In 2012 I left Missouri State University, a graduate of the history B.A. & M.A., religious studies B.A., and classics B.A. departments to begin a Ph.D. in medieval European history at the University of Kansas, which awarded me a five-year graduate assistantship. This university proved the most well suited for my scholarly passions of British, medieval, religion, boasting many well-published professors in these fields. When selecting a professional specialization, one must maintain a careful degree of balance between pragmatism and personal interest, as the aim of pursing the degree is always to find employment at the end, but also to enjoy the marvelous journey of learning. Upon completing the degree in 2020, I learned a great deal about the process of higher education: the vital component of interpersonal relations, perseverance amid adversity, and seizing opportunities throughout an academic journey.
The selection of a mentor proved the most important factor in completing the degree. My first advisor effectively abandoned me two weeks before the comprehensive examinations, citing his lack of specialty (and interest) in the topic of my dissertation. This delayed me an entire year, and fortunately another, caring professor helped me through this difficult process of completely changing fields and topics, then going through the comprehensive exam preparation a second time. On many occasions during this ordeal I considered abandoning the program, but my passion for the historical discipline, a deep personal drive to fulfill what I began, and continuous encouragement from friends as well as colleagues emboldened me to persevere. The most valuable bit of wisdom earned through this revisionary period was the essential nature of a mentor invested in their pupil’s success. Without the support of a devoted advisor, teaching one the tumultuous waters of academia, the journey proves impossible.
In addition to this, I always advocated to teach anything the department would offer and allow. Gaining valuable pedagogical skills and pressing my subject knowledge beyond its comfortable limits, made me much more marketable when searching for employment outside of KU. The history department, in various moments of desperation, asked me to take on ancient, Roman, historiographical theory, and several other courses well beyond my specialty. This required intensive preparations, once again delaying the completion of the degree, but it built my resume and knowledge, giving me much greater flexibility and value when later seeking teaching positions. In the summer of 2019 the history department also offered me the opportunity to become the director of the Cambridge study abroad program. This also required an enormous amount of work that did not directly contribute to the fulfillment of the Ph.D., though the experience was invaluable, providing me with an opportunity to do archival research and get paid to teach at the prestigious St. John’s College, Cambridge, as a visiting lecturer. Because of this opportunity, my dissertation transformed from a work based wholly upon printed works to a thesis founded upon archival documents throughout Britain. Overall, finding sound advice, personal dedication, and seizing opportunities along with intensive research proved key components in the successful outcome of my academic journey that grew from an undergraduate interested in history at Missouri State in 2006 to joining the professoriate in 2020. Go Bears!
With encouragement and best wishes,
David A. Hill, Ph.D.