Jemar Tisby

Did I Waste My Time in Grad School If I End Up in Another Profession?

Many a  professor laments the directionless meandering of the modern graduate student. In bygone days, men and women would go to graduate school because they were certain of their desire for a profession, be it archeology, English, or physics . But nowadays more students seem to be using grad school education in a different field than the one for which they trained. So if you’re considering further studies it’s worth thinking about how you will react if you end up in a different profession.

An Unexpected Change in Direction

I began seminary (grad school for pastors) twice. I went for one year in 2007-2008 and then I went back to my first profession in public education. After three years, I started seminary again and finished four years later with a Master in Divinity degree. Starting both times involved an exhausting and prolonged process of figuring out what I thought I was best suited to do and what kind of theological training would be most helpful. I thought I knew my calling. I wanted to be a full-time pastor. I wanted to preach and teach the Bible. I wanted to serve in the local church and shepherd people with biblical truth. It turns out after five years of seminary and three years of a church internship, I may not, in fact, be called to be a pastor.

Toward the end of my seminary experience I realized that being a full-time pastor wasn’t the way in which I could best serve the church. Along the way in my theological education I realized that I have some entrepreneurial skills that lend themselves to breaking new ground in innovative works. Churches (unless they are relatively new) tend to be conservative by nature. They want to preserve truth, members, and tradition. These are not bad tendencies, but I found I could be more helpful in pioneering works.

In addition, I noticed that throughout seminary I had several opportunities to preach from a pulpit, but I had many, many more opportunities to teach in a variety of settings. So I had to look at the doors God was opening and decide where he was leading. Ultimately, I decided to enter into more schooling. I’ll be starting a PhD program soon so I can continue getting equipped to become a professor one day. Since I started school thinking I would be a pastor, but I exited thinking of another vocation, did I waste my time in graduate school? Of course not.

Your Plans, God’s Plans

God has a plan to which we aren’t always privy. We may think God is leading us one way and it turns out he’s moving us in a different direction. It’s the same with grad school. I stress that you should have a conviction toward your particular field. Graduate school is not the kind of commitment you want to make if  think you’d be just as content doing something else. Advanced education is costly in terms of time, money, and effort. So it’s not something to enter into on a whim. But it’s not a failure or a bad investment if, during grad school, you realize you can serve in a different way.

That’s good advice for the rest of life, too. We can start new jobs or internships, enter into new relationships, and begin new projects assuming we have a clear idea of what we want to do. Then it becomes apparent that we have to pivot. If that’s the case, I’d say your endeavor was still fruitful. No one can possibly predict how a new experience will change them, but it’s the doing that counts.

The courage to follow your conviction, enter into the unknown, and see what happens may lead you to gorgeous and unexpected destinations. Do your best to discern your unique ability to serve God and others. Then commit to a course of action. Trust God to use your decisions to accomplish His will and what’s best for you. Even if you end up somewhere unpredictable, the journey will have been worth it.