Interview with Derek Cooper

derek-cooperThe other day we ran a review of Derek Cooper’s book, So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary (We’re also giving away 2 copies as well–See the bottom of the post). Today we are posting an interview where we got to ask Dr. Cooper some questions:

1. Could you explain why a Masters of Divinity degree from a seminary is so much longer (90+ hours) than normal masters level programs (30-40 hours)?

A Master of Divinity (MDiv) is longer than other masters’ programs (at colleges or even seminaries) because the MDiv is a professional program—like a law degree or a medical degree. It is extensive because it trains students for a profession that encompasses several different areas of study, e.g., Bible, theology, history, ancient languages, preaching, counseling, and so on. This degree is also customarily pursued by students who do not have any formal training in this field.

The traditional master’s degree, by contrast, is usually pursued by people who have a background in that area. For instance, students who earn a master’s degree in English usually studied English as an undergraduate. What’s more, these types of degrees are purely academic—unlike the MDiv, which is equally academic and practical in nature.

2. What advice would you give to a part-time student who is wanting to experience the seminary culture as much as possible?

The best advice is for them to remember that a seminary degree is just as much about the friends you make and the experiences you have than it is about the classes you take. At a practical level, this means the following for part-time students: staying late after class so you can talk with other students; having lunch in the cafeteria rather than at home, at work, or in the car; scheduling time with professors; attending extra-curricular functions at school (special events, intramural sports, etc.); inviting students or staff from seminary for dinner; and studying in the library or computer room rather than simply working from home.

3. What advice would you give to the seminary student who is married and has children?

This is a very important topic, so I dedicate an entire chapter to it in the book. My advice, in a nutshell, is this: Remember that your “calling” to attend seminary includes your family as well as yourself. It’s easy for a student to adjust to a new school and a new routine because he or she is meeting new people and being challenged in new ways. This may not be the case for the spouse and the children, so it’s important that students be sensitive to this and schedule time each week for their spouses and children.

4. Could you speak to the concept of “networking” whereby some students come to seminary looking to befriend professors and other students with the purpose of finding a career. What is the role of networking while in seminary and how should one go about befriending professors and other students?

In the book I emphasize that networking is more about being active in the school community and being in dialogue with students and staff about your interests and needs. It should never be about manipulation or using people in order to get something from them. Christian networking should be based on truth and genuineness and it should arise naturally through the course of honest and healthy relationships.
Recently, for instance, I was able to connect a former student of mine to a church position that was ideal for him. Because we have a good friendship that is based on truth and because he has communicated to me his needs for a job, I was able to recommend him to a position that I had heard about through another friend of mine.

5. If there is absolutely one thing you could tell the following two people, what would it be? 1) the student looking to attend seminary, 2) the one who is currently in seminary.

For the student who is thinking about seminary, I’d encourage them to read my book—not just to shamelessly promote an otherwise helpful resource (!), but to prepare them for the dozens of questions that they need to ask themselves before they attend seminary: Where do I go? Which degree do I enroll in? How much money does it cost? What will I do with my training? Should I move or stay local?

For the student who is already in seminary, I’d encourage them to constantly be mindful of what God has called them to do with their training after graduation. In the book I dedicate the last two chapters to this important question. In short, these students should be praying for guidance, networking with others, getting practical experience whenever possible, and discerning how they will convert years of training into years of service toward God and the church.

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Terry Delaney
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Written by Terry Delaney