Monthly Archives: May 2014

Learn French and German Online

One of the pieces of advice I give most frequently to those applying to Notre Dame in particular and Ph.D programs in general is that they ought to have as solid of a foundation as possible with their languages before applying. The Early Christian Studies program at ND afforded us a good deal of flexibility and emphasized the necessity of language work. But not only are the ancient languages incredibly important, but the modern research ones as well.

I’ve met some people who study just enough to pass a language exam and then forget the language almost entirely. It’s understandable – you get to the Ph.D program, you’re inundated with courses, you’re trying to keep up your ancient languages – when are you supposed to fit in French and German? If you’re reading this and not yet in a Ph.D program, start now. If you’re in a Ph.D program, start now.

One thing I’ve found incredibly helpful is Duolingo.com. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it will help you practice your languages. My suggestion is to spend 15-30 mins a day on each language. After getting to the more advanced stages, start reading articles in French and German journals in your field. Start learning the field-specific vocab.If you can keep up your German and French and actually use it to read modern scholarship, you will be way ahead of the pack.

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Notre Dame and Comprehensive Exams

Another year of coursework has gone by for me and assuming I haven’t failed any classes this semester, this will be ┬ámy final semester of coursework at Notre Dame. When I came to Notre Dame as an M.A. student in the Early Christian Studies ┬áprogram, my work had been mostly philological and literary. Having had several years here, I’ve had the opportunity to do more Theological work. I’m glad to have both sides.

This past year I took some interesting courses:

Fall:
Eschatology with Cyril O’Regan
12th Century Cistercians with Ann Astell
Christology of Thomas Aquinas with Joseph Wawrykow

Spring:
Byzantine Philosophy with Stephen Gersh
Theology of John Henry Newman with Cyril O’Regan
Origen with John Cavadini

Now that I’m out of coursework and into the third year, I can focus on my comprehensive exams. While some schools, like the University of Chicago, have set reading lists, we do things a little differently at ND.

Instead of having reading lists on which we are examined, we come up with 10 question topics. How this plays out depends upon one’s sub-field (Systematics, Liturgical Studies, etc). In mine (History of Christianity), the questions break down as follows:

4 Questions in Major Historical Period (Patristics for me)

3 Questions in Minor Historical Period (Medieval)

3 Questions in Minor Area (Systematic Theology)

(Once I have my topics approved by my advisor, I’ll post those too)

Our topics are due in September, but I’m hoping to have mine turned in by late July so I can get a head start. I’m excited to fill in some gaps in my knowledge and strengthen some of the interests I’ve developed over the years. The third year is often seen by ND students as one of the best years in the Ph.D program because your primary responsibility is to read all the time. I think this is what I envisioned graduate studies would be anyway – long hours spent in a coffee shop, pouring over books and soaking up knowledge like an academic sponge. Your time in coursework is somewhat like that, but the pressure of papers and producing academic work can suck the fun out of reading pretty quickly.

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