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Jack - deciding against an academic career
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Name: Jack
PhD discipline: Theology
Area(s) of work: University teaching; religious ministry
Year of graduation: 1995
Date of Interview: 29/07/2009

Now Playing: Jack - deciding against an academic career
Jack explains how he regards his PhD in retrospect and he recalls how he came to the realisation that academic research was not where his passion lay.

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It encouraged me to think in very sharp, intellectually aggressive, rather an immature sort of way of thinking. As a tutor I would describe it as a very male way of thinking. A very famous theologian in fact once said this to me when I was describing why I wasn't really interested in the work I'd done as a doctoral student anymore, he said it was because it was primarily about winning arguments and that was right; that really was what my doctorate was doing. I was dealing with a lot of quite well known people in the field and just sort of dismissing them with a wave of my 24 year old hand and whilst I don't necessarily think I was wrong intellectually, I still think probably the things I argued were correct, I'm not sure how constructive it was as a piece of work and one of the reasons I've never really been interested in trying to get it published or anything like that because I look at it now and think 'oh dear,' not that I'm embarrassed that I wrote this but this is very much something which is written to pass a doctorate examination, not something which makes a significant contribution to theological scholarship. I know the two are supposed to be the same thing but let's face it, they often aren't. It carried on from my undergraduate work in that the skills I had as an undergraduate developed, so being able to deal with dense and complex texts in particular and being able to elucidate difficult ideas and it did encourage me to make connections across a variety of fields. My doctoral work was in a sense a bit impressionistic in that I drew on a lot of different periods of Christian theology and a lot of different types so I spent a lot of time discussing the interpretation of the bible and I spent an awful lot of time discussing the philosophy of Wittgenstein and those things don't really very obviously connect but when you think about them a lot then you make connections and that was interesting. But I think the more time I spent with classic texts in particular, the more it encouraged me to be suspicious of almost any secondary material whatsoever and actually in terms of my own subsequent interest in theology and academia, that's had quite a negative effect on me because it means I'm not at all interested in writing theology generally speaking, because I just think 'well all the other theology I read is rubbish, why is anything I'm going to write going to be any better.' And I think that goes back directly to that sort of, what I call, the immature, aggressive style of winning arguments. I don't think there's anything particular about doctoral work in Oxford that makes that inevitable. I think it was just that that was my experience and it relates to the fact that I was young when I did my doctorate. Young in years and young in breadth.

It is interesting that you did a research degree and that to a certain extent it's put you off research

Yeah, I mean funnily enough what little genuine research I have done since coming back to Oxford has been in a completely different area and has been much more like what people think of when they think of research, i.e. it's been spent trawling through archives and reading letters of Victorian clergy and reconstructing meetings of obscure church organisations that took place in Oxford in the 1860s and that sort of thing. And that I found, I still find, very engaging. It appeals to the part of me that likes detective novels. It's a sort of reconstructive thing but it's something very different from the theology in which I'm really trained which is about dealing with and formulating very complex philosophical and theological ideas and trying to express them clearly and usefully, so in that respect the doctorate has helped me much more as a teacher than it has as a researcher, which is ironic perhaps because a lot of people who are very good researchers who aren't perhaps terribly good teachers.

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