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Ryan Collman on “What Makes a good Biblical Scholar?”

A good biblical scholar is a sane biblical scholar. What I mean by that is, a good biblical scholar takes time for themselves and does not focus on their research every waking moment of the day; you have to have balance. If you don’t do this, you’ll (figuratively) go insane.

For many of us who aspire to be biblical scholars working in academia, the first major hurdle that can impede on one’s sanity is the process of getting the PhD. You spend anywhere from 3-5 years—maybe more—working on a single project with a singular focus. This can wreak havoc on your life and relationships if you don’t find a way to have a balance in your life between research and living a life outside of your research.

Here are some practical things I’ve learned and started doing to keep my life balanced in the midst of working on a PhD:

  • Don’t compete with your peers; you are all in this together. Celebrate each other’s successes and mourn each other’s rejections. Don’t worry about how much they have written this week and how little you have; you’ll never finish your own project if you are obsessed with comparing yourself to others—and you’ll probably make enemies in the process.
  • Spend time with your peers. Every Friday a handful of us cut our days short and usher in the weekend by heading to the pub. We bounce ideas off of each other, talk about life, and invest in our friendships. Don’t isolate yourself.
  • If at all possible, don’t work outside of a set schedule. This is a job and you should treat it like a 9-5 (with a full hour for lunch!). Take holidays, take sick days, take mental health days, and try not to work at home. The PhD will only get done successfully if you have boundaries.
  • Have a hobby or passion completely unrelated to your PhD and make time for it. Join a running club, work through a cook book, start home-brewing, take photography classes, etc.
  • Spend time with your family. They’ve likely already made many sacrifices for you to be pursuing a PhD; don’t make them resent you for it. Take your partner on dates. Walk your kids to school. Go on family holiday/vacation. This also means protecting your weekend from being invaded by research.

Ryan Collman is a PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His research focuses on circumcision in the letters of Paul.

Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the editor of Word by Word's Lecture Hall and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger