There are generally two types of people in the world — people who like to talk about doing things, and people who are actually doing things. I’m part of the former, but I’d like to be part of the latter. In order to find out what makes those types of special people tick (and how I can become one of them), I’ve started interviewing people I know who’ve stopped talking about doing things and started doing them.
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David Tertipes is a student at Brigham Young University graduating later this year with a bachelor’s in German Linguistics. He recently presented a paper titled “The LDS Plan of Salvation as Archetype of the Monomyth” for BYU’s Conference on Literature and Belief, which is currently being reviewed for possible publication. A devout, practicing Mormon, along with his studies, he works in tech support, volunteers as the Technical Director for New Play Project, and lives in Provo, Utah with his wife and newborn son.
You’ve recently presented a paper about Joseph Campbell’s monomyth from The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the LDS doctrine of the Plan of Salvation. Where did you get the idea for this paper?
I first heard about Joseph Campbell and his idea of the monomyth or hero journey in one of my German literature classes. The professor brought it up as a way of discussing one of the novels we were reading, and that led to an interesting class discussion on what the hero journey is and why it is important. Being a class at BYU, the conversation turned quickly to similarities between what the Church teaches and the monomyth.
I have long been aware of elements of LDS doctrine that exist in other faiths, and have speculated on the reasons, coming to the conclusion that Adam, the first man, was taught by God everything he needed to know, and he passed it on to his children, who, through the generations misinterpreted, misunderstood, or simply forgot parts of it, but parts of it remained.
I had a very interesting conversation with a devout Catholic man in Germany where we came to the understanding that our two religions really were not all that different — He talked of baptizing his infant son, I talked about giving a child a Name and a Blessing, he talked of going through Confirmation at 9, I talked about being baptized at 8. We realized that we believed the same things, more or less, but applied different names to the ordinances. As I read Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I noticed the similarities with the Plan of Salvation and began to explore that more deeply.
How did you find out about the conference you submitted your paper to? How did you feel about your chances on having your submission accepted for presentation and now, later, for publication?
I don’t really remember how I found out about the conference. I think I might have seen a flyer hanging on a bulletin board on campus, then I checked out the website. Or maybe one of my professors mentioned it in class. I was pretty confident when I submitted, but then I’ve always had a kind of inflated ego — just kidding, but I do pride myself on my intelligence and my ability to write and write well.
So as I prepared the abstract for submission, and got feedback from friends, I was hopeful that I would be accepted. And then I got an email from the man in charge of the conference, two weeks before the deadline for submission, saying that he was very excited about my paper and wanted to let me know as soon as he could that I had been accepted to present. That made me feel good, that I had been accepted to present even before they had received all of their submissions.
After you submitted your paper, the conference asked you to present it. What was going through your head at this point? What did you do to prepare for the presentation? Did you walk in front of the podium pretty confident, or was it more of a humbling experience?
I have always been a fairly good public speaker; maybe that comes from my theatre experience, or just the confidence I have in my writing ability. I wasn’t really nervous about the actual presenting, I was concerned more that I would not have enough time to present everything. I could, and did, have conversations with friends about the Plan of Salvation and the monomyth that lasted hours, and yet I was restricted to 15 minutes.
That was the one thing I regret about my presentation — I did not elaborate enough nor provide examples of what I was talking about, because I was so worried about not going over time that I ended up finishing several minutes early, not having fleshed out my arguments as well as I probably could have.
How did you feel as you presented your paper to an audience of scholars who, arguably, were more knowledgeable and well-read on the subject? How did you tap into that well of self-assurance?
I wasn’t really nervous about the fact that I was presenting until I actually stood up to speak. And, yeah, there was a little feeling of inadequacy, being only an undergrad student and presenting at this conference. But nobody ever asked about the status of my degree or my education when I was submitting, but when I arrived at the session of the conference I was to speak at (I was unfortunately unable to attend any of the other sessions of the conference because I was in class!), the man who was presenting before me, who was also leading that session, talked about what I was studying. I told him that I was studying to be German teacher, which he either misheard or misunderstood, because he introduced me as a German teacher at BYU. I don’t know if it was because they were unused to undergrad students presenting.
I did also have a hiccup of nervousness after I had finished and they opened it up for questions. But I think I handled it well, I was asked a question that I honestly had not thought about, which I admitted, but then proceeded to give what I thought would be an appropriate answer based on what I knew and the research I had done. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might have been. I was very familiar with the subject and was able to come up with an answer.
When the conference asked if they could publish the paper, you only had an abstract written up. How did you tackle the task of writing up a draft for publication in a short period of time?
I procrastinated. I submitted the abstract in May, and I found out in June that I would be presenting. The conference was in October, and I did not write anything more than the abstract that I had already submitted. I did research and I wrote notes, but I did not write anything formally. Then I was told that the deadline for submission for publication was the end of January. So I started writing the paper in December. I probably should have written more sooner, which would have given me more time to revise and edit, but I tend to be a procrastinator, and I put off writing to the last minute. Luckily, though, I tend to write pretty well that I can pull it off.
