Thursday, December 11, 2014

What I’ve Learned

Over the last few days, I’ve learned a number of things. First, campus interviews are exhausting. Between the meetings, lectures, lunches, dinners, tours, and formal interviews, one after another after another, there is little time even to notice the fact that your body clock is still adjusted to 8 hours ahead. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling rested and ready to perform, only to be taken to the airport to return home. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, however, were spent in a cloud.

From this campus interview, I learned that the school is everything I had hoped it would be. It offers diversity amidst Christian commitment and freedom of inquiry amidst orthodoxy. The students whom I met are all enthusiastic about the school, the community, the faculty, and are grateful to study there. The administration is supportive of the faculty and are strong visionaries for the school. And the faculty, particularly the theology faculty, seems to be a body of believers dedicated to collegiality, mentorship, scholasticism, and their role as theological educators. They are all brilliant professionals (cue ‘imposter syndrome’), and yet seem as gracious and kind as one can get. I would be honoured to serve the school and the department with them if they offered.

I learned that the location of the school is in a region which fits me and would be a place that I could put down roots—literally and metaphorically.

There were also confirmatory lessons. My love for undergrads, the liberal arts, teaching, and mentoring were confirmed. After both lectures, one on the missionary journeys of Paul, designed for undergrads, and one on my research, designed for a broader audience, both students and faculty commented positively on both the content and my style and ease of delivery. The experience confirmed for me that I do, in fact, belong on a college campus such as this.

I’ve also learned that campus interviews can be too enjoyable. By this I mean that an interview can go so well that the candidate can easily be too confident. My three days of all-day interviews went very, very well; so well that I need to remind myself that another candidate is still to interview and the job is not yet mine. No matter how good the interview went, I cannot get attached, either to the school, the people, or the place. I need to keep the school and the possibility of serving there at an arms length. In this case, this will be difficult to do.

And now I wait. The final candidate does his/her thing early next week, after which the search committee will make their decision which they will pass on to the administration to make official. I’m told that I should know before Christmas, assuming that the administration doesn’t do what administrations are known to do: drag their feet.

Thank you all for your prayers. They were heard and felt. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday each had God’s blessings written all over it, and, in part, that’s thanks to you. I will pass on any news when I receive it. Until then, there’s a PhD to finish!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Fingers Crossed

If you’re reading this sometime on Saturday, then I’m probably currently sitting at 30,000 ft. on an aeroplane heading West, perhaps somewhere over the Atlantic. I’m heading to my first on-campus interview. Fingers crossed, it will be my only on-campus interview. This is the result of one of two interviews I had back in mid-November. I continue to await the results of the second (though I’m not terribly confident that it will amount to much).

The school to which I am headed is a top-notch school, and one that I would be honoured to serve at. I hesitate to say where it is just yet; I do enjoy a good surprise. Let’s just say though, that, according to the information I’ve been able to glean about the school and the location, it seems to be a great fit, and I can imagine myself being there for many years to come. What a novel idea!

So, if you’re a prayer, say your prayers for me on this upcoming Monday and Tuesday, December 8th and 9th. On Monday I will give a lecture to an undergraduate group of students and on Tuesday I will present a public lecture on the topic of my research here. Throughout the two days I will also meet with the President, Provost, Dean, Chaplain and a slew of other people. And every moment of every day I will be assessed.

Pray that God’s sovereign plan would be fulfilled. Pray that that sovereign plan would include me landing a job at this school. Pray that my heart for teaching, mentoring, and challenging students of diverse backgrounds and experiences will be evident to all. Pray for confidence and for clarity of communication. In a week’s time I will either be an upcoming Assistant Professor or be back at square one. Pray that God would prepare me for either outcome.

Friday, November 07, 2014

An Update or Two

Has anyone ever asked you: ‘If you could have one super power, what would it be?’ It’s often one of those ‘ice-breaker’ questions posed at tables or in small groups at various gatherings. Right now my elected power would be to have mastery over time, the ability to slooowww doowwwwnnn time and the ability to speeditup. The ability would be particularly handy these days—these days that are, blimey, now called ‘November’.

The weeks here are simultaneously long and short, and 9 times out of 10 are marked by rigid routine and an overwhelming sense of the mundane. The mornings are dedicated to completing the PhD and the mind-numbing process of dissertation revision which accompanies it. My dissertation has seven chapters in total: an introduction and conclusion plus five main chapters. The introduction and conclusion are completed, as  are 2.5 of the 5.  Given this progress, The Supervisor and I have recently started discussing potential examiners for my viva (oral defense) in the spring. It’s a stage I’ve only imagined until now. The end is in sight.

