CFH President Rick Kennedy reflects on his graduate school experience…
How did you choose your area of specialty (i.e. US History, Puritan history, etc.)?
I stayed at UC Santa Barbara from undergrad through Ph.D. and found my specialty in plankton-esque fashion as I floated through the department. I enjoyed everything and settled in with a professor, Harold Kirker, who believed whole-heartedly in the good life of a liberal arts scholar. I had had his classes as an undergrad. He told me that graduate school was between me and the library. He would take me for lunches, long walks, and recommend books to me such as Portrait of a Lady. He was very concerned that I know the names of all the kinds of birds on campus. I picked a vague specialty because he was not interested in me having a specialty. In the end it was the perfect education for someone who would become a teacher at a dinky Christian college.
How did grad school challenge and/or strengthen your faith?
At UC Santa Barbara there was a dynamic medievalists named Jeffrey Burton Russell. He was writing a five volume history of the concept of the Devil when I first started studying with him. He was the center of a Faculty and Graduate Student group called “Faith and the Intellectual Life.” We met once a week for years. It was great! Catholics, Prots, liberals, conservatives, scientists and humanities-types. Ten or fifteen of us every week. It was ad hoc. We just reserved a room and did it. I went to church every Sunday, helped out with youth groups, and attended “Faith and the Intellectual life.” My faith was stronger after grad school.
What was the most enjoyable part of grad school?
The most enjoyable part of grad school for me was the hanging out. So many interesting people doing interesting work. When we were teaching assistants and had offices a bunch of us were sort of department rats, hanging around in the late afternoons thinking the big thoughts.
What was the most challenging?
The most challenging matters for me were learning languages and getting documents.
What did your scholarly “community” look like? How did you make use of other scholars around you and how did such collegial relationships enhance your own work?
What I learned best from my colleagues in grad school was during our work as teaching assistants. The jobs I later got threw me into various teaching situations. For good and ill, I had learned to handle such situations from three years as a teaching assistant.
What strategies helped you most in writing your thesis/dissertation?
My strategy for finishing my dissertation was No Procrastinating! and lowered expectations. Every day had to see some progress. As for publication, I would think about that later; right now the job was to do as best as I could given the constraints of my life.