Mostly I just forced myself to write every day. At least something. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because the hard part of the paper, the research and the gathering of examples and sources, I had already done. I just needed to write it up, which went fairly quickly.
Your current goal is to become a professor in German linguistics. Did this experience with publishing and presenting stoke the fires even higher, or do you now have a more reserved, maybe cautious or more realistic approach to your goals?
I was originally getting my degree in German Teaching, which would have not only given me a degree in German, but also a teaching certificate, so that I could teach high school. A couple of experiences at the same time helped me to realize that I would much rather be a scholar and teach at a collegiate level than teach high school. This conference was one of those experiences that helped me realize that I enjoy the academic lifestyle of researching and presenting. I look forward to becoming a professor and having this opportunity on a regular basis.
Do you mind elaborating on some of those other experiences that moved you away from high school teaching and more towards scholarly teaching?
That same semester I had an opportunity to teach a mini-lesson in German and work with high school students at a German Language Fair at BYU. I don’t have anything against high school students, but knowing my personality, I know that I would be more comfortable teaching a more mature audience, a group of people who want to be there and want to learn the language. Most high schools require a foreign language, so many students are just there because they have to be, but at the college level, they are usually taking German classes because they have some need or desire to learn German.
This, coupled with the positive experience I had doing research, writing an abstract, presenting at a conference and writing up a paper, helped me realize that I enjoy the academic life. And it didn’t hurt that by changing my major to German Linguistics from German Teaching I am able to graduate a year sooner! Plus I had a really great German Linguistics class that I enjoyed and that got me interested in pursuing this field.
Many young students consider publishing as more of a graduate student or PhD student activity, yet you went ahead and submitted a paper anyway before you even earned your bachelor’s degree. Would you consider the whole process difficult, or was it easier than you originally thought? Would you recommend other more “green” students to attempt publication as well?
It was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be. I guess the hardest part was actually getting accepted. It really depends on the student, if you are the type of student who enjoys writing papers and doing self-guided research, I would definitely suggest submitting your papers to wherever you can. And don’t feel like you have to start on something new, you can take an old paper you’ve already written and expand on it or rework it. It’s not as hard as it sounds, really.
Is there anything you would have done differently with the whole process?
I would have started writing sooner, and prepared more for my presentation. I really needed more concrete examples and to relax and speak what I knew. This was a fun first experience, and I’m glad it happened early in my academic career, rather than when I’m working on my doctorate.
Are there any current goals to try and publish and present more? Any projects you’re currently working on?
I would love to publish more. You know the saying, “Publish or Perish!” I am currently working on my capstone paper for my German Linguistics degree. I am working on using comparative linguistics to improve the teaching of German as a foreign language, which in plain English means that I’m looking at how to improve the teaching of German in American high schools by looking at the similarities and differences between English and German, including the history of the changes that have taken place in those two languages. It should be fun and I’m excited to write it. There is a lot of talk about second language acquisition, and people have been learning and teaching languages for centuries, but recently there has been an emphasis in more of a linguistic approach to language learning, rather than just a rote memorization, “drill and kill” method that has been traditional.
Some of my professors at BYU are on the forefront of this field, using their degrees in linguistics to help them as they teach German classes. One of my favorite classes was in German pronunciation, where we studied phonology and phonetics as a way of improving our German. This is a fairly new idea, but I am excited to pursue it.
Academia has been traditionally considered a boring, difficult, thankless, and often “useless” profession and passion. What advice do you have to those who want to devote their lives to an area of study but feel daunted by the pressure from friends and family to pursue a more “useful” career?
I know what you mean; when I tell people what I’m studying I always get the question “What are you going to do with that?” It’s a valid question. If I weren’t going into academia this would be a less than useful degree. If someone really enjoys this lifestyle, then go for it. To be honest, I’m still hoping that I can get a job that will allow me to support my family, but I have always enjoyed studying and researching and teaching, so this is what I want to do. Research better ways of teaching German. I just hope I can make it work.
Do you feel any apprehension about job prospects when you finish your degrees?
Occasionally I do. I have talked to some of my professors who have said that usually the university where you do your PhD will offer you a position. But one of my Family History professors here got his PhD in German and Second Language Acquisition (just what I am going into) at OSU (just where I want to go!) and he said he could not find a job after getting his degree. Then he and his wife both received the impression that he should go into family history research, which he did professionally for 12 years until BYU asked him to teach classes on German family history. He told this story in class to show that he has the experience and that he has made plenty of mistakes, but that he can tell us what we should not be doing so that we can avoid those same mistakes. But the moral I got out of the story while listening, is that God will provide. I feel very strongly that this is a subject I should be studying, I am very excited about this field and the new research happening in Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition, but when I graduate, God will put me where he needs me doing what he needs me to.