24 February 2016

PhD Advice - Helpful and Unhelpful

One of the joys of doing a PhD and ministering to folks who are getting PhDs is learning to reflect on the experience. An important part of that is sharing the struggles and joys of the experience with others. Getting a PhD is hard; we all need the support. At the same time, I also believe it's very much worth it: getting to go to grad school and writing a dissertation is a privilege and a gift. But it's still hard and overwhelming and even leads to depression for many.

Getting a PhD is even more complicated for females, I think, even though there are quite a lot of us doing them! There's even a recent book written about this, which I'd recommend: Our dissertations, ourselves. Perhaps part of the challenge in being a female is the strange assumptions about females doing PhDs like 'you won't be able to get married' or 'don't you want to have children.' And yes, I have had both of those assumptions directed at me.

One of the challenges of getting a PhD is knowing how to do it. Many of those around us, including those who care about us, will want to try to give helpful advice. Asking a grad student how his or her thesis is coming is not always received well (see PhD comics). But what does one say? A lot of advice is more unhelpful than helpful: e.g.,  I know others who've finished faster than you, a good thesis is a done thesis, you won't get a job, and more: see Thesis Whisperer's article on Unhelpful PhD Advice.

YES! I, too, would like to have my dissertation finished now already. I know Matthijs would, too.

Do I worry about whether I'll finish? Not so much. Do I wonder about how I'll finish? More so. Most of the time the biggest challenge hasn't been in writing the dissertation but in figuring out what's preventing me from writing. Unfortunately, there's very little advice - even from those closest to me and my dissertation - that can help resolve that challenge, at least partly because I recognize that the reasons for not writing keep shifting.

19 February 2016

Practice what you teach

As part of my job I read a number of columnists from Inside Higher Ed. A recent article, "Am I a Bad Feminist Mom?" by Laura Tropp, struck me on account of its honesty in acknowledging how our ideals do not always translate into reality.

She starts by stating she believed she "would be the best feminist mom," as she is "an academic who studies feminism, motherhood, and families. [She] knows about the glass ceiling, the maternal wall, and the second shift. [She's] read the studies on girls and self-esteem." And yet, she acknowledges, "The other day, I called my daughter “bossy” and my husband reminded me that, according to Sheryl Sandberg, people shouldn’t use that word around girls anymore. It might teach them to be less assertive later in life."

She concludes by noting how hard it is to practice what she teaches:
"I can’t help but feel that I’m a better feminist teacher than I am a feminist mother. It’s must easier to avoid hypocrisy as a teacher than as a mom. I can talk about beauty myths without revealing whether or not I choose to adhere to them. I can discuss the burden of the second shift without students witnessing my own struggles with it." - Laura Tropp
Whatever our area of expertise, I think her words apply to all of us who teach or lead. It is one thing to teach what is good and another thing to actually practice that.

13 February 2016

Lent, in others' words

I have always appreciated the season of Lent, as the church services (songs and liturgy) fits better with the messiness of faith as I have experienced it. I bumped into several folks who have captured well the goodness and messiness related to Lent and faith, so I'm including those here.

writes about "Why Lent is Good for Bad Christians:"
"When we are desperate to be healthy and whole, yet know we don’t have the discipline to make it happen, sometimes we have to sign up for boot camp, for an intensive and structured routine that turns our good intentions into concrete action. Welcome to Lent."
"A way that we err in how we approach Lent: We confuse our metaphors and treat these 40 days like an actual physical boot camp, when in fact spiritual fitness is the whole point. We turn the church calendar into a liturgical Fitbit, a tool we can incorporate into our lives to help us realize our weight-loss, strength, or technology-use goals. . . It should be clear at this point that I think physical fitness is good, and that setting goals to achieve said fitness is important. I have personally abstained from alcohol during Lent for the past three years, and during that time I feel better and probably lose a bit of weight. But I abstain from alcohol because it’s part of church tradition, not because I lose weight. It should be clear that the point of Lent is not to get six-pack abs." Read the full article.

James K.A. Smith writes about An American Lent, lamenting how even giving up something at Lent is primarily about my individual (expression of) faith:
"In a more robustly communal practice of the faith, my self-denial is not up to me. The practices of fasting and feasting are not a matter of choice: they are part of the spiritual architecture of the church. It's not so much that I choose to abstain from meat; meat is not going to be served. There are communal commitments embedded in an environment that takes the emphasis off of my choice and will power and instead throws me into the formative power of the practice.  My participation in the formative disciplines of Lent isn't another chance for me to show something to God (or others).  It is an invitation to have my hungers retrained." Read the full post to see how this is typical for American Christianity.

Lastly, if you are still confused about what Lent (or Ash Wednesday) is, how Catholics celebrate it, and/or just simply like Lego, there's a one-minute video on youtube about Lent (using Lego)!

12 February 2016

Mixed Feelings about Paul and his writings

I briefly mentioned to someone that our study of Colossians at Campus Edge has made me appreciate the words of Paul much more. She was surprised that I'd had mixed feelings about him. I mentioned to her that many females do not appreciate Paul because of how he talks about women. Yet, that's not my issue with Paul: It's more that his descriptions of how people ought to live come across as arrogant and lacking any nuance. 

The text of Colossians has been wonderful to study. The text has been challenging and encouraging, full of numerous insights to think about and discuss.

At the same time, I just recently re-read the letters to Timothy and did a word study on submit (ὑποτάσσω (hypotassō)), so I haven't entirely lost my exasperation with Paul. But at least now the exasperation has expanded (and not just to include Peter). As I see the ways that the students do not know how or want to accept Paul's words because they have been greviously misused and misinterpreted, my anger has grown against those who have arrogantly claimed that they understand exactly what Paul's words mean in cultural contexts very different than that of Paul.