What is it like to do a PhD?

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May 23, 2017

By Ian Vaillancourt

What is it like to do a PhD? Perhaps the best person of whom to ask such a question is someone who is just wrapping up the long, sometimes stressful, always challenging process. Ian Vaillancourt (pictured at far left with his thesis supervisor, Glen Taylor) is one such person. As a Wycliffe student, he successfully completed his PhD thesis defence, titled The Multifaceted Portrayal of the Figure of Salvation in Psalms 110 and 118: A Canonical Study, on May 9, 2017. In addition to his studies, Ian has served in pastoral ministry for 13 years, and in the future he hopes to serve Christ in classroom ministry. He holds BTh and MTS degrees from Tyndale University College and Seminary. Before too much time had elapsed between his successful defence and a return to "normal" life, we asked Ian to reflect on what it's like to do a PhD here at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. He blogs below.

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As my doctoral studies draw to a close, I count it an honour to have been asked to reflect a bit on this crazy endeavour. I thought I would share three things (of many) that I have particularly appreciated about my time at Wycliffe.

I have appreciated the welcoming community. I still remember the time when my wife and I began to explore the idea of me pursuing a Ph.D. We dropped our son off at Kindergarten, packed our daughter into her car seat, and dropped in on Barbara Jenkins (before her move from Admissions to the Registrar position). We were absolutely blown away by Barbara’s friendliness and helpfulness. She didn’t mind having a little girl walking around and she was extremely encouraging as she answered our (many, many!!) questions. She followed up on every email I sent, and I still believe that she was instrumental in me pursuing these studies at Wycliffe! Five years later, I can say that far from being the exception, Barbara imbibes the spirit of the staff, faculty, and students at Wycliffe.

I have appreciated the friendships I have made with other students. Particularly during course work, it was a privilege to be sharpened spiritually and academically by others who are in my position. The fact that Old Testament seminar courses include students from all seven TST colleges, the department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, and the Department of Religion, means that I have met an extremely diverse cross-section of scholars. I look forward to years of mutual sharpening as we continue to serve in biblical scholarship.

Third, I have greatly appreciated the blessing of being sharpened by the Wycliffe and University of Toronto faculty. In particular, I praise God for my my thesis supervisor, Glen Taylor. I had always heard that a student’s relationship with their supervisor is absolutely crucial, and Glen has surpassed expectations at every point. Perhaps it is easiest to close by quoting the paragraph about my experience with Glen from the acknowledgements section of my dissertation:

It is hard to imagine what my experience as a doctoral student would have been like without the influence of my Doktorvater, J. Glen Taylor. His keen editorial eye and timely feedback at every stage of my studies have been a great blessing to me. But even more than his expertise, I have appreciated the influence of an academic mentor who cares. He has made himself available for phone calls and meetings, he has given timely and insightful input on my writing, and he has given helpful professional advice. I pray that his labour will help me work to bring God glory in my own life as a Christian, and in my service within the church and academy.

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