The afternoons are dedicated to my continuing role as the University of St Andrews Study Skills Tutor. From 2-5 each day I meet with students 1-on-1 to discuss proper formats for essays, lab reports, and critical reviews. Sometimes we chat about time management skills, how to read effectively, or how to take good notes. This semester my role has expanded to leading workshop sessions in the School of Medicine and in Professional Development courses designed for the undergraduate body.  It’s a good thing I’m already somewhat used to having fifty heads looking at me; though those Sunday mornings at MRCP are gradually beginning to feel like a distant life. Tutoring and leading the workshops is enjoyable work and helps me to buy my weekly lentil supply. The down side, however, is that 15 hours a week does add up and, if I’m determined to meet my PhD submission goals, it means these hours must then be made up for at night. The ability to slow down the days would certainly be quite handy just now.

These days are further characterised by the ever-looming job hunt. Between getting groceries, cleaning, cooking, churching, fellowshipping, and, oh ya, relaxing, my Sundays are spent writing applications for various open positions around the country. And, yes, for teaching jobs you ‘write’ applications. There are no fill-in-the-blank, one-page applications: there are cover letters and Curriculum Vitae’s tailored to each school, 1—3-page essays on faith statements and how your goals align with that institution’s mission and values; there are teaching philosophies, evidence of scholarship potential, evidence of good teaching, writing samples, and anything else under the sun about which the search committee might want to know. It gets a little ridiculous, especially since (1) the search committee members don’t have the time to read it all; (2) the applicant doesn’t have time to write it all; (3) the majority of the applicants whose CV’s go straight to the bin (for many reasons) won’t even have their essays read.

Fortunately for me, a couple of the schools to which I’ve applied have read my letters/CV/essays/etc. and have advanced me to the next round. This past week I had a Skype interview with a top-notch university on the West coast and am now scheduled for a follow-up (aka much longer) Skype interview with them in mid-November. Likewise, the school to which I applied last winter but which had to suspend its hiring process has now resumed the search. They, too, have requested a Skype interview in mid-November. Both universities would be excellent places of employment. I’m still a long way from having the job and still have a significant amount of competition, but it puts me leagues ahead of the chap whose CV (and thus essays) went straight into the bin. At this point, I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing one year from now, but I trust that God does and that he’ll direct my steps through open doors.

‘But what do you do for fun?’ you ask. The answer: not much. Somehow finishing the PhD and getting a job seems far more worthy of my time than having fun. Not to worry your pretty little heads though; I do rest and I do enjoy life; I do find time to have coffee and lunch with friends. To ensure some element of ‘fun’ in my life, I’m forcing myself to ‘bake through’ The Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes Cookery Book that I found on Judith’s shelf. It was compiled in 1960. They didn’t need instructions back then like we seem to need now.

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Thus far I’ve made a Treacle Tart, a Rhubarb Charlotte, and my first steamed pudding: Carrot Pudding. (Note: I’m not talking ‘Jello-O’; ‘pudding’ here denotes ‘dessert’.)

My Treacle Tart

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Steamed Carrot Pudding

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Judith had to walk me through the steaming process…

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The highlight of every week remains a Skype date with The Soldier. He’s doing well, particularly now that the desert heat has lowered from the constant 105 F average to the mid-high 70’s. Other than a last minute day trip to Baghdad the other week to repair a broken auxiliary pump (don’t ask me), his days are about as mundane as mine. If it were a competition, we’d be neck and neck—a sad thought, given that we both live in foreign countries just now!

All in all, life is good. The work is progressing, the future is drawing ever nearer, and God remains as faithful as ever. Not much to complain about, really.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

4th Year Exile

Last week’s return to the UK marked the start of my final year of life here in Scotland and at the University of St Andrews.  It marked my final year of PhD work (most likely), and it marked my final year of being a full-time, fee-paying student.  After this year I’ll have been in school for 24 years: 13 (ZM), 4 (Crown), 3 (GCTS), 4 (St A).  Do I know more now than I did when I started?  I can perhaps read and write better than I did pre-Kindergarten, but my math skills remain delinquent and I still don’t have my Southern Hemisphere geography or my Periodic Table of Elements memorised.  Life-long homework, I suppose.

It’s good to be back across The Pond.  I’m ready to finish here and to return ‘home’; and returning for this final winter is with the goal of making that transition happen.  My time in Scotland has been good in many ways, and I will always cherish the memories from this land.  But I’m ready to be done; I’m ready to be a teacher, to be back in leadership, to use my gifts, to mentor students, to earn an income.  Oh to see the day!

