Why do a PhD? Embracing God’s gifts

I have wanted to be an academic since I was about 8 years old. I loved learning new things. In my free time and over the holidays, I would pursue what I in retrospect call ‘little research projects’, trying to learn as much as possible about a topic to advance my understanding. If I did well in school it would not be a problem to get into a good university. This is the good side of my life’s story.

There is also a bad side though. I found school boring, so boring that at times it made me physically ill. I found it difficult to connect with my classmates, and was often on the receiving end of jealousy. In short, although I found much joy in developing the mind God had given me, I found it difficult to be really grateful for this gift, and saw it as a burden. The only thing that kept me going at school was the prospect of going to university.

Thankfully, university did not disappoint. I finally found the freedom to dive in deeply, and besides my degree courses I took courses in various other departments. So pursuing a PhD was the logical next step. However, although I graduated cum laude, initially I did not find a PhD position in my own country (The Netherlands). So I parked myself in a variety of relevant short-term jobs: working as a field archaeologist (digging and coring), as a librarian and in the planning of archaeological projects. But although the work was interesting, I found that I only needed about half of my brain to carry out the tasks I was given to do, and after a while it started to really get me down. So, even though I am not adventurous at all, I began to look for a PhD position in another country – Britain or Germany. Within a few weeks, everything started to fall into place. It was as if God had been preparing things for when I was ready to take the plunge.

So I am probably one of the few people who absolutely loved every second of their PhD. Yes, there were times when I was measuring bones for weeks in museum basements without windows, or that summer trying to learn statistics while everyone was on holiday. But I just love doing research, to find out more amazing things about God’s creation. I have learned to see my mind as a gift, and have a desire to use it to the full. That is still what drives me now as a postdoc, and what keeps me in academia.

I realise this is a highly personal story and won’t resonate with everyone. But my point is this: if God has evidently gifted you intellectually, you have a responsibility to use that gift for his glory. Of course that does not mean that every smart person should strive to become an academic. The use of such gifts with a servant attitude is just as much needed in government, business, hospitals and any other part of society. But if you are gifted, and feel drawn to do a PhD, go for it, and trust that God will show you how you can bring glory to him. That might be directly through your research, through your interactions with colleagues, through using your knowledge and skills for the benefit of the church, or maybe through a role in a local postgraduate group or ministry.

What gifts have you received? Are you able to be thankful for them, even through the hard times?  How can you glorify God?

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