Archive for academics

A Typical Bedtime in the Life of a PhD Student


SCENE: 11pm. Amanda has changed into her pyjamas, turned out the lights, and has snuggled under the covers. Her eyes close and she looks forward to drifting off to sleep.


Manda’s Brain: Conway’s ameliorative punishment is significant because x, y, z. And its influence can be seen in a, b, c.

*Manda’s brain continues to recite an entire paragraph that would be perfect for Amanda’s paper.*

Amanda: Grrr. Really?! Now?

*Amanda rolls over and tucks the cover up over her head.*

*Manda’s brain begins to formulate the next paragraph.*

Amanda: Fine!

*Amanda throws off the covers and fumbles for the light switch, and with squinting eyes, opens up her laptop. Type, type, type.*

Amanda: There. Done. Now I can go to bed.

*Amanda shuts the laptop, turns off the light, and crawls back into bed.*

 brainManda’s Brain: You know, while we’re at it, here’s a beautiful paragraph for that other paper you’re writing.

Amanda: No. I’m going to bed. It is time to sleep. Be quiet.

Manda’s Brain: But this is really good.

Amanda: I don’t care.

Manda’s Brain: Yes you do care.

Amanda: Fine. I care. I’ll care more in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: No you won’t.

Amanda: Yes I will.

 Manda’s Brain: You know that abyss in “Inside Out” where thoughts and memories are annihilated?

Amanda: ….yeah…

 Manda’s Brain: That’s where I’ll punt this beautiful paragraph if you don’t get up right now and write it down.

Amanda: You wouldn’t do that. You’ll file it away, nice and safe, and I’ll remember it in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: Oh, I would so totally do it. You’ll be asleep. You won’t be able to stop me.

Amanda: I don’t care. I’ll come up with an even better idea tomorrow.

Manda’s Brain: Are you sure about that? Where did I put that writer’s block?

*Manda’s brain begins softly whistling.*

Amanda: You wouldn’t.

Manda’s Brain: Tomorrow’s your writing day, right? No classes. Just writing. You have big plans to get lots accomplished.

Amanda: You wouldn’t sabotage that! There’s only two weeks left in the semester!

Manda’s Brain: Found the writer’s block, now to set an alarm so that it activates at 8am and lasts til…oh I don’t know, how’s 24 hours?

Amanda: NO!!!! Fine. I’ll get up and write it down.

*Grumpily, Amanda throws off the covers, fumbles for the light switch and opens her laptop.*

Amanda: You know, I really hate you sometimes.

Manda’s Brain: You know you love me.

Amanda: Okay, what was the paragraph again?

Manda’s Brain: …oh wait…um…

Amanda: REALLY?!

Manda’s Brain: Hang on…I’ve got it…Oh right. Here we go!

*Amanda types out the paragraph, hits save, and shuts the laptop.*

Amanda: Are we done? Can I go to sleep now?

Manda’s Brain: Yup. All done.

Amanda: Are you sure? If I climb into bed, close my eyes and you start jabbering again, I’m going to ignore it. I don’t care if the idea ends up in the abyss of forgotten ideas to be annihilated.

Manda’s Brain: I’m sure. Go to sleep. I’ll be fine.

*Amanda turns off the light, climbs into bed, pulls the covers over her head and closes her eyes.*

Manda’s Brain: Hey Amanda.

Amanda: ….

Manda’s Brain: Do you worry about what people would think about this?

Amanda: You mean, do I worry about what people may think about the fact that I have internal arguments with myself?

Manda’s Brain: Yeah. What would your husband, the psychologist, say?

Amanda: *laughing* Are you kidding? We’re completely normal compared to him. At least this conversation is happening internally. When he’s in writing mode he paces back and forth and has the argument out loud. We’ve got nothing to worry about. Good night Manda’s Brain, I love you.

Manda’s Brain: I love you too. Good night.

The Latest Craze

Shhh. There’s a new thing that all the cool people are doing.

Have you heard about it? It’s all the rage.

But shhhh, we don’t want it to be publicized too widely because once the world hears about it there will be nothing but armchair moralizing by people who have never done it, or tongue-clucking by people who had done it years and years ago but have managed to forget how complex the ritual is.

This ritual happens all year round, but there are swells of participation usually clustered around the last week of November and first couple weeks of December, and again around the last week of March and into the first couple weeks of April.

Most often this ritual is done individually, without a partner, but what appears to be a lonely exercise is actually a synchronized activity performed by thousands of individuals simultaneously.

It happens in tiny cells that each consist of a desk, a bookshelf if you’re lucky, and an uncomfortable bed that looks older than dirt and feels even older.

It happens in tiny wooden carrels tucked at the ends of row upon row of narrow corridors, with walls plastered with signs that say “this is a quiet zone. No food allowed. Only drinks with tight-fitting lids permitted. Please silence all cell phones.”

It happens in coffee shops, where, for only a couple of dollars, you can sit for hours nursing a hot beverage that gives you the energy to perform this ritual into the wee hours of the morning, while making use of an essential prop called “free wifi” (which the coffee shop offers because all the other coffee shops offer it, but secretly they curse because it means that you stay for hours on end).

