Competitive Greek Anxiety, Ph.D

So classes start this Monday. Well, one at least — my Greek class. And from what I’ve heard, that should be enough: It’s a ten-week course, and due to the “intensity” of it all, students are highly discouraged from working part-time jobs or anything that might distract. I’ve got my textbooks already:

So far, I’ve met two other students in my class: One of them has taken Greek before at a different school, and the other has been studying furiously all summer long. No pressure.

Actually, pressure is something I’m starting to feel here, and not just about Greek. On one hand, the people we’ve met have been astonishingly welcoming and friendly, going out of their way to make us feel loved and at home. I get the sense that at least here in CRW (the seminary apartment complex) everyone kind of functions as one big extended family. But as soon as the conversations turn to academics, the tone changes, the eyes shift, and suddenly I feel like I’m back in undergrad running for student body president again. Only this time, *everyone* is running. And already ten miles down the road (sorry for the mixed metaphor).

A lot of the pressure seems to be about getting into a PhD program — and apparently there are many students who come here with no intention of going that route, but then get swept up in it anyhow. I’ve been told that to get into a decent PhD program, I’ll need to maintain a 3.8 or higher GPA, which means that A minuses are a bad, bad thing. I’ve also gathered that in addition to an M.Div, I’ll probably need another more specialized master’s degree to be considered by any top-tier school, and that my planned MA in Christian Education might not be “serious” enough for PhD work. Oh, and since I’m in my thirties already, if I wait too much longer to get a PhD, I might have a hard time getting accepted, since a younger candidate would be a better investment and have more years of productive reasearch/teaching in the field.

How much of this is true, and how much is exaggeration and/or hype? I don’t know yet. I was mostly just happy to be back in school again. I remember when I was in high school, there was a lot of peer pressure and competition to get into a good college (yes, I went to one of *those* high schools). And then in undergraduate, everyone seemed to be motivated to achieve so they could get into a good graduate program. Now that I’m finally here (ten years later) this is familiar — everyone is still focused on “what comes next.” To borrow a programming metaphor, I wonder if that’s a feature, or a bug, in our culture? Perhaps both, to some extent.

I talked to my brother, Jeff, on the phone the other night, and he helped me put a lot of things into perspective. Because seriously, who really needs a PhD to start a micro-brewery monastery? I’ve always thought I would go on to get one someday, but if I do, I think it will be on my own terms, and for the sake of the knowledge, not the image. By striving hard to “achieve” and outdo those around me in this competitive academic environment, I would essentially be “conforming” to the process and doing “what everyone else is doing.” And I’ve never been about conformity, now have I?

Time to go study some Greek. Everyone else here may be looking for a grade, a spotlight, or even the ability to read the New Testament a more original form. Not me — I just want to be able to read Homer’s Odyssey in it’s original language…

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16 Responses to Competitive Greek Anxiety, Ph.D

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