I currently work as a church minister and I’m considering doing a PhD in Theology. I have an offer to start one this autumn at a good university, and I’m posting on here because I’d appreciate your advice on whether I’d be a good candidate for a PhD.
I have a first-class degree in Theology from Oxford University, and I really enjoy reading and researching in my subject area. My plan would be to do the programme part-time, alongside working 4 days a week at my job (I’m confident that they'd be fairly flexible, as another former staff member did a PhD part-time in the past). I could go full-time if needed (eg - to finish off the last year of the degree). One of the key benefits of my job is that I'm part of a team of pastors so the pressure isn't enormous, and there is flexibility in my role, so I could combine study with work. I love my job and could see my future in it longer-term if the academic route didn’t work out. However, recently I've also been teaching a few classes at a local Bible college, and have really enjoyed the process of writing the lectures and delivering them to students. In order to continue being an adjunct at this particular college, I wouldn’t need to get a PhD, but it would open up the door to full-time positions. I know that my main passion is teaching rather than research, although I find satisfaction in research too. I've already made a draft bibliography of 250+ books and articles which I wish to read for the PhD, and done some preliminary research which I’ve enjoyed.
So, why do I want to do a PhD?
- I want to grow intellectually and be challenged at the highest academic level.
- It would enable me to teach in a university/seminary.
- I love to read and to write, and have written shorter research articles in the past, one of which is due to be published in an academic textbook later this year.
- I have found a subject that I’m interested in and for which I believe I can make an original contribution to scholarship.
- I’ve had a desire to do it so for several years, and I sometimes think that I would really regret it if I didn’t do a PhD.
However, I have read quite a lot of articles which have made me cautious about proceeding with the degree, due to the huge amount of work involved, the dismal job market in academia, and the risk of mental illness/isolation. A question at the forefront of my mind is: would getting a PhD actually be worth the financial and emotional costs? I am in my early thirties and have responsibilities for my wife and a 5-month old baby - would it put too much pressure on my family?
The alternative would be to study for another degree (either a masters degree or a Doctorate in Ministry, which is much less research-focussed). This might allow me to continue teaching at a college and would be less pressure, but wouldn’t open up career opportunities in the same way.
I'd really appreciate your advice on this. Thanks.
I'm in the relatively unique position of knowing a colleague who worked for the church and made the leap to a PhD.
For them, the original motivation was that it would enable them to teach at a higher level. This evolved over the course of the PhD, to the extent they're less interested in teaching now and work full-time as a researcher.
If you want to teach at University-level it is basically a pre-requisite; otherwise you're stuck as a TA for your entire career.
I wouldn't factor much the fact you're daunted by it; it will be hard, but it's actually a good sign if you realise this early on, and it probably won't be as hard as you think - but the only time you'll realise this is after completing it. A PhD will be very research-focused and whilst it serves as a passport to higher-level teaching positions it will take you away from teaching in the short term rather than towards it.
It is also my experience that the dedication and empathy a church role takes to support people spiritually and emotionally - however much you may describe the pressure as 'not enormous' - is something that will serve you extremely well when it comes to the hard work, rigour, and honesty involved in a PhD.
You sound well-suited; the only real consideration is the financial one. If you can come up with a way to make ends meet, I'd be very optimistic you'd succeed. If you self-fund, do 'shop-around', and be unafraid to commute, as it's a buyers market and you should be wary of accepting the first self-funded offer.
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