Interview With a PhD Graduate

Interview With Melinda Cousins

Recently, St Barnabas College celebrated the graduation of its first Doctoral Graduate through Charles Sturt University, the Rev’d Dr Melinda Cousins. The opportunity was taken by Anthony Bondarenko to interview Melinda in order to gain some insight into the process of studying a PhD at St Barnabas College.

Hi Melinda, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions today – we’ll jump straight into it.

What field is your PhD in?
Theology – Old Testament.

What was your thesis on?
My thesis was called “Pilgrim Theology: Worldmaking through enactment of the Psalms of Ascents (Pss 120-134).” I translated and interpreted this collection of fifteen psalms and then learned and performed them as part of my research. The goal was to consider how entering into the emotional, imaginative and relational dimensions of these Psalms is theologically formative for the community of faith.

Who Supervised you?
Dr Matthew Anstey, Principal of St Barnabas College, was my primary supervisor and his Hebrew expertise was invaluable. Dr Jeanette Mathews from St Mark’s in Canberra was my secondary supervisor and her work in biblical performance criticism influenced the direction I took.

Why did you want to do your PhD in the first place?
I love studying and so had always thought a PhD was something I would day one day, but when I found a topic I was passionate about and a supervisor who thought it was a workable idea, I decided to go for it. I also teach Old Testament and knew it would be helpful for further opportunities in that area.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of doing your PhD?
I enjoyed going deeper in my understanding and use of Hebrew and although at first it was outside my comfort zone, the performance part of my research has ended up being the most formative for me and has had a huge impact on how I know teach and preach the Scriptures and encourage others to engage with them.

What was the most unexpected and/or challenging?
Hebrew again! While I loved it, I’m not naturally gifted at languages, so it was also a lot of hard work. I also hadn’t expected what an emotional rollercoaster it could be – there were days when I felt like I was getting nowhere and wanted to quit, and then there other days when I would gain a new understanding or have a new insight and I was so energised and excited.

What advice do you have for people intending to do a PhD in Theology?
Hmm … I think the journey is different for everyone. I think supervisors are key, so making sure you have people who are experts in their field but also that they are people with whom you can get along and be vulnerable and have robust discussions. I think making sure you are passionate about your topic is important too; parts of the study will get technical and even tedious, so being sustained by the big picture of what you are wanting to learn is helpful. Finally, I think being flexible and trusting that your idea of the endpoint will change along the way, and there will be really interesting and promising areas of research that you have to let go of because you can’t do everything!

So, why did you choose St. Barnabas for your studies?
I wanted to do my PhD through a University, so studying through with Charles Sturt University (CSU) was important. I spoke to a couple of colleges, but it was meeting Matthew who liked my ideas and was willing to be my supervisor that made me choose St Barnabas, as well as his encouragement to apply for a scholarship. I was also keen to have a supervisor in Adelaide who I could meet with regularly face-to-face rather than only working by distance.

How did you find St Barnabas as an academic institution facilitating your PhD?
In terms of resources, the library access through CSU was outstanding – I was able to access anything and everything I needed to, including obscure journals in other languages!  Although doctoral study is fairly individual, it was also great to have a small group of others on the same journey, and each time we met together we were able to learn from each other, encourage each other and also share our frustrations and challenges with those who understood what we were experiencing.

What process did you have to go through to enrol for your PhD at St Barnabas?
The application to get into the PhD program was pretty straightforward – I met the prerequisites due to having done an honours thesis at degree level as well as a coursework masters. My proposal included a one paragraph outline of my topic – which ended up bearing little resemblance to my final thesis but at least set the broad parameters. I applied for and received a scholarship from the CSU Centre for Public and Contextual Theology in Canberra which was an incredible blessing and allowed me to do my studies full-time over three years.

Would you recommend St Barnabas College to others interested in doing a PhD?
Yes! Over the three years of study I certainly had ups and downs, but now I am at the end I can look back and say it was actually very straightforward (particularly in comparison to stories I have heard from PhD students elsewhere!).

And finally, Melinda, now that your PhD is completed, where to next?
I am teaching Biblical Studies at Tabor College half-time, and I am also working for Baptist Churches of South Australia as the Director of Ministry Accreditation. I have submitted a journal article drawing on some of my research, and I have also been invited to speak at a number of conferences and seminars on the Psalms. I would love to write a book out of what I have learned, although I would probably look more to something for lay people in the church rather than an academic publication.

Thank you once again for taking the time to answer all of my many questions – the Faculty and Staff here at St Barnabas wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

As can be seen, Melinda found the experience of studying at St Barnabas to be one of academic and intellectual vigour, whilst being deeply rooted within an encouraging faith community.

If you have any interest in pursuing Doctoral studies, St Barnabas College offers a range of postgraduate qualifications specialising in Biblical Studies, Biblical Hebrew, Church History, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology. Please check out our website or  contact the Principal, the Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey (manstey@sbc.edu.au).

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