Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness
Tonight, I received the following email (name and school withheld for security reasons):
Hi Dr. Wilson,
I am about a year from graduating with a PhD in virology. Over the past year I have been questioning whether I want to stay in academic sciences post-graduation. One major deterrent is being around so many people with strong anti-Christian world views. After getting in contact with Dr. Patricia Fanning from Reasons.org she directed me to your blog. I can't tell you how encouraged I was by your blog posts. I just wanted to say thank you for your encouraging words.
While this email definitely encouraged me, I was also disappointed for this graduate student. I would be truly surprised if there was not at least one Christian faculty member somewhere on his campus. Yet in the years of his graduate program, it appears that he hasn’t met them.
As faculty members, we all realize our responsibility to mentor our research students, to prepare them for their careers in academia or wherever they go. But have you considered the impact you have in mentoring the Christian graduate students on campus? They need your help even more than your research students because they face additional struggles in balancing their faith with their work without generating ill-will and prejudice from their colleagues.
Because of this, I and a couple of other Christian faculty here at UT are also active members of the graduate student ministry on campus. We make ourselves available so graduate students know there are Christian faculty. We offer insight on wrestling with being true to Christ and the Great Commission versus the need to avoid unnecessary pitfalls that could disqualify us from maintaining our career and the strategic position it offers. We share our struggles, insights, and how to recognize when risking a pitfall may be necessary. No one else can truly disciple a graduate student in the same way a faculty member can. The letter above shows how desperate the need is.
This topic is another good opportunity to urge Christian faculty to find or form a fellowship with other believing faculty, and for the same reason. Junior faculty need the same level of mentoring as the graduate students for their perils are more immediate and costly.
For the graduate students, I offer two suggestions: first, find the nearest graduate student fellowship and/or create one at your school, and second, contact Faculty Commons (there is a link in the right hand column). FC is the faculty ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), and they can help you locate Christian faculty in your field, even if they don’t know of any at your school. Also, InterVarsity has both graduate student and faculty ministries, in addition to offering mentoring for those pursuing academic careers.
The ivory tower is a strange wilderness, yet we need not face it alone. Scripture commands us not to. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
(Thanks, Patricia for the referral!)