If I Could Go Back…15 years (Part 2) (Gupta)

If I Could Go Back…15 years (Part 2) (Gupta) April 24, 2018

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Let me take you back 15 years. The year was 2003, and I was about halfway through Seminary (and 2 seasons into Alias). I studied for my M.Div and Th.M. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I chose GCTS for its emphasis on biblical languages and Christian discipleship. When I started at seminary, I didn’t have a particular vocation in mind, but I will say teaching/academia was not on my radar. Because my studies (from grade school through college) had been in the secular educational world up to that point, I just had never imagined what it would have been like to be a “Bible prof.” But as I journeyed through seminary and came alive in these Scripture courses, I had a fire in my heart for lifelong study of the Bible and the compulsion to share with others what I was learning.

When did I “know” I wanted to be a prof? Probably that second year of seminary.

Good Decisions

Well, Gordon-Conwell was a good decision. It had an excellent language program. I tested out of both basic Greek and basic Hebrew, but at GCTS I took advanced Greek, advanced Hebrew, LXX Greek, patristic Greek, Ecclesial Latin, German, French, Aramaic, and Akkadian! I took 7-8 Greek-level exegesis courses. All of these have helped me immensely.

I applied every year to be a TA—most years I got this opportunity, and for a few years I was a Greek TA, which gave me lots of teaching experience. The institution came to trust me enough that I taught a course (Paul and His Letters) on my own as an adjunct at the urban extension campus. It was an amazing experience!

Instead of switching to a “pre-PhD” style MA, I stayed in the MDIV. Even when I knew I wanted to be a professor, I still felt that the MDIV would round me out and help me to be a “pastor” to the students. I have never spent even a second re-thinking that decision.

By a kind of happy accident, I spent six months working in sales for a theological publishing company. This gave me lots of industry information and I have made friendships and connections that have thrived over more than a decade.

 

Done Differently

There is a long list of reconsiderations! None of these keep me up at night, but I try to counsel students to do better than I did.

Master of Theology. I did my Th.M. at GCTS out of convenience (my wife was finishing her degree at GCTS at the time); but my desire was to do the Th.M. elsewhere. I didn’t have a problem with GCTS, but I knew a different faculty and community would offer something new and special. I always encourage folks to get diverse experiences with different people. But I enjoyed my Th.M. at GCTS in any case.

Thesis. I chose not to do a thesis in my Th.M., mostly because I couldn’t find a supervisor. So I went into my doctoral program having never written a paper longer than 25 pages. That made the dissertation learning curve very steep. Looking back, it was not wise. The experience of crafting a proposal, thesis, and going through a defense would have given me important pre-PhD experience in advanced research.

Consortium Courses. At GCTS, I could have taken courses through our consortium (Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, etc.). I chose not to mostly because I didn’t want to commute into Boston. I regret not taking at least one course in one of these elite institutions.

Study Abroad. I toyed around with the idea of studying abroad for a term (e.g., London), but again I chickened out. I wish I would have done it, but eventually, I went to the UK for my PhD. 🙂

Guild Involvement. By 2004, I was pretty certain that I wanted to do a PhD and enter into academia as a career. But I didn’t manage to go to SBL until 2006. I wish I would have made more of an effort to get “guild experience” – I did not know how such conferences worked. I needed someone to come alongside. I also did not understand very well that there were regional meetings. Again, wish I had help with these things.

Narrow Focus. In seminary, I loved taking language courses and biblical studies courses—to a fault. By that I mean I chose not to use any of my electives on theology or church history. Now I regret that, because we had a church history professor (Isaac Gordon) who taught a course on Luther, and another on Bonhoeffer. I look back and I wish I could have taken both those courses. I narrowed my educational focus too much and dismissed learning opportunities that would have helped me to be well-rounded. As a bit of karma, I am working closely with Luther’s works these days, and I wish I had taken that course!

GRE Prep Course. When I was applying for PhD programs, I chose not to take a GRE Prep Course. Suffice it to say I bombed the GRE. Twice. That is one of the reasons I ended up going to the UK. A prep-course may have helped me get a better score. But maybe not. 🙁

Self-Care. In the throes of seminary and PhD-prep, and working and family, I just didn’t do a good job enjoying the moment and taking care of my body. Late nights. Bad eating habits. Little exercise. And these become a way of life in academia and next thing you know you are sick and fat and tired all the time. Not ideal, trust me. I would have focused more on work/life balance. I am trying to right that ship now (~ a decade into my career), but easier to do earlier.

 

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