grad skool rulz #11 – while you’re working on that dissertation…
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This edition of grad skool rulz focuses on the murky period after the dissertation defense but before the job market. It’s often called “dissertating.” In addition to the data you promised to collect and analyze, here’s some rules of thumb about what you should do during the dissertation period:
1. If you haven’t done so already, this is a really good time to try to get your first article published. Your adviser should have told you, but let me remind you as well: publications = jobs. The publication process deserves its own post, but you should know that it can take a while. Therefore, you should have at least one or two pieces under review while you are working on the dissertation. Ideally, one, or more, will hit while you are working and then you can go into the market with a record of research and a dissertation in progress. What should you publish? How about brushing off that MA thesis? Or asking a senior faculty member if they can help you write an article. Lots of opportunities if you look around.
2. Minimize teaching obligations: Let’s get this straight – you are not rewarded for teaching, except if you are at a liberal arts college. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate bad teaching. Teaching should be adequate and competent, but you don’t have to be great at it. Wait till after tenure to pile up those teaching awards. Teach only if you need to make ends meet and be ruthlessly efficient in running your class. Time spent grading papers is merely a distraction from your main work. Exception: liberal arts schools place a huge emphasis on teaching, so if that’s your career goal, get the extra experience and do well. But even then, these schools now expect publications, so don’t ignore your research.
3. Work: Same as teaching. Only take a job if you will otherwise starve. Ideally, take a job that will lead to more academic opportunities. For example, working at NORC might put you in contact with survey people, which might lