Recently I received an email from Julie, a post-doc at Ohio State, where I am a campus volunteer with IV, working with women in the graduate and professional schools. Julie’s story is one I’ve heard many times. She wrote: “I work in a department that is at least 80% men and have had a challenge meeting other women academics. And it has always been a challenge to find female scientists who are also Christians. I would love to attend some activities.” I added Julie to the listserve, so she will get monthly reminders about “Manuscript Monday” and “First Saturday at First Watch,” as well as about the annual women’s retreat in the spring. Over the past five years, these gatherings have helped us develop into a supportive fellowship of women in graduate school at Ohio State. This is the first in a series of articles describing some of the activities we have found especially useful in gathering and encouraging graduate student women.
It’s 6 pm on a cold and snowy night in Columbus, Ohio, and ten women are happily greeted by Otis, our family’s golden retriever, as they arrive for the monthly gathering of “Manuscript Monday.” Dropping their coats and backpacks, they pray before dishing up bowls of chili with cornbread and settling around the dining room table. This week, there are three newcomers — a medical student, a pharmacy student, and the wife of a pharmacy student. After introductions, conversation flows. One student has recently returned from a winter break mission trip to Honduras and it turns out that two of the new women are headed to Honduras this summer. Though they are in the same graduate program, these women had never crossed paths. Connections like this happen routinely here. After a brief overview describing manuscript study, which is a new concept to many of the women, we scatter to comfortable spots around the house for 45 minutes of silence with markers, pens and tonight’s text, Psalm 33:10-24. Later, gathering in groups of three or four, we share what we’ve learned and pray for one another. An engineering student offers her insight: “When I read ‘A horse is a vain hope for deliverance…,’ I found myself substituting the word ‘husband’ for the word ‘horse.’” Around the room, women burst out laughing and nod in agreement, highlighting the longing for relationship common to many women in this stage of life. By 8:30 pm, the women head out, many back to the library for a few more hours of study.
I am always encouraged by these monthly gatherings as I watch the women engage the truths of Scripture and simply relax for a couple of hours in the company of peers who viscerally understand the challenging path of grad school they are walking. For some students, it will be an experience they will replicate as they graduate and move on. A couple of years ago, a Ph.D. student leaving the state to take her first faculty position called to say she’d found the perfect place to live — it had a living room which would be ideal for hosting a Manuscript Monday.