2013 graduate and current Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University Tucker Adkins on why he chose history, the value of a UTC history degree, and navigating graduate school.
As I enter the dissertation phase of my doctoral work in the Religion Department at Florida State University, there are two things I have learned to be true: my professors at UT-Chattanooga were not lying about the rigors of graduate school, and I am glad I accepted the challenge. Tales about intimidating seminar discussions, weekly readings totaling 1,000 pages, and 80 pages worth of research papers each semester were anything but fiction. I still remember texting Dr. Michael Thompson, my advisor at UTC, after my first day as a stunned master’s student when I found I had failed to properly pronounce “Foucault” or decipher any of the acronyms signifying the field’s prominent academic organizations. For any UTC undergraduate aspiring to an advanced degree within the humanities, know that these labors—and their myriad costs—are no fiction. But also know they are nowhere near the whole story.
During my time in Tallahassee, I have learned why Dr. Thompson and other mentors did not discourage my hopes of being a professional historian. Despite the path’s well-known financial, emotional, and occupational challenges, there is undeniable treasure lying in the process, in the day-in and day-out intellectual gymnastics awaiting each new grad student in history. In one sense, my time in grad school has allowed me the unbelievably privileged ability to spend my time in creative thought about the past. In my case, this has meant diving deeper into the lives of eighteenth-century American evangelicals and, more recently, the twentieth-century “global turn” of Christianity. As a committed layperson in the Anglican Church and young scholar of American religious history, such work has been a reservoir of enrichment.
In another sense, my time in grad school has spurred incredible, non-academic experiences. The 400-mile move from Chattanooga to Tallahassee made my wife, Shannon, and I lean on each other more than ever. It initiated a financial change that tested us to work harder than we ever had. We got to try new restaurants, go to the beach, and start Christmas traditions together. We found our first church together. We had our first daughter, Anna. We learned to love each other more.
Grad school, I found, is an exceptional avenue for growth. You will read, write, and think more than you thought possible (or necessary). But if you are doing it right, those will not be the only experiences you remember from your early step into the “life of the mind.”
Tucker Adkins is a PhD candidate in American religious history at The Florida State University. While he is interested broadly in the history of Christianity, his current research focuses on early evangelicalism in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. His dissertation will provide a spatial analysis of the “awakenings” reported in North America, Britain, Scotland, and Wales, showing how early evangelical leaders like George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, and William McCulloch produced their transatlantic revival movement through specific spatial engagements. Tucker is excited about adapting his research to a trade-book that helps congregations think about how strategic engagement of their worship and meeting spaces facilitates daily community-building, local cultural engagement, and Kingdom advancement. Tucker earned his B.A. in History from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2013 and completed his M.A. in Religion from Florida State in 2017. He has also been a member of the Chapel of the Resurrection—the Episcopal Diocese of Florida’s campus ministry at Florida State—since 2016, and served the congregation as Graduate Fellow for Discipleship during the 2018-19 school year. Tucker and his wife, Shannon, are both natives of Knoxville, Tennessee. With their 1-year old daughter, Anna, in tow, they love traveling, trying new food and coffee, spending time with family, and cheering on the Tennessee Vols. (Source)