(This is one of two posts moved from a separate site that I began blogging on before choosing to set up my own site).
I am in the second quarter of my Ph.D. program at Fuller Seminary (I’m working in Systematic Theology with a concentration on anthropology an interest in analytic philosophy/theology). I am reminded of a matrix I ran into when studying Instructional Design at Florida State University – the competency matrix. It is a simple matrix, and I’ve no idea where it originated. It applies as easily to those going through more academic theological or philosophical work as it does to other workplace skills. One starts out in the purple box and moves around counter clockwise. In graduate school, one spends more or less of their time in the bottom left quadrant. Many of us are painfully aware of vast fields where we lack “competence”. By “competence” I mean the ability to work with a properly tuned mental map/matrix/scaffold of philosophical or theological concepts in discussions. This includes knowing parts of this mental map affect other aspects. Ideally, it would include knowing what are useful works vs current-authoritative works vs classics in the literature regarding topic X.
As one goes through graduate work they slowly move into the green (bottom right) quadrant depending upon their freedom to work, study, and use material. I assume that one reaches “unconscious competence” (upper right quadrant) after they’ve taught sufficiently long enough that concepts and ideas flow for them in a second nature fashion.
If you are a student like I am, facing your incompetence “consciously” (i.e. quadrant II) I think it is important to remind you not to hang your “self-worth” on this. That is a huge temptation to those in academic work. If possible, shift your perspective to be actively grateful for the privilege of learning, the privilege of becoming aware of a new field. Gratitude, (I believe I got this from Jeffery Schwartz who teaches at UCLA) has a powerful impact on the brain and mental health.
Quickly, as I close up, another challenge here is that in contemporary academics their fields of literature and research are so vast, that one will always be incompetent in more areas than they are competent in. This is true for all humans. (What constitutes competence is a marvelous question here.) As Christians, my concept of self should be impacted by Paul’s presentation of the “body” of Christ – that I am not a lone ranger competing for prominence with others but am instead part of a community of diverse people whose skills and strengths work together for Christ’s agenda. My hope is to work towards competence in a few areas that I hope will be useful to others, meaningful to myself, and most importantly pleasing to God.
Until next time!