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The Long and Winding Road to PhD


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Hey all members of Grad School Cafe! I am wondering if I can get some insight and advice from people... Straight up, my goal is to be a professor and scholar of the New Testament and Christian Origins. I want to be an academic, a teacher, and a scholar in the field. Yes, yes, yes. Before you warn me, I have read and heard it all. I know the job market is cut throat for academics at the moment, I know competition for placements within divinity schools and religious studies programs is tough, and I know there is not a lot of opportunities for me after I complete my studies and achieve my PhD eventually. Maybe I am delusional or just plain stupid, but I really cannot see myself doing anything else. It is what I want to devote my life too. I love education, I love scholarship, I love writing, and I love the exploring the world in which a backwater group of marginal Jews from Palestine grew to be the dominate religion of the Roman Empire in merely three centuries. I do not want to sound like an academic brat that things he "deserves" to be an academic and professor, as I know it is a deep privilege to be respected as a teacher and a scholar, but frankly I do not day dream of a high office in an ivy league university. I would be just as happy working in a community college, a state university, or private college with a pay cheque coming in week to week, so long as I was surrounded by colleagues who encouraged my work and students who engaged with the classes before them. An ideal dream perhaps, but as my aunts, uncles, brothers, and parents all work in education in one way or another, I guess you could say it is in my blood and I have raised on the power and privilege that education brings and gives.  


However... I have not had the best of times when it comes to this academic path, this what I need you help with.


Allow me to explain. When I was an undergraduate, I began my Bachelor's of Theology at the Australian Catholic University. In my first two years, I was rocking my GPA, getting high praise from my professors, and working very hard on my on time to take in all the knowledge I could. However a deep lose struck me in my third year with the death of my grandmother, which was unexpected and quite shocking. Rather then being emotionally mature and seeking the aid of my professors, I foolishly avoided classes and just accepted failures for my assignments. Thus beginning my downward path... I then changed universities to Charles Sturt University and begin my studies as an Anglican Priest, which was what I desired to do with my life at that time. However, the university was dramatically different to my previous one and I loathed my time there. I was dirt poor as well, so I had to juggle working crazy hours into the night at a MacDonalds, along with seminary church training, as well as academics. By the end of the year, my GPA was trashed, my faith in God and the Church destroyed, and to top it all off one of my closest friends in another seminary program related to the university killed himself, this was the last straw and I said to hell with it all and I postponed the degree completely. I decided it was time to grow up and "get a real job", which I did for three years, working as a manager of a jewellery store, yet that was very unrewarding and in time, I felt drawn back to my academic life. I finished my degree via distance education with good grades and received my Bachelor's Degree with mediocre results, no biblical languages, and no shining scholarship.


While being an agnostic now, I still loved reading and reviewing whatever pieces of literature came out, like Crossan's new work or Ehrman's. Seeing what debates were going on the SBL forums, and seeing what some of my favourite scholars were cooking up next. While I did not have faith, I had a desire for knowledge, and I knew I wanted to be an academic in the field. Wanting to be an academic now, I set my goal on that and started contacting various universities. All of them looked at my transcripts and might as well have laughed me off the phone or through their emails, apart from one professor from the University of Newcastle. I spoke with him over the phone and he was extremely impressed with how well read I was, how up to date I was on the scholarship in the field, and how many ideas I had when it came to Christian Origins and the New Testament. He told me to send in what I considered to be my best essay, I did, and he called me back within the hour and said he would fight for me to be accepted as an Honours Student. I do not know if you are familiar with Honours Programs, but it an extra year students are invited to take in relation to their Bachelor's Degree in which they produce a thesis of 15,000 words. I was accepted into the program and spend the year working hard on this thesis, being on "The Honour and Shame of Circumcision in 1 Corinthians within the Jewish-Roman Matrix". I received First Class Honours for my thesis, which basically the summa cum laude of Australia. I am not trying to blow my own horn, but after how low I was before, it was quite the feat to go from what in America would be a GPA of 1.00 to summa cum laude


In the mean time, I met a wonderful girl from Kansas, who stole my heart and we began a long distance relationship and eventually, I asked her to marry me. We are currently undergoing the process of the K1 Visa and we will be wed in September, where I will move to America and be with her. With one year left in Australia, I decided to take advantage of Australia's 'free' education system, and enrolled into a Masters of Theological Studies program that I could complete in a year. I have been rocking that as well, and will hopefully finish that program by the end of the year almost with great marks as well ready for grad school in America... However... this is the kicker, I still do not have any biblical languages under my belt. My undergrad years at ACU and CSU offered Greek and Hebrew, but they were in my low points so I failed both of those classes, and in my Masters program this year Greek or Hebrew was not being offered. I have emailed around PhD programs I have liked the look of but all understandably require extensive backgrounds in the biblical languages. It had been suggested I do another Masters, this time taking the time to focus on the languages and perhaps mix it up with more Old Testament studies as well or Classics or just Ancient History in general.


I am at a lose and I do not know what to do, where to go, what expect from programs in the United States, not to mention the GRE. Can anyone offer some insight?

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I'm not familiar with your department but your story here is a good one. I would say take some tutelage in the languages you think you need whether they be greek, latin, hebrew or whatever, and bring yourself to fluency. I don't think you really need a Masters degree to do that, but if it's free, having another Masters I would assume would only help your application.


Once you've got a handle on the languages, just apply, show them how much you've improved, include your story in your SOP and I think you'll be on equal footing with the rest of us.

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You should probably post this in the religion subforum. I'm sure someone there can tell you about some programs for you to look into. They can also tell you if your lack of languages is an issue (although I think a lot of programs don't expect extensive language study beforehand). 

And I'm going to disagree with the poster above about including your story in your SOP. Or at least, minimize your story in favor of talking more about your research interests and experiences. The SOP is there to prove to programs that you are ready to undertake graduate level work in a specific field that you have at least some knowledge about. You can definitely have your letter writers talk about obstacles you've overcome, but the SOP isn't really the best place for that. 

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Yes, definitely try the religion forum. Here it is: http://forum.thegradcafe.com/forum/41-religion/


However, from my understanding your lack of languages is indeed going to hurt you. On top of Greek and Hebrew, you'll likely need a modern language (French or German, usually).


You can look at Master's programs, or also consider post-bacc programs in Classics (for example). I also have a friend who did some summer language courses at Notre Dame that he found helpful.


Religion folks will know better, though. :-)

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