A Word to Research Students

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Maybe you are like me, an average Chris, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but sufficiently motivated and interested to be studying theology in a research program. If so, the day comes when you sit down (or Skype) with your professor to discuss your topic. Having enjoyed a few such conversations, I’d like to share two lessons that strike me as essential to the preservation of your morale.

First, you will often feel like an ice cube floating beside an iceberg. This is natural. A scholar with a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford and four decades of research on your subject will know some things. Don’t be surprised when he pokes holes in your brilliant idea. He probably had the same thought 35 years ago and it’s no smarter today than it was then.

This reality shouldn’t cause discouragement; it should promote humility. Embrace it! Humility is a gift that we must preserve, especially as your ice cube grows. 

The second lesson emerged over the weekend while I and my family were reassembling our house after an expansive carpet installation. Here is how it worked. After weeks of evacuating rooms, placing furniture, clothing, lamps, books, etc. into every nook and cranny of our garage and family room, we were suddenly in a position of having to put it back away. There I was, looking at utter chaos. You know the feeling. Where do you even start?

I grabbed whatever was closest to me, and the next thing, and the next thing. After a few hours, I lifted my head and found that we had made a small dent. It was small, but at least it was progress.

This, as far as I can tell, is the way to do research. Words like “speed” are foreign to the process. It’s a slow and steady march; two steps forward, one step back, and by God’s grace we make progress. In a word, it requires patience, another gift from God that makes all the difference.

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