It’s a rather dizzying and tiring display of bluster, clumsy false starts and, more often than not, tears.

Two steps forward. Three steps back. One step forward and a couple of shuffles to the side.

Repeat the pattern, only not necessarily exactly the same. And this time, you make sure to keep an eye on the clock as its tick-tock rhythm forces you to complete the sequence of steps more quickly.

Two steps forward. Two steps back. Three steps forward and one shuffle to the side. Faster!

One step forward. Your breathing becomes laboured.

Half a step back. You can’t feel your hands or feet. Faster still!

Two shuffles to the side. Your vision begins to blur.

One twirl, a backflip and, finally, collapse into an over-dramatic bow.

It’s called the Paper Writing Waltz. #PhDYrOne

The Evolution of Christmas Wishlists: From Childhood to Adulthood

Christmas tree with presents

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s amazing how priorities change when it comes to Christmas wishlists. When I was a kid I would specifically write “no socks, no underwear” on my wishlist because every year, without fail, they would be under the tree and I was convinced that they were the most boring Christmas presents ever. The socks and underwear were always from “Mrs. Claus.” Poor “Mrs. Claus,” why did she always have to be the practical one?

When I got to college the first thing on my Christmas wishlist was “more socks, more underwear.”

When I started having kids the list became things related to having kids.  Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother to write  a wishlist because I’m supposed to be a grown-up now and Christmas presents are for the kids. And, after three kids do parents even know how to dream and wish for anything other than sleep?

Now I’m in my first year of the PhD program. Between the books, books, and more books, and the need for a steady supply of PhD fuel (aka caffeine), there is no mistaking what season of life is represented by this year’s wishlist.


Amanda’s Christmas Wishlist 2015

  • Having Chuck come for a visit to Toronto in February so we can celebrate our 10th anniversary.
  • Tim Horton’s gift cards (for steady supply of warm Picard-style caffeine)
  • Moleskine brand lined notebooks (3-pack) (Best notebooks ever and a must-have for PhD students)
  • “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin (fiction on my list?!!! I have time to read for fun?)
  • “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” by Laura Ingalls Wilder (non-academic non-fiction on my list?!!! What was I thinking?)
  • President’s Choice gift cards (because a girl’s got to eat)
  • “Theology as Discipleship” by Keith Johnson (can you tell I’m a theology major?)
  • Cineplex Odeon gift cards (all work and no play makes  Manda a dull student)
  • “Reading Barth with Charity” by George Hunsinger (were you really expecting there to not be any Barth on my list?)
  • “The Undoing of Death” by Fleming Routledge (because theology)
  • ESV German/English Parallel Bible (Need to work on my German)
  • “Barth’s Theological Ontology of Holy Scripture” by Alfred Yuen (yes, more Barth)
  • Packages of printer paper (self-explanatory)
  • Leather-bound large print BCP (Because I can’t neglect my devotional life)
  • iTunes gift card (see comment on the Cineplex gift cards)
  • fuel for paper-writing (aka Diet Pepsi)
  • funky-coloured socks (because I can’t not have socks on my wishlist)

10 Reasons Christians Shouldn’t Read The Patristic Fathers #TBT

10. They’re boring. They don’t talk about anything interesting. Ever. And they are polite and never ever disagree with each other.

9. People were baptized naked. Yup. Naked. Oh my victorian/evangelical sensibilities!

8. What do you mean there were women in leadership in the early church?! Church Mothers? Desert Mothers? Everyone knows that the only biblical model for women is one where the woman is at home in high heels and has supper in the oven.

7. We may have our view of communion challenged. What do you mean they celebrated communion weekly? Everybody knows you should only celebrate it monthly otherwise it becomes stale and rote.

6. The Reformers read the Church Fathers and look at how badly that turned out for Christianity.

5. They wrote in Greek (which is too hard to learn) and Latin (which is a dead language).

4. If we read the Patristics we may come to find that the heroes weren’t always noble and honourable and the villains (heretics) weren’t always the bad guys.

3. Everyone knows that “communion of saints” only refers to this current generation.

2. Their issues are in no way our issues today. All of our issues theological and ecclesiological are brand new and have never been experienced by any other generation of Christians.

1. Karl Barth was heavily influenced by the Church Fathers and everyone knows that if Barth liked it it must be wrong!


This post was originally published 5/11/12 and is re-posted as part of #TBT (Throwback Thursday).


I received word that I got into my top two choices for PhD programs. After much prayer and discussion I have accepted the offer of admission to the conjoint PhD program in Theological Studies at Wycliffe College and the University of Toronto. In my admissions research proposal, I expressed my desire to continue my research on Karl Barth, specifically looking at his lectures on the Gospel of John (In my MA thesis I looked at Barth’s exegesis of John 1:14 and compared his original exegesis in these early lectures to three places in the Church Dogmatics where he once again exegetes this foundational verse that gives shape to his entire Christological method). As a result of that proposal, my PhD supervisor will be Dr. Joseph Mangina. I am excited and thankful for this opportunity. It’s going to be an interesting season of life as I embark on this new adventure.

