Over the years I have had many students come into my office and ask me about pursuing doctoral studies. One of the first questions I ask them is, “Why?” I ask this question because many students don’t know that pursuing doctoral studies is a long, difficult, and burdensome path. Once you finish your master’s degree you have to learn two modern foreign languages (like Latin and French), study for the Graduate Record Exam, apply to different institutions, get in, move, take two to three years worth of seminars, sit for comprehensive exams, spend a year or two writing a dissertation, defend it, and spend a lot of money and time. Don’t get me wrong—if you’re called to this path, then nothing will keep you from it. The fire in your belly will drive you to pursue your dream. But I ask students why they want to pursue a doctorate because I want them to think about their motivations.
If students reply that they want to teach at a college, then that’s great and it’s a good reason to pursue a PhD. But if they tell me that they want to learn more about theology, I press them for more information. I ask, “Do you want to be somebody, or do you want to do something?” In other words, I think some people want to letters “PhD” behind their name, or they want the initials “Dr.” in front of their name. I have had friends tell me that they wanted to pursue a doctorate because it was the only way to get a bigger church. For such people, they want to “be” somebody and the doctorate is simply one-stepping stone to becoming someone important. On the other hand, if you want to learn, you don’t have to invest a lot of time and money pursuing a degree. It’s a whole lot cheaper to buy books and study your subjects of interest to your heart’s content. You can “do” this and eventually learn more than if you earned a PhD.
I think the “be somebody” versus “do something” divide is a really important question to ask for many things in life. All too often we can get caught up in titles and the desire for prestige. Do you want to be a big steeple pastor or do you preach God’s word? Do you want to win marathons or find enjoyment and satisfaction in running? Do you want people to think well of you or live in a manner to gain the approval of your heavenly Father? When you come to life’s crossroads ask yourself this important question, “Do I want to be somebody or do something?” These two things do not always overlap and might take you in different directions. Your answer to this question might also surprise you.