The top ten things you should know if you’re interested in pursuing a PhD in Religious Studies:
10. In many ways your network is more important than your qualifications. It helps to have a variety of folks who know you and like you and will endorse you. This means networking at professional meetings, emailing scholars ahead of time to set up coffee, and traveling (where you can) to meet people in their offices. The wise student begins networking a couple years before they send out applications.
9. Be able to demonstrate some aptitude with modern languages. Even a single course in conversational German is better than nothing. It doesn’t hurt to show that you’ve interacted with a German, French, or modern Hebrew essay in your writing sample.
8. Be very smart. I was given this advice by a very smart seminary professor. I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time, so I pursued a PhD anyway.
7. Sometimes the network of the institution is better than the quality of education that they can provide. For example, if you’d like to study the intersections between continental philosophy and theology, the University of Nottingham might provide the best (or near best) education in the world. But if you want to land a job after you’re done with your education, it might be better to choose a lesser education at a place with a bigger name. Perception is reality in this business.
6. If, as a result of applying to Duke, you sustain a rejection that lasts for four or more hours, consult a physician.
5. When you’re approaching potential PhD supervisors, attempt to figure out what their present interests are. If they are working on a project that is due out in two years, they might be interested in supervising a related topic.
4. Read a few of the scholar’s essays/books before you sit down with him or her.
3. Don’t come off as an admiring fan who is filled with awe. Most scholars (I say “most”) know that whatever celebrity they have is extremely limited. You can say that you appreciate their work without puckering.
2. Don’t be a know-it-all.
…and the number one thing you should know if you’re interested in pursuing a PhD in Religious Studies:
1. You have an appreciably better chance of being happy in some other line of work. For the sake of your relationships, your wallet, your marriage (if this applies to you), your faith (if this applies to you), and your general contentment, consider the cost. Dental hygienists make very good money and can live almost anywhere in the world.
For the recently successful among us, are there points I've missed?