Prayers would be appreciated as plans and preparations begin. As well, pray that I may get adequate funding. I received a scholarship that will cover my tuition but I still need to fund my living expenses (dorm, meal plan, flights back to Saskatchewan, etc.)

Wycliffe College Here I come!

Theology of Christ 2014


THEO 350 ONL syllabus Fall 2014

Graduation Blessing: A Husband’s Prayer For His Seminary Wife

Grad letter and writers blockToday the seminary held a “Blessing of the Grads” chapel service. Each grad was honoured to have a blessing read out from a loved one. What follows below is Charles’ letter to me. I am so thankful for  a husband who has supported and actively encouraged this educational journey.


Amanda, as I have watched you tackle the challenges of graduate study while dealing with the challenges of work and home, I have been continually reminded what an privilage it is to be your husband.  You have been and continue to be a blessing to me and to our children.  My prayer is that God will open doors for you to develop the immense potential that we see in you.  My prayer is that our children will learn to understand what an amazing mother they have, and will look to you as an example of what a powerful woman of God can be.

Lord, make Amanda an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let her sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.


O Divine Master, Grant that she may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



Karl Barth Conference

I’ve just registered to attend the Karl Barth Conference at Princeton June 15-18, 2014. Will I see you there?

Adventures in Thesis Writing



I’m halfway through a two-week intensive thesis writing spree. Here are some of the things that I have observed about the thesis-writing process:

The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. I’ll say it again: The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. Sure it’s okay if you only need to pull a plum quote or two, but if you want to read an entire chapter, or, heaven forbid, the entire book, the EBSCO reader is clunky, ugly and very user unfriendly. Yes, it does have a function where you can export sections to a PDF for convenient reading, but this usually only covers 15-25 pages. So you’re stuck reading the book on your laptop and the interface is so ugly that you usually get a headache from reading the book on the computer screen. And when you’re in the e-book reading and the system decides that you’re taking too long to read, if another person decides to read the e-book, you get booted from the system. It would be like if you had taken a book from the shelf and started to read it, and someone comes along and takes it right from your hands. What makes it worse, most libraries will not allow a patron to fill out an inter-library loan request to get a physical copy of the book if it is available as an EBSCO e-book.  After a day of complete frustration, I finally caved and ordered a copy of the book I was needing on Amazon. It should arrive in a week or so.


I’ve come up with the next episode of Castle: death by library stacks. The BR-BT section of the McMaster library (basically the Bible-Biblical Studies-Theology section) is on these moveable library shelves that all squish together when not in use. So what you do is you find the row that you need, press a button, and the shelves move so that you can walk down the row to find your book. Each time I walked down the row, I kept thinking that at any minute the system was going to reset itself, and I’d get squished between Christology and Hermeneutics. Death by stacks. Yup, definitely a good opening for an episode of Castle.


“Just one more source” becomes a great way to procrastinate from writing. Oh, I should look up just one more source before I start writing. Okay, now I should look up just one more source. Six hours and twelve “just one more sources” later means that not a single sentence was written. Are those “just one more sources” helpful? Sometimes. But those six hours could have been spent writing a page or two with the material already collected.


The writing chopping block looms over my shoulder constantly. My greatest fear is that when I submit this chapter to my supervisor he’ll say that I’ll have to reduce all that beautiful hard work, that took hours and hours, to one single footnote and then start again.


The more highlighters you have the better. I think I now own every single colour of highlighter ever created. They can turn the most boring source into a beautiful rainbow of whimsy. Trust me, this is important, because, oh my, some (most?) of these academic tomes are so dull they make normal dull look sharp and sparkly.


For all the hard work and stress that it is, I’m actually really enjoying the thesis writing process. Oh no! I’m doomed!




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Upcoming Barth Project

Jessica DeCou is working on a book on Karl Barth’s trip to the United States in 1962. She has launched a Kickstarter project to help fund her travel expenses to several library archives.

“A Fantastic Affair”: Karl Barth in America, 1962 (a.k.a. “KBUSA” – under advance contract with Fortress Press, ISBN: 978-1-4514-6553-2) provides the first detailed chronicle of Barth’s sole visit to the U.S. in 1962. Barth arrived at a tumultuous moment in American history and found himself embroiled in some of the nation’s fiercest conflicts: touring prisons and inner city neighborhoods and meeting with communist groups, State and Defense Department staff, civil rights activists, business leaders, and White House officials – just to name a few. The book, therefore, will not only shed light on Barth’s later life and work, but also provide a snapshot of American culture in the early ‘60s – from the highest levels of government to the tourist cultures built along with and alongside the developing Interstate Highway System; from Seminary campuses to high security prisons; from Napa Valley to East Harlem.

Of course, completing this project requires extensive travel to various institutions around the country where relevant archives are housed. Research funding in the humanities can be difficult to come by these days, but I will not let that stop me!!  I’m turning to Kickstarter in the hope that, with your help, my research can continue unabated in order to meet my publication deadline (Summer 2014).

There are gifts for those who contribute to the project (yay for gifts!). You can pledge your support for this project here.


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