Wanna Be PhD

PhD 2006. Now fully blown by the Postdoc Experience.

Location: My Appartment, Academic Nowhereland

Email: wannabephd@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Dissertation styles

New Kid writes:

When you write a dissertation, you have to prove to your readers that you have found and addressed every piece of scholarship ever written on anything possibly relevant in any way to your subject.

I have a personal problem with this requirement. For a very long time, I believed that I had to do exactly this. I spent about two years reading everyting that seemed related to my topic. This totally blocked me. One just cannot read everything that has been said before. It is not possible.

New Supervisor changed my attitude towards work. Together we developed a single research question. I continued to sketch a possible answer to that question and to construct arguments for it. My thesis will just focus on that very question and will answer it in detail.

By now, I have read many many papers and books that do not mention some related articles, b/c the authors were just not aware of them or could not read the language in which they were written.

I think that research is a collaborative task, so no one can read (or be required to read) everything. It is good that I know the main pieces of work related to my question, but I cannot continue to work through more and more papers.

Do you think that this will be bad for my grade?

Another thing that New Supervisor told me (and that enormously helped to tackle the blocking state I was in) is not to write for the committee only. I was so scared that I must write The Perfect Book because some members of my committee really are Very Big Scholars (i.e. BigProf from Ivy). Now when I write, I just think that I am explaining my topic to a bunch of students, and that I want to point out why I think the question is important and what the reasons are that I believe what I say.


Blogger Anastasia said...

that's a really great approach, writing for a bunch of students. I'm going to think use that. thanks!

i don't know about reading every last little thing. I don't think it's always possible.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger schoolhouse said...

Great idea for a blog. I like the use of Lucy. Do You know that apartment is spelled incorrectly in your first line? :| another wannabephd

Thursday, January 12, 2006 6:29:00 PM  
Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

I should probably clarify that I meant to be kind of flip in the passage you quote - I was exaggerating the degree to which a dissertation has to review literature to a greater extent than a book; because I do think a dissertation has to demonstrate to a committee that you can find scholarly literature in your field, and a book doesn't, because readers assume that if you got the book published you can in fact find scholarly literature in your field. But no, it's not possible actually to read everything ever written about your work.

But I'll also say that I don't actually say one should read everything ever written on a topic, but find and address it. There are many things written in my general area that I haven't read myself, but that I'm aware of and know generally what they say, because someone else wrote about them. And I'm good with that.

All I really meant is that there's a lot of stuff put into the dissertation to satisfy your committee, that's really extraneous and unnecessary for the book.

So really, I think we actually agree on how someone should approach things, and your approach sounds very reasonable! :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2006 8:40:00 PM  
Blogger academic coach said...

good points.

Friday, January 13, 2006 4:54:00 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I think it helps to think of the dissertation as a DRAFT of a book--it addresses a big question/problem, but there's probably more research you should do and more you should read before it's a book. And that's OK.

Friday, January 13, 2006 8:14:00 AM  

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