Posts by Richard Dunning

Q: Why did the social scientist talk to her colleague?
A: To reveal her ontological security

OK, the one about a broken drum being the best Christmas present is a better cracker joke – in fact you just can’t beat it. However, like many jokers our social scientist does reveal something about our social interactions: academics are rarely recognised for their social virtues.

In just under four months the 2016 Fisch Leaders’ Conference will be taking place in Leeds. It’s going to be epic; a crucial moment under God’s grace for this cohort of Christian postgraduate leaders.

Fundamentally it promises two things (with a money back guarantee): you will enjoy a time of rest and encouragement as you are fed in a community of Christian scholars; and you will be challenged to grow in your thinking and leadership as you share your experiences and listen to others.

If you’re weighing up whether to do a PhD or not and have got this far in the “Why do a PhD?” series, you will have already considered your motivations, skills and the honour brought to Christ by studying his creation. But, you may also be trying to decide if it is worth spending 3-5 years more researching.

In this decision, a Christian deals with the duality of both an open and closed future, at least from their perspective. Whilst there is certainty in all of God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20), they do not know precisely how their efforts of obedience and delighted action will pan out in the PhD research.

I’m trying to be a serious academic, but sometimes it feels that considering how my faith impacts my discipline is merely an interesting sideline to my work. It’s a subject to be confined to my Christian postgrad group and occasional books read on the sly, rather than a unifying principle in my work.

As Abraham Kuyper never said: “All of life is redeemed, apart from the mundane stuff”. When Kuyper was writing the Stone lectures was he thinking about completing a bi-annual PhD progress report, doing the online fire training course again (could a fire occur in virtual space?), checking references, filing ethical permission applications, ordering paper for the communal printer or reading submission guidelines1?

How can we bring Jesus’ lordship to bear on ordinary administrative jobs2? Here our focus is on understanding the culture of administration3 to inform our response.

“Help make better places” is the strap line of my department. It’s fairly good as far as strap lines go, and is reflected in the goals of many of our students. It recognises that the cities and habitats we live in at the moment are far from perfect, but does so without diminishing the hope that we can improve both our situation and those of others.

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.

Many PhD students are under similar pressures: they feel unable to find enough time to prepare adequately for leading seminars and teaching, whilst juggling the competing demands of publishing and writing their thesis. Many Christian postgrads also take on responsibilities within their churches and graduate groups. Within this mix they are grappling with how to be faithful to Jesus as lord of the cosmos in their discipline.

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.’