Good to know by those interested
Originally posted on Larry Hurtado's Blog:
It’s that time of year again, when those aiming for PhD work in the next academic year (2013) start thinking about places to explore, and start making preliminary inquiries. We strongly encourage that here in New College (Edinburgh), and welcome opportunities to advise potential applicants, even if it means that we find ourselves writing a lot of the same sort of advice and information repeatedly. Because the UK PhD structure is different from the North American model (and different also from models in other European countries), it’s important for applicants to understand things and to prepare themselves adequately. I blogged about this last year, and I’ll simply point interested readers to that posting.
The additional matter I’ll mention here has to do with what is expected of a PhD thesis and the demands of identifying a research-focus that will lead to a successful thesis in the field of NT/Christian Origins. The essential criterion is that the thesis must be judged by examiners to comprise a genuine contribution to knowledge/understanding of the subject, something “publishable” (i.e., worth the attention of other scholars working on the subject). That is, whereas a decent masters thesis need only demonstrate competent engagement with a subject and scholarship on it, the PhD thesis should constitute some new/further advance in thinking about the subject.
In any field such as NT/Christian Origins in which the evidence-base is finite and not readily expandable (in contrast to experimental sciences where one can devise means of generating new experimental data), it can be a problem to identify a good research question that hasn’t already been asked and answered satisfactorily. And in my view all good research is question-driven. So, becoming a good researcher involves learning to devise good questions suitable to the evidence-base. I distinguish between a “topic” (e.g., the Gospel of Mark) and a research question (e.g., what do you want to ask about the Gospel of Mark?). Until you have a cogent and clearly-delineated question that is appropriate to the evidence-base, you don’t have the start of a thesis.