If I Had to Do It Again: the Graduate School and Early Professor Years Edition (Scholar’s Compass)

looking back photo

Today, Beth Madison shares some things she’d change if she could redo her years of graduate school and early professorship. Read Beth’s earlier reflections “Not What I’d Planned” and “Stories for Life.” 


I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – Joel 2:25a NIV


When my father retired after 35 years as a professor, he commented that if he had to do it again he’d have majored in another subject. It wasn’t that he didn’t love what he did, but rather that the other subject matter wasn’t even available when he was a student. Because of technological advances and research during the years of his career, a whole new field had opened up that would’ve combined even more of his interests and fascination. He had no regrets on his career choices but only thoughts of what might’ve been . . .

That got me to thinking—what if I had it to do again? Would I change anything or not? And if so, why?

I realized there were some very important things I would’ve changed about my time in graduate school and as a young professor . . .

Here’s what I’d change and why:

  1. My selfishness—I wrongly thought that my needs came first and only I could make good things happen for “me, myself, and I.” Thus, I usually chose myself and what I thought I needed to survive that day in contrast to what was really important—love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31b NLT). Selfishness drove me to see only myself and overlook others in their need to see, hear, and know the reality of God’s deep love for them shown to them through me taking the time to love them by helping them with their needs—be it listening, sharing tasks, studying, prayer, etc. Most likely my colleagues would not have come to know Christ through personal choices of going to church or reading the Bible, but I had been put there to love them as Christ would so they might come to love Him in return . . . if I had chosen to take the time . . .
  1. My arrogance—At that point in my life, I’d never encountered anything I couldn’t defeat through hard work and determination and I was proud of that fact. I enjoyed the prestige/status that I thought I’d earned by making it to (and then through) grad school as a young woman in a male-dominated field of the hard sciences. And that arrogance shut out what should’ve been the best choice of always be humble and gentle (Ephesians 4:2a ICB). Gentleness and humility would’ve displayed Christ and His love in powerful and unexpected ways that couldn’t be explained by something other than God working through me. And gentleness and humility would’ve opened doors to relationships that produced eternal impact in the lives of my colleagues, students, and me . . . if I had chosen the better way . . .
  2. My insecurity—My deep fear of failure propelled me to backbite, gossip, and/or pout on many occasions when I thought I’d been wronged or when I felt threatened by another’s strengths. I believed the lie that making someone else look bad made me look better and thus, helped strengthen my position against failure. And in doing so, I was just like most of my fellow grad students or colleagues. I regret those many opportunities when I could’ve displayed the amazing difference of Christlikeness, as in Be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other, as in Christ, God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32) . . . if I had chosen to rely on God and His provision instead of my own failings . . .

Even though I wouldn’t change my major, schools, major professors, etc., if I had to do it again, I would change what was eternally important—my attitudes of selfishness, arrogance, and insecurity. These attitudes have given me many regrets in the years since when I recognized them for what they were—sin. These attitudes stole many opportunities for Christ to be glorified in my life and for others to know the deep, deep love of Christ for them.

Yet as I look back, I rejoice in the truth that God is omnipotent and can take all things and use them for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28) and that He does restore years lost to sin and regret (see Joel 2:25). I also rejoice that God has shown me my sin, forgiven me, and allowed me many more opportunities to glorify Him and show His deep love in varied ways to many students and colleagues in the years since then and hopefully for years to come . . . thanks be to God that He would allow someone such as me to participate in His kingdom work!


What do I wish I had done differently in my academic life to date? How have I seen God give beauty for ashes in relationship to my past mistakes or regrets? What areas of growth do I see to explore today?


Dear Father God,

Thank You that You give us beauty for ashes! Thank You that You have the power to reclaim and restore and that You do it for us! Thank You for mercies made new every morning and for opportunities for fresh starts again and again! Please help me today to honor You by choosing what is best—please help me to take the time to love people as You do in selflessness, humility, and kindness. Please open my eyes to opportunities to truly care for people as You would have me to do.

In Jesus’ Name,


Closing Verse

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not onto your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to Him, and He will make straight your paths.

Scholars-Compass-image-40x40Note: Part of the Scholar’s Compass series of devotional posts on integrating various aspects of Christian faith and academic calling.

Image courtesy of Unsplash at Pixabay.com

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Beth Madison

Beth Madison holds a PhD in soil microbiology from Kansas State University, and an MS in agronomy from the University of Kentucky. She completed her undergraduate work in plant and soil science at the University of Tennessee. Beth has been teaching at the university level for nearly 22 years. She served as assistant professor at Western Kentucky University before "retiring" to be a stay-at-home mom for nearly 10 years while adjunct teaching at Waycross College (University of Georgia system) and then at Union University. When her youngest son began school, she returned to full-time teaching as an assistant professor at Union University. Beth has been married for 25 years to an awesome and selflessly giving man who loves God and His creation deeply as a professor of biology, also at Union University. Their favorite activities include being outside in the woods or on the water almost any time of the year, and visiting with friends while eating good food.

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