NathanThis is a true statement: my graduate education really began at last year’s Sophia Forum.

I wanted to present a research project on Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I began in Dr. Timothy Jackson’s “Christianity and the Holocaust” ethics course. I was passionate about the topic, worked hard on the paper, and liked the challenge of presenting my research to my peers and professors at Candler. I emailed a few faculty members with whom I had relationships and invited them to hear my paper. I even invited my parents so that they could see the kind of work I was doing in graduate school. When the time came, I submitted my proposal (with considerable assistance from Dr. Jackson) the morning it was due and found out shortly thereafter that it had been accepted.

Here is another true statement: if you haven’t crashed your hard drive less than 24 hours before your presentation at the Sophia Forum, then you’re doing it wrong.

While finishing a midterm essay for another class, the unfathomable occurred. I lost everything—including my entire paper for the presentation the next day. By breakfast, I had gone through all the seven stages of grief; by lunchtime, I decided I was going to rewrite the paper; and by dinner, I was sitting down with a six month old hard-copy of a rough draft and a computer that I checked out from Pitts Theology Library. 

The full resources of Candler were brought to bear in those few hours: our world-class library loaned me a laptop to rewrite the paper; my talented colleagues in The Writing Center offered their expertise; Emory tech support worked to recover the files; my friends offered encouragement and coffee by the gallon. In other words, not only did Candler provide the opportunity to present my work, but when things became difficult, Candler provided the support that got me through it. And by sunrise, I had rewritten six months’ worth of work in less than twelve hours. 

Nathan presents at last year's Sophia Forum.The presentation went off without a hitch. In fact, a couple of my friends also presented their work and it was a terrific experience for them too. Candler students’ academic and ministerial interests are super diverse, and the Sophia Forum serves as evidence.  Papers were presented in the fields of New Testament and Old Testament, historical theology, gender and sexual ethics, prison ministry, and theater and the arts. During the question-and-answer session following the paper itself, professors and peers offered feedback on ways to sharpen the paper, new perspectives to explore, and potential untapped resources at my disposal. Deans and directors attended and joined the conversation. And what’s more, the Sophia Forum was created by Candler students for Candler students. In other words, a team of interested students decided that this was something they wanted to establish and they worked to make it happen. It’s a real example of students serving students, of the community and camaraderie that exists here.

So here is a final true statement: if opportunity is what you’re after, then you won’t be lacking at Candler. The Sophia Forum, I think, is squarely located at the intersection of student engagement and professional development. It’s an opportunity that you won’t want to pass up.

Twelve months later, the paper that I rewrote during the middle of night at my dining room table has turned into a much larger capstone project for my MTS degree. Much of the feedback that I received at the Sophia Forum shaped the way that I engage Bonhoeffer’s early writing. The project has become my passion, and I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity to present my work there. Indeed, I became a better writer and researcher through the experience. (I also learned how to store all of my papers on Emory’s digital server, just in case.) Like I said in the beginning, the Sophia Forum is the place where my graduate education really began.

[Top photo: The 2016 Sophia Forum in full swing this month.]