Should I get a PhD?

Should I get a PhD? If you’ve asked yourself this question, especially about a PhD in Biblical Studies, you should read Nijay K. Gupta’s book. In Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Wipf and Stock), Gupta walks through the stages of applying for a PhD (prepare), working on a PhD (succeed), and using one’s PhD to find work (advance).

In Prepare, Succeed, Advance, Gupta seeks to “provide a series of responses to a host of questions that one may encounter when travelling down the path towards a PhD in biblical studies and beyond.” The book is right on the money in this sense. While it reads through nicely, it is also the sort of work that one will want to refer to time and again–especially someone who is trying to advance through the stages of the PhD process.

In the Prepare section, Gupta guides the reader through how to select a program, including what factors to consider, such as cost, location, school prestige, and so on. Perhaps the most useful section of the book is the second chapter, in which he counsels PhD applicants in how to prepare for a PhD–what languages they’ll need to know, what reference works with which to familiarize themselves, and so on. The bibliography he provides (with comments) is a time-saver to many. He concludes the section with nuts-and-bolts advice for how to fill out a PhD program application.

The second part of the book, Succeed, is all about how to do well in a PhD program, once accepted. Gupta goes in depth with regard to how to work with one’s supervisor, how to write and plan for the dissertation, and how to prepare for the oral dissertation defense. He writes:

The point of a dissertation is not that your argumentation and evidence will convince everyone, but rather that you have made a sufficiently plausible argument using methods and evidence that are appropriate to your field and generally accepted.

(He coaches to reader on how to do this, too.)

Finally, for the one who has earned her or his PhD, the final section of Advance covers everything from how to interview for a job, how and where to get teaching experience, conference involvement and article publishing (with helpful lists of journal series to shoot for), and dissertation publishing.

There is much to appreciate about this book. As a book reviewer, I particularly appreciated his section on how (and where) to write book reviews. He covered the basics well. (Key point: measure a book against its own standard; that is, does it advance its thesis successfully?)

If I have any criticism of the book (and this is hard to come by), it’s that Gupta’s section on writing the actual body of the dissertation could have included more. He gives advice like, “Individual chapters should be relatively freestanding and stand as an independent contribution to the overall argument,” but doesn’t spend much time on how to go about writing each individual chapter in the dissertation’s body. Perhaps Gupta assumes that other books on the market adequately cover how to write a dissertation, or that it varies so much from topic to topic that no general advice can be given. But something more about how to organize the argument of the dissertation and make sure its logical flow is clear and cogent would have been a good addition to the book. But this is a minor quibble. There is not much that Gupta does not cover thoroughly and winsomely.

Gupta blogs at Crux Sola. Portions of his book (PhD advice) can be found on his blog here. He writes about his book here. More (PhD Survival Guide) here. Even with all that is available on his blog, this guide is indispensable to anyone thinking about a PhD. Should that day ever come for me, I plan to have this within reach on my bookshelf.

I am grateful to Wipf and Stock for the free review copy, provided in exchange for an unbiased review.

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