Weeks went by as Jonny Woods was trying to make sense of the coded religious notes left by Baptist minister and Theologian Andrew Fuller. It all started one fine day in the old buildings at the School of Divinity in St Andrews. Dr Steve Holmes, head of the school, found a similarity between Fuller’s hundred-page document in the archive of Bristol Baptist College and a confession script in Fuller’s biography. These pages, however, went largely untouched because of academics’ inability to decode Fuller’s writings.
The professor recruited Mr Woods to help him crack this code through an undergraduate assistant recruiting system. Jonny’s work was no easy feat. His fellow academics had been struggling for centuries to make sense of Fuller’s work to no avail. At just twenty-one years old in his third year of university, Mr Woods’ persistence and devotion to his studies paid off as he became the first person in the world to decipher the code.
This milestone has opened doors to understanding more about Fuller’s rise within the Baptist denomination. Mr Woods’ work also serves as a great source of inspiration to students at universities across the globe. Many undergraduates operate under the impression that their potential opportunities and successes are limited to the subjects they choose to study when first arriving at university. Jonny, though, arrived at St Andrews three years ago and had no exclusive interest or passion about religious coding and was inclined to learn more about the Bible.
Despite having never worked with coding before, Mr Woods strongly believed he would be able to complete the assignment from Dr Holmes. It was surely the brilliance of what he was reading that kept Jonny’s morale high. When asked about what motivated him, he said, “Over the course of those weeks, I was reading a biography of Andrew Fuller. Learning more about the incredible man he was, my determination to recover those sermons increased.” Dr Holmes was astonished when he was told the notes had been decoded. Had he not stumbled upon this young man, it could have taken decades for someone to finally understand the manuscript of the patron saint figurehead.
The translations have been sent to a leading academic journal for Baptist studies. There are still about 500 sermons for Dr Holmes and his team to work through, so by the time they are finished, Mr Woods says he “might have had enough of codes for life!” indicating that he may go on to explore other avenues within his Divinity studies.
Jonny also encourages his fellow students to make the most of any opportunity they can get. “The university has a great scheme to help undergraduates get into research, so try and get involved if you can!” Research is not reserved for postgraduates and, as Mr. Woods’ story illustrates, undergraduates have just as a high a chance of successful research.