Book Review of “Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond”

My rating: 4 out of 5

Nijay Gupta. Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011 (ISBN 978-1-60899-769-5) viii + 156 pp., Pb. $21.00. Available on Amazon HERE.

Pursuing a Ph.D. in biblical studies can be a daunting and mystifying experience that leaves potential students confused about the process. Nijay Gupta’s book Prepare, Succeed, Advance provides an overview of the journey to a Ph.D. bringing encouragement and clarity to prospective students. Those who are beginning a Masters program are the ideal audience for the book because Gupta gives advice which can help a student spend their time acquiring a Masters efficiently and prepare them to apply for Ph.D. programs. Nevertheless, students already in a Ph.D. program and recent graduates will also benefit because he gives tips on how to publish journal articles, surviving the dissertation defense, and teaching strategies for new professors. Gupta states that the advice contained in the book is limited to his own experience but his advice has gone through feedback and correction on his personal blog.1 Although this book is focused on a degree in the area of the New Testament, other Ph.D. students in theology/religious studies can gain insight into the general elements of a Ph.D. program even if the specific examples in the book do not apply to them.2

The book is divided into three major sections: Prepare, Succeed, and Advance. In the first section, Prepare, Gupta provides important factors that prospectives students should take into account when deciding on a university and expectations for an application to a doctoral program. His division of doctoral programs according to first-tier schools, second-tier schools, and seminaries is most helpful for those who are unsure about which schools match their needs and interests. Gupta recommends several books for language preparation and biblical backgrounds to enable a master’s degree student to craft their graduate work for the eventual attainment of a Ph.D.

The second section, Succeed, provides insight into progressing through a Ph.D. program and focuses on the research, writing, and defense of the dissertation. Since most Ph.D. students only write one dissertation, the shape and style of a dissertation may be confusing for some. Gupta offers the helpful suggestion to keep in mind several readers for the dissertation including a “like-minded” scholar and a skeptic to produce a solid dissertation.3 He also gives tips for research methods some Ph.D. students may not consider such as checking the library catalogs of other universities. Lastly, he gives practical advice on the defense and tells readers, “there is no use in obsessing over the upcoming experience.”4 This quote and other parts of the book offer encouragement to those who may feel timid about the pressures of a doctoral program.

Gupta describes what is often expected beyond the requirements to obtain a Ph.D. in the third section entitled Advance. He explains the importance of presenting at conferences and publishing journal articles during one’s time as a Ph.D. student in order to attract employers. One way to begin publishing and developing critical thinking skills is to write books reviews for a journal.5 From this small step a Ph.D. student can be more confident and skilled in writing an article for a journal to publish. This section ends with a chapter on teaching strategies, how to find employment, and publishing the dissertation.

Gupta’s book is a terrific guide bringing clarity and support for anyone interested in doctoral work in theology/religious studies. He maps out important factors and aspects of a doctoral program though each university will undoubtedly have some differences. There are two areas that can receive some improvement in a future edition. The first area to be improved is his chapter on teaching. Gupta provides some general guidance such as gaining teaching experience, syllabus construction, and some teaching resources. However, it would be helpful to discuss teaching objectives, assessments, and classroom engagement with more pedagogical methods than he provides. It may be true that teaching has the general goal of increasing knowledge but this increase needs the direction of objectives to be able to be evaluated. Examples on how to construct objectives would greatly assist new professors. A second area that can be modified is his discussion on the various types of universities. He discusses confessional institutions from an evangelical perspective and the differences between British and American schools. There is a lack of information on Catholic ecclesiastical universities such as the Biblicum where one can receive a doctorate in Sacred Scripture (S.S.D.). There are also other pontifical universities like the Angelicum where one can obtain a licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L) or doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) with a focus on biblical studies.

In the end, this book is a helpful guide to navigate the Ph.D. journey. Students who read this book will have the advantage of not feeling as though they are completely in the dark about what is expected or how to perform at the doctoral level. I highly recommend Gupta’s advice and thank him for collating the many facets of doctoral studies.

 


  1.  Nijay Gupta, Prepare, Advance, Succeed: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 2. Although the book is based upon his experience, the advice within the book provides a good roadmap that is applicable to many university programs. His blog used to be www.nijaygupta.wordpress.com but this address now redirects to his new blog https://cruxsolablog.com
  2. For example, the language textbooks recommended by Gupta applies to all theology/religious studies Ph.D. students while his recommendation on books of Jewish history may not be helpful for a student specializing in systematic theology. Still, his advice on constructing cover letters, crafting a research proposal, and how to prepare for a dissertation defense make this book as a whole a terrific aid for all theology/religious studies Ph.D. students. 
  3. Ibid., 69. 
  4. Ibid., 94. 
  5. Ibid., 109–114. This book review has been written in order to put some of the tips Gupta recommends into practice. 
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