This final semester of work on the dissertation is tangibly different than those previous.  Some friends who started this programme with me have decided to finish from home.  And, due to retirements in the Academic Development department in which I work, my role as the University of St Andrews Study Skills Tutor has expanded, meaning that most of my ‘free’ hours are now spent preparing for workshops and other tasks rather than with the friends that remain.  That is to say that, my social life is nearly non-existent.

But the largest tangible difference is my final-year exile from the Duncan room and the Roundel—my office and office building of the last three years.  All fourth year students occupy the Baillie room, which sits on the top floor of the St Mary’s College building, dating back to the 1600’s (I think). 

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Unlike those of the Roundel, Baillie Room residents do not have 24/7 access to their office… or to their books.  Monday through Friday, 8am-7pm.  That, my friends, is a very short work day/week, and an unfortunate part of the fourth year, given the push to finish.  The Baillie Room is not all bad, however.  Whereas the Roundel is directly across from the beautiful Cathedral ruins, the Baillie Room is in the St Mary’s community, literally 20 yards from the divinity library, a doorway away from the seminar rooms and the faculty offices.  For the first time in my time here, I feel like a participant in the everyday life of the divinity school.  I now work ‘on campus’.

And, I scored one of the best desks in the room, the furthest away from the door and complete with its own window and chair.

Some of you will recognise my Montana ‘office’ in the photo to the left of the lamp. :)

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Envision me working away back in the corner.

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To access the Baillie Room, we climb the circular stairwell leading up through the ‘Founders Tower’ (seen behind the tree in the picture above),

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  after entering through this door:

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Because I submitted my first rough draft to my supervisor before returning home for the summer, my task now is to revise that draft into a version that will be submitted for final evaluation and which I will defend at my viva, the oral exam,  sometime in February or March of 2015.

This is truly the final leg of this Scotland journey, and I’m quite keen to get on with it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

of deployments and departures

Jack and his fellow mechanically-mined 934th Airlift Wing mates left for Kuwait on Tuesday.  I cried a lot little, but I wasn’t alone.  As we watched the final chalk approach the fourth of four C-130’s sitting ready for the runway, every wife, mother, girlfriend, and daughter in the hanger was shedding tears the equivalent of Victoria Falls.  Watching the men and women hold and hug their children and loved ones for the last time for four months gave me a new appreciation for the sacrifices our military members and their families make time and again.  

Lucky for this airlift wing’s loved ones, they will be reunited with their soldier in four months. I, being Scotland bound, am not so lucky. :(

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This C-130 is waving goodbye.

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Don’t be fooled; this smile is as fake as your grandmother’s teeth.

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Between the throes of PhD completion and separation from this stud, these may be the slowest moving nine months of my life.  I’m grateful for the summer months behind me, for the fun, the rest, the friends and family, the travels, and the days with Jack.

But I’m also ready to get back.  Judith called last week and reported that Holly Pops and Mungo are missing me.  Poor things.  So, tomorrow I fly and Friday I return to the land of the Scots for what will be my last two semesters on this path to the PhD.

As we like to say here in Minnesota: ‘Oofda’!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Cooke City 2014

I’m finally getting around to posting some photos from our time in Cooke City.  We had seven days in the Coolest Small Town in America, and every day was filled with good friends and great fun.  We are so grateful to everyone to fed us, played with us, and let us use their toys.  You know who you are.

Here are a few shots of some of the adventures in the first half of the week.

4-wheeling in the backyard

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Fly fishing!  We caught 60.245% of the fish in the Soda Butte  and, well, enjoyed the afternoon on the Lamar.  Our guide from the Lazy G was brilliant.

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Friday was spent in the Bighorn Canyon Recreational Area with Dye’s Bait and Tackle, and a few Wyoming and Montana hitchhikers we picked up on Colter Pass and in Crandall.  It was another beautiful day on the river, though not quite as calm as it was on the boat trip last year.

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While 4-wheeling on Squaw Creek Road, we encountered this.

It was fresh.  As in, that morning fresh.

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Jack kayaking on Island Lake.

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There were many other adventures that filled our week in and around Cooke City.  Most of all, though, I’m glad for the chance to sit and chat and laugh and eat with many of the crazy locals.  Unfortunately, even seven days are not enough.

But they (you) know by now that this wasn’t my last visit.  Not even close.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yellowstone National Park

En route from Glacier to Cooke, we explored Yellowstone for a couple of days, seeing the highlights along the Park’s figure-8 loop.  Since Yellowstone is, at this point, a bit old hat for me, I enjoyed playing tour guide rather than photographer.

The Grand Prismatic Spring, my favourite Park feature.

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Moonrise over Yellowstone Lake

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Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

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The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

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The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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Bill the Bison

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Onward to Cooke City!