Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to school

Well, it's official. This past weekend I went through registration and orientation, and I now have a campus mailbox, ID card, syllabi and a stack of textbooks. I'm now a PhD student in educational studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

It's been twelve years since I finished my master's in communications at Wheaton Grad School, so I'm a little daunted about getting back into the system. I had considered doing doctoral work immediately after my master's, but I had been in school for so long (K-12 plus four years of college and two years for the MA - a total of 19 years!) that I felt like I really needed to get out in the real world and work. My dad was a PhD (in electrical engineering), my uncle was a PhD (in economics), so part of me figured I'd get a PhD eventually, but I didn't know in what or when. I didn't want to enter into a PhD program just for the sake of getting a PhD or for the wrong reasons, so I basically relinquished the idea. I didn't know if I would ever get back to school, because things have been rolling along pretty well career-wise this past decade or so, and it's hard to shift gears mid-stream.

But then a few years ago I was in an Asian American leadership development program through InterVarsity, and my mentor was Peter Cha, professor of practical theology and sociology of religion at Trinity. And one of the first things he asked me as we met was, "So when are you going to do doctoral work?" I resisted the idea at first just because life was busy enough as is. Decided against it, at one point. But the topic kept coming up over the next year or so.

So last year I decided to start formally explore all the various options (so much easier now than for college or my MA, before schools had websites!). The main challenge was that there's no such thing as a PhD in publishing. I considered PhD programs in communications and looked for programs in religious media studies or media and theology. I'm not qualified for programs in sociology of religion, but I wanted to explore sociology of religion and theology of culture if possible. I wondered if I could adapt a DMin program to a parachurch context. Explored some distance possibilities, some interdisciplinary PhD programs. I even looked into MFAs and MBAs. I considered a particular PhD program with connections between a seminary and a university (I thought it would be interesting to do theology at the seminary and communication studies at the university), but I got a speeding ticket on my way to the campus visit, and the lunch they provided had a chicken salad sandwich that gave me food poisoning and knocked me out for the weekend. I took that as a sign from God not to apply to that school.

So ultimately, I came back around to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School's PhD in educational studies. This particular program specifically seeks out people who have been working professionals and can bring real-life experience to bear on the program, so it's not merely theoretical but anchored in practical realities. The classes are modular, so it's more doable for people with full-time jobs. The school and faculty align pretty well with my broadly evangelical identity. My mentor Peter Cha teaches several sociology courses in the program. I can contextualize the program to bring educational theory and pedagogy into dialogue with Christian publishing praxis. The program is interdisciplinary (my texts cover a range of fields from history, philosophy and epistemology to anthropology, psychology and sociology). And it's local here in the Chicagoland area, so I don't have to uproot my family or leave my job. Seemed like a good convergence of all the various factors and criteria.

So I applied, and I got in. I'm still a little daunted, but at orientation yesterday the dean welcomed us and told us that we don't have to feel like we have to prove ourselves to be here. He said that they accepted us into the program because they wanted us to be part of this community and were confident that we could contribute and do scholarship at this level. And one minor thing that's pretty cool is that during library orientation yesterday, they showed us a little feature that imports bibliographic reference info and automatically formats it in whatever style guide you need - Chicago, Turabian, APA, whatever. Wow! They didn't have that when I was in grad school twelve years ago. I'll be gosh darned by all this new-fangled technology.

All this to say that I probably won't have time to blog as much these next few years. We'll see how things go. I'm a little worried that blogging has wrecked my ability to write academic papers. I've gotten used to brief blog posts without extensive lit review or note referencing. But at any rate, I'm finally underway on this doctoral journey. Pray for me!


Laura Bartlett said...

Congrats on being a student again. I look forward to reading your posts on some of what you learn!

Ellen said...

That magic citation program would be Refworks, I take it...

As a librarian (and former IV staffer) who reads your blog, I'm glad you find our cool research tools helpful.

Al Hsu said...

Yep, it's Refworks. I want all of our authors to use it!

Eddy E said...

Blessings on your new endeavors... though keep blogging ;) I enjoy your thoughts. Because of your reviews, I'm gathering people for an online book discussion of Culture Making.


Jason Clark said...

Congratulations Al.

But you must blog about what you are learning in the programme :-)

Helen said...

ooh, I'm very envious! I always wish I had a reason to go back to school! Look forward to addressing you as Dr. Hsu one day soon! Have fun!

Jenell Williams Paris said...

Congrats! Writing academic work and blogs (and lay reader books about subjects beginning with "S")is a good way to expand your range, IMHO.

Unknown said...

Be forwarned: RefWorks sometimes stil takes a really, really long time and feels just as burdensome. I had a lot of book sources for one paper, and it seemed it took forever to put them all in the way they wanted! But for online articles, it's amazing!

Congratulations and have fun! You should post excerpts of papers on here--I've done that on my blog when I didn't have anything else to write. ;o)