Greater Communion


Viewing posts tagged academia

So you’re a theologian and a computer programmer?

I’ve always had a curiosity and interest in computer programming, ever since my days in the fourth grade when I made little user-interactive knock-knock jokes using a Texas Instruments computer. Those with analytical minds often have an affinity for the technological as well as the scholarly. But the greatest fusion of academics and technology really came together for me when I was working on my dissertation. I simply needed to collect lots of research, define outcomes, manage and navigate a very complex hierarchical relationship of tasks and obligations—both academic and personal. A former professor of mine introduced me to David Allen’s Getting Things Done book and the workflow he has there for collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing, and doing things. I needed a way to apply this to control all of the digital elements of my life; and that’s when I started looking into Applescript—a programming language for the mac. It started with just simple curiosity. I picked up a book on the subject, started tinkering with the programming language a bit, and the next thing you know, I was designing a comprehensive system for implementing David Allen’s workflow on my mac. Once I developed a functional system for myself I then gave it a name—Ready-Set-Do!—and began selling it to others who could benefit from it.

In addition to that, I also began thinking of ways to convert text to speech I could listen to on my iPod. My life was busy in graduate school and I had to read just about every major theologian from the second century to the present day for my comprehensive exams. So I made a little script that would mass convert these public domain texts to audio files I could listen to on my iPod. I was able to 5-star rate the ones most important for my exams and could listen to a computer voice reading Augustine’s treatise On the Trinity while I was walking the dogs each morning. To this day, I have serious doubts as to whether I would have ever successfully made it through my Ph.D. without the extra tinkering I did programming these workflows for myself. Today they continue to help me stay organized and get things done.

What advice do you have for others looking to pursue a degree in Theology, Philosophy, or Bible?

You are choosing to study two of the most important subjects to know. But you should do your homework by reading up on various professors you’d like to study with before applying to a school. These are the mentors who are going to help shape and refine you as a person. The more you know about them, the better you’ll know which professors and which program will be the best fit for you. You may also need to check and make sure that the professors you’d like to study with are taking on more students and don’t plan on retiring at the time you join the program. Both of these fields—like many others in academia—are filled with good and bad professors. So do your homework. Read their works. Find out about the programs. And then do what you need to do to apply for them.

Second, just because you are studying two of the most important subjects to know doesn’t guarantee that others will value the degree as much as you do. The Humanities, as a whole, gets less funding and less attention than the more profitable fields of study (e.g., Business, Medicine, and other fields of Science). Expect to be overlooked. Expect others in academia to look down on you. Expect friends and family members not to understand the ‘utility’ of your decision to pursue an academic discipline that—at least in their minds—shares the same space with starving artists and musicians. Realize that there is a healthy dose of truth in their sentiments. Do not expect to get a job in academia, but don’t give up trying if that’s what you intend to pursue. You will likely have to diversify your skill-set some and do things along the way to earn money and pay the bills. At the end of your journey you may even have to consider using your knowledge in a career you never originally envisioned for yourself. All of this should come as no surprise. The world will never cease to be a place where newcomers have to both produce original work and find creative ways to market it to others. You will have to chart a course for yourself that helps define your niche, aligns with your passions, and connects with others who are interested in hearing what you have to contribute. Just keep at it. For you have the most to give to a world that so frequently loses—but occasionally rediscovers—its lifeblood in the Humanities.