Considering how ‘imposter syndrome’ might relate to life as a Christian in academia.
advice for students
Anchoress (courtesy of The Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge). Notice the cat(?)
You should not keep any animal except a cat… Anyone who wishes may sleep in leggings… They should not snack between meals.
Last week we considered some of the contributions postgrads can make to their churches. This week, we’re turning the question around: how can churches support the postgraduates in their congregation?
Research is an adventure into the unknown. As such, it’s risky business. What happens when things go wrong? Sometimes a project you’ve been working on for long hours turns out to lead nowhere. You’ve poured your energies into a big plan, only to find it doesn’t work. You may even suffer the blow of being pre-empted in publishing something that was your ‘baby’ – your big idea to show the world. At such times it’s easy for scary questions to enter our minds: Am I a waste of time? Am I not good enough to be an academic?
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
I heard a talk about “Being a Christian in Academia” recently and wanted to make a response. I had a list of points at which I would have said something different from what the speaker said, and there were probably enough for a 30-min talk.
But as I reflected, there seemed to be just one point that really mattered. One thing could set the general direction for everything else, and perhaps that was all I needed to say. That point was, “What’s the point?” I mean: why be a Christian in academia? And why have universities at all, from a Christian point of view?
Anti-intellectualism in the church has been well documented (Noll 1995) and is still a problem for Christian academics today. It may appear in many guises, but one is what Don Carson calls “blue-collar arrogance”. This is the idea that if you can’t do something practical – so that others can see the direct benefit or fruit of it, your job is fairly pointless. I encountered this recently when I was asked, “don’t you want to become a lawyer, teacher or vicar? In those jobs you can help people, serve the Church financially or serve the Church theologically and pastorally.”
Recently I took time out of a holiday to finish preparing a conference paper. At the same time I could see a colleague becoming more stressed with the pressure of their work load, and read an article by the Vice Chancellor of a large British university, in which he admitted that university staff could not be expected to absorb any more work.
A guest post by George Parsons
To do a PhD is to experience a unique form of chronic suffering. Thus, a description of the subtle downward drag of depression (to which working on a PhD, especially in the final stages, with its elements of exertion, isolation, uncertainty and anxiety, all over a long period, seems often to lead) resonates with me as I battle on with my thesis: ‘Depression says, “Surrender.” The message is relentless, and many comply, because even when you know that there is a purpose to your suffering, the battle seems too long.’