Nijay K. Gupta, Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick, 2011).
Now this is not a full-blown book review. Samuel Emadi has already written a fine review in a recent issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (vol. 56.1, March 2013), and I basically agree with his assessment. However, this is a book that needs to be brought to the attention of any prospective doctoral student, and so I wanted to make a few comments on it.
To begin with, the book is fairly short (156 pages), yet surprisingly comprehensive. Nijay K. Gupta (professor at Seattle Pacific University) covers such diverse topics as the differences between British and US schools, looking for a job after you get your degree, basic tips for research (e.g., don’t over rely on commentaries! [p. 82]), and how to prepare for your dissertation’s defense. There are three sections to the book with 3 chapters in the first two and 4 chapters for the last section. The first section, “Prepare,” covers 1. “Choosing a Doctoral Program,” 2. “Preparing for Doctoral Studies: From Education to Application,” and 3. “Making an Application.” The second section, “Succeed,” covers 4. “Orientation to the PhD and Choosing the Research Topic,” 5. Researching and Writing the Dissertation,” and 6. “How to Defend Your Work (preparing for your oral defense).” The final section, “Advance,” covers 7. “Orientation: From PhD to Employment and Beyond,” 8. “Conference Participation and Publishing,” 9. “Teaching Experience,” and 10. “Job Hunting, Interviewing, and Publishing the Dissertation.” Gupta also includes a bibliography of helpful resources for research, although it is heavily weighted towards NT and Pauline research, and consequently not equally as helpful towards all.
As mentioned above, this is a must-read for most, if not all, prospective doctoral students, due to its wealth of material and its easily-readable style. Now, this book is geared towards both believers and nonbelievers interested in biblical studies, so you won’t see much on spiritual development or family life, both important topics for the evangelical student. I am somewhat disappointed that Gupta does not really spend much time discussing finances, something I wish somebody had discussed with me before I began looking at doctoral programs! Nevertheless, the book, for the most part, covers what you would want such a book to cover.
In his conclusion, Gupta provides us with some very helpful tips on the academic life. Let me focus on and reinforce two of them. Gupta states, “Be eclectic. Many PhD students and young professionals become a one-trick pony because their research was so focused that they are unaware of what is going on in the wider fields of biblical studies. . . . I would encourage you to maintain, alongside your primary specialty, an interest in a few other areas. This will actually enhance your research . . . .” (p. 150) I would personally add (even though it goes against conventional wisdom) that not all the classes you take should be connected with your dissertation. I audited OT Theology and benefited from it; I also took “Christian Faith and Science,” thoroughly enjoyed it, and got an article published out of it (totally outside my main field of study, yet a topic I enjoyed). It goes without saying that most of your classes should be within your field of study (and SEBTS required 4 out of 8, I believe), but otherwise take a few topics that you think might challenge you, or that you’re curious about.
Gupta also states, “Count your blessings. . . . Remember the privilege of what you are doing! In broader perspective, only a small percent of the world’s population will have the chance (and honor) t study at the master’s level, let alone spend several years at an even higher level . . . .” (p. 150) To that we can all give a hearty “amen”! Doctoral study is a privilege granted to some by God (and, in of itself, is no guarantee of spirituality or even intelligence). If you get that opportunity, thank God for it on a consistent basis and don’t squander it!
It’s worth briefly comparing Gupta’s book with the Ben Witherington’s recent Is There a Doctor in the House?(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011). Witherington’s book, it seemed to me, is concerned more with scholarship and teaching ability; while his work is valuable and does contain some helpful info for prospective students (and, I might add, at this point I think Witherington is the better writer), I think Gupta’s book is the one I want prospective students to read first, since Gupta deals with a wider range of questions and issues that will plague doctoral students.
For any of my readers interested in doctoral work, please don’t hesitate to drop me an e-mail with your questions!