Although Dr. Jeff Fish has only been at Baylor for a short time, he has already become a favorite among students and is very involved in promoting undergraduate research. Dr. Fish, a professor in the Classics department, has directed two unique and exceptional theses in recent years. During the 2004-2005 school year, he directed Kevin Funderburk's thesis, a comparative history between modern Islamic extremist groups and first century B.C. Jewish extremists. Also last year, he co-directed (with Dr. Alden Smith) Joe Barnard's thesis on Coptic Christians in Egypt.
For Dr. Fish, undergraduate research is important because "writing shapes our minds." He believes that writing thoughts down has a more profound impact than just talking about them because one is forced to truly grapple with new ideas and then form them into coherent arguments. So many students are intimidated by books and scholarship, he notes, and doing research in the form of something like a thesis can liberate students from those feelings of inadequacy and fear about academic research. "Not many people are going to read these theses," Dr. Fish admits, "but what is important about them is the process of refining the mind."
He describes the thesis-directing process as similar to teaching someone to swim. Just as when a swimming instructor says "swim to me," and then begins to slowly back up, Dr. Fish helps his students get started and then "backs up" far enough to let the student form his or her own original thoughts on the subject. At Baylor, Dr. Fish enjoys the opportunity to be engaged in undergraduate research, with the expectation that faculty will both teach and be involved in their own research. Outside the classroom, Dr. Fish studies the areas of papyrology, ancient Homeric criticism, and Epicureanism. He is currently working on editing a papyrus written by the ancient philosopher Philodemus, called "On the Good King According to Homer." He enjoys incorporating his own research into the classroom and says, "A new discovery one day may become part of a lecture the next." Dr. Fish's example and encouragement help undergraduate students writing theses to "stay afloat" through their first attempts at undergraduate research, benefiting both the individual student and Baylor University as whole.