written two books, though they are for "popular" audiences and they are by lesser-known publishers. I have not yet written for any journals, though I have written many other articles for denominational publications. I am an ordained minister in a small (though rapidly-growing) Sabbath-keeping Christian denomination (in which I was named by the denomination's official publication as one of the "Top 20" in their 20s, back in 2006). I anticipate that I will get very good letters of recommendation and that my writings skills are in the upper echelon of applicants.

I also plan to put on the "full court press" this spring by trying to interact with some of the professors via class visitation, personal appointments, etc.

So what are my chances?

Of course, I am particularly interested in Harvard, but I am not feeling very confident in my credentials. I do have a couple family friends who are widely recognized in the OT field and were very successful OT PhD students at Harvard a few decades ago - one of which I know for sure was a classmate of a current faculty member. However, I do not know these two OT scholars very well myself and they are not at all familiar with my work at this point. Should I expend the energy to try to get acquainted with them so that they might reach out to current professors in these respective schools? I also have one professor I did study under who was classmates with a professor at Brandeis. It seems like that could be a worthwhile connection (though his expertise in OT is not necessarily a subject I am passionate about).

What other advice would be helpful in pursuing one of these PhD programs?

Thanks for the feedback!

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Thanks for the response! Those are good questions.

My interests in Hebrew Bible pretty much revolve around theology of the Hebrew Bible with special emphasis on the corporate solidarity motif (as it pertains to Second Temple Judaism as well, though I have not personally grappled with this concept outside the HB at this point). I also have other HB theological interests, which may be a limiting factor since most top-tier programs are not necessarily concerned with HB theology.

At the same time, I am also interested in studying ANE languages.

As far as my language experience: I studied Hebrew both as an undergrad (two semesters) and in my MDiv program (one semester, before testing out of the rest). I studied Greek as an undergrad (three semesters) and was able to test out of it for my MDiv. Other than that, I am starting to familiarize myself with German.

I should also hasten to add that I received my MDiv from a denominational seminary (Andrews University Seminary/Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary), if that is a mitigating factor!

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Well, securing a spot at one of those Boston schools is really about who you can work with. The connections you have might help get your foot in the door, but I'm fairly certain that isn't going to be enough (as I'm sure you are well aware).

Also, your language experience is a bit weak, honestly. I don't mean to sound negative, but most of the doctoral students I know at BC/HDS (and by extension, the others too, i imagine) have quite a bit more: usually 2-3+ years of Hebrew and Greek, some Aramaic, Syriac, German, French, et cetera. That is not to say you don't have enough for theology HB programs, but likely not enough for programs rooted in the text-critical/philological approach, which seems to be more or less the standard at schools in the NE (my experience while at BC and taking courses at HDS).

Have you considered applying to programs outside of Boston? You may be able to find something with a better fit that focuses less on text-critical stuff

best

Edited by jdmhotness
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Thanks for the further feedback. This is probably pretty naive, but what does it matter how many years of the languages you have had if you mastered them when (and for however long) you did take them?

At least for now, I am pretty committed to Boston for family and professional reasons.

Also, in some of my research I have determined that there are HB professors in some of the schools that are not necessarily tied to historical-critical methods (and, in fact, are critical of it).

Lastly, there was a classmate of mine in my masters program who did get into Brandeis. Her background, like mine, is, of course, less text-critical. She may have been working on her MA, however, and may have had more experience with the languages than I have.

Unfortunately, I never intended to pursue a PhD in my education so I didn't prepare myself as well as I could have for this time (and I cannot afford to pursue another Masters at this point). But I am not completely disheartened. I still think there is a place for me at one of those Boston schools and I am going to try to do all that I can to make it happen!

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I'd second what jdmhotness has said as far as language experience goes. Language "mastery" is kind of a hazy thing, and your having tested out of a language requirement at one institution or another generally won't be as encouraging to an admissions committee as your being able to demonstrate, either through multiple years of coursework with high marks and/or letters of recommendation stressing your readiness in this regard from HB/ANE faculty who have themselves demonstrated philological expertise through publications, general reputation, etc. This isn't meant, I should add explicitly, to throw any doubt on your own skills or competence -- just, I hope, to give a better idea of the thought behind the "how many years of language" question and its appropriateness.

It's great to see that you're considering such a slate of programs in Boston -- if one has to restrict him or herself to a particular area of the country for HB/ANE, one can't do much better as far as options go. :-) Good luck!

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You may very well find your place at such an institution (and I hope you do!), but as anyone will tell you on here, the deciding factor is how well you fit into said program. I mentioned the above because many schools, especially those in the NE, will expect their students to have a thorough introduction to text-critical methods, which includes a lot of language study.

Well, my opinion (so take it for what it is) is that passing a master's level language exam is, well, just that and it's not enough. Such exams are not set up for those wanting to get into top doctoral programs. Having passed such an exam does not mean one is competent in said language. Ask yourself this: can you easily recognize most verbs you see opening up your BHS (as in do you recognize them as Qal, Hiphal, Piel, ect)? Have you been exposed to a wide variety of the different Hebrew forms (biblical, late-biblical, as well as Aramaic, and Pharisaic Hebrew)? Such programs are going to want to see the kind of breadth that less than two years likely will not give you. The same goes for Greek (i.e. can you access not only biblical Greek, but some classical/patristic sources if need be?).

Again, I don't say this to drag you down. Just know that there are other doctoral applicants out there (like me) who have 2 times the amount of language experience you have. This will work against you. But, as I mentioned above, I think fit will really be the deciding factor. If your competition has more language/coursework exp., but you are a better fit, then you likely stand a good chance.

cheers

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Thanks for the reality check! Glad I have ample and advanced warning so I can be diligent in my pre-application prep.

So, just to be clear: you will be applying to various HB programs in the near-future?

Thanks again for the reflections. This is all very helpful.

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Nice! I hope all goes well for you. Where will you be applying?

From the beginning, I have never been convinced of the likelihood of my candidacy at some of these top places, but then I have had others who are familiar both with my abilities and those programs guardedly encourage me in the pursuit. The more logical side of me kicks in, however, because of the realities you have pointed out: my language deficiencies and the fact that I do not come from the typical "divinity school" stalk.

By the way: I know that Boston University (and even Brandeis) does not have the same reputation as Harvard and BC, but are you saying they are just as competitive as those two schools? It seems as though you were directing your evaluation more toward the latter two. Would your reflections be the same for BU and Brandeis, though?

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Hey there,

I haven't completely decided, but the usual suspects apply: Harvard, Duke, ND, Yale, ect. I want to work primarily within Septuagint studies, which is fairly difficult field to find faculty members in, at least in the US. I have a year to figure that out, thankfully!

As far as the other schools, I wouldn't really know. I imagine at some point someone who goes/went to BU might come in and offer up something helpful. I honestly have no interest in theology, so perhaps I am projecting a bit!

Anyways, back to finals....cheers

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When you say you "can't afford" another master's--there are actually quite a few funded M* programs out there in theology, good ones. Duke MDiv, Notre Dame MTS, and I know there are people on TGC in the past who've had very good luck getting funding from Yale, Harvard, and Vanderbilt for their M* programs. Might something like those be a good backup option? Like jdmhotness, it's really not unusual for incoming theo M* students to have multiple master's. The PhD cohort I started my own (fully funded! with stipend!) MA with was *mostly* people with two master's. Talk about intimidating!

I started my own PhD with a real deficiency in language, and trying to make up the difference pretty much destroyed my first semester (and then, emotionally, me for the next year or so). Please, don't do what I did.

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I would apply to the Harvard ThM. They can't get more than a dozen applicants to it, it will make your CV stand out more, it will give you time to do more language, it will give you a chance to take classes with any of the professors you would like to work with at Harvard, BC, and BU because of the BTI relationship, and from the sound of things you are an ideal candidate for it.

Edited by 11Q13
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Thanks for the insights, everyone! These are all good thoughts.

Sparky: where and what are you studying? Given the fact that I have almost two years before I entered into a PhD program (should I get into one), I am spending my next two years perfecting my languages. Right now, I spend 1-2 hours a day doing just that. So hopefully by the time I actually entered into a program, my deficiencies would be minimal.

Therewillbeluke: Yes, I will definitely give Brown a look.

11Q13: Thanks for the good advice on the ThM. I don't imagine there is much/any funding for that, is there? Just a question from a naive guy: do people (or is it advisable to) apply for a ThM (or any other M*) at the same time they apply for a PhD/ThD? Or is this looked upon with suspicion by admissions committees? I have also had a friend of mine advise me to get into the "Ministers in the Vicinity" program at HDS, which allows ministers in full-time ministry in the Boston area (which I am not currently, since I live and minister in Maine, but I could very easily get a position down there) to attend a class at a time for half the tuition rate. I know this wouldn't allow me to enjoy take advantage of the other BTI schools, but it could at least get my foot in the door at Harvard.

By the way, I noticed you're apply for a long list of schools in a long list of subjects, centered around Jewish Studies. What area of focus are you particularly interested in?

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I just noticed that BC also has the "Ministers in the Vicinity" program as well. There is a fairly good chance that I may be starting a ministerial position next fall down in the Boston area. If I did, perhaps I could attend a class at both BC and HDS next fall before applying.

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Applying to M* programs at the same time as a PhD is quite common! Especially as PhD admissions have gotten more and more competitive. I'm not sure about at the same school, though; hopefully someone else has some experience with that.

I do medieval religious history, but started with an MA in historical theology. Fields, in other words, that are nuts about languages (if a different set than HB). Try to get as much formal, in-classroom experience as possible. Professors are much more likely to view that highly; some even discount "independent language study" altogether. Um, please don't think I'm implying anything bad about you or your MDiv program, but--I wouldn't take the school's verdict that you knew the languages sufficiently to test out as proof of ability to conduct research in those languages. I passed my MA school's Latin exam quite nicely, thank you very much, and still got nailed to the wall my first PhD semester (my Latin professor expressed her surprise that I was a "real student here." :lol:<_< )

I don't mean to suggest you are not working your butt off on languages independently, but formal coursework will probably make you more competitive in the eyes of an admissions committee. Otherwise, you would want to be sure that your writing sample and at least one letter of recommendation testify to your language skills--through use of the language, and through a prof or tutor praising your ballerina-like dexterity with the nuances of biblical Hebrew. :)

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Applying to M* programs at the same time as a PhD is quite common! Especially as PhD admissions have gotten more and more competitive. I'm not sure about at the same school, though; hopefully someone else has some experience with that.

I do medieval religious history, but started with an MA in historical theology. Fields, in other words, that are nuts about languages (if a different set than HB). Try to get as much formal, in-classroom experience as possible. Professors are much more likely to view that highly; some even discount "independent language study" altogether. Um, please don't think I'm implying anything bad about you or your MDiv program, but--I wouldn't take the school's verdict that you knew the languages sufficiently to test out as proof of ability to conduct research in those languages. I passed my MA school's Latin exam quite nicely, thank you very much, and still got nailed to the wall my first PhD semester (my Latin professor expressed her surprise that I was a "real student here." :lol:<_< )

I don't mean to suggest you are not working your butt off on languages independently, but formal coursework will probably make you more competitive in the eyes of an admissions committee. Otherwise, you would want to be sure that your writing sample and at least one letter of recommendation testify to your language skills--through use of the language, and through a prof or tutor praising your ballerina-like dexterity with the nuances of biblical Hebrew. :)

I second your statement about learning the stuff on your own. Not that I don't think it's possible, but I have heard professors speak against it. I think many of them are skeptical of the tools some may use to learn the language (for instance, my Hebrew professors at BC were very skeptical of the commonly used "Basics of Biblical X" books because they were "too easy" and "too simplistic").

best

Edited by jdmhotness
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I guess I have not been sufficiently clear on what I meant by perfecting my languages in the next two years. I have not at all been speaking of it in terms of trying to convince a program or professor of my language qualifications by appealing to a self-pedagogy (though, in reality, it would not be an issue of learning anything on my own but merely perfecting that which I have already learned). What I was addressing was the avoidance of embarrassing myself - should I some how be accepted despite my language deficiencies - like Sparky did when he entered into his program. Thus, I was merely stating that I have two years to perfect the languages I have already learned.

While it would be ideal to take another semester or two of Hebrew before applying next fall, I don't have the luxury. As far as formal preparation for a PhD program, I am who I am at this point! I will do my best, independent of furthering my formal language training, and see where the proverbial chips fall!

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