Is Your Research for Your Professor?—Yes and No

For emerging biblical scholars, there’s plenty of writing needed to fulfill degree program requirements.1

In this context, your professor or supervisor may be your most immediate answer to the question of who your research is for.2

In one respect, that answer makes sense. But it’s also not the whole story because requirements within academic programs are seldom islands unto themselves.

Your Research Is for Your Professor …

When doing research required by your degree program, you are doing that research for its evaluator(s).

That might be your professor. It might be his or her grader, a committee, or even fellow students.

And in this context, you should always carefully observe any particular requirements a particular professor has for a particular assignment. (So, before going on, I should add that, while I think my comments here generally apply, certainly set them aside if necessary for a particular requirement you’re needing to meet.)

That said, there’s probably also a more or less explicit expectation (or hope) that you might look beyond the stated requirements of a given assignment as such.

But Not Only Your Professor …

Imagine if you were doing your same research project for something outside your degree program. What kind of an audience would that project then address?

And what does that extended audience tell you about how to craft a research project that matters?

If your project implies an audience like readers of academic journals or monographs, that who should shape what you produce in a particular way.

Or if your project implies an audience of non-specialists, that will shape what you need to produce in a different way.

Because Assignments Imitate Life

If you’re doing research outside what’s required for a degree program, your audience will be still more immediate.

You won’t have the dual “yes, your professor, but also …” dynamic involved. So, your audience’s relevance in shaping your research should be still clearer.

But even in research that a degree program requires, such requirements probably aren’t there solely because faculty need to assess your work.

Still less are they likely to be there because faculty really enjoy the act of grading.

Instead, a great many degree program requirements tend to imitate life outside that program. That imitation may be more or less clear, more or less directly. But it’s often there.

Theses or dissertations imitate monographs. Essays may imitate journal articles. Book reviews imitate, well, book reviews. And the list can go on.

So, try to lift your gaze to see what a given assignment imitates. The more you do, the more you’ll be able to identify the audience that kind of research would typically be for.

This additional context might not be fully explicit in the stated requirements for your project. But the more you can fulfill that implied audience’s expectations in your work, the more likely you are to fulfill (or overdeliver on) your professor’s.

Conclusion

So, yes. If you’re writing for a degree program requirement, you are writing for whomever from your institution will evaluate what you produce.

But on the other hand, your program requirement probably isn’t an end in itself. It’s probably only an intermediate stopping off point to some further end.

And clarifying that further end will give you a better idea of what really strong research toward it will look like.


  1. Header image provided by Glen Carrie

  2. Here, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussion of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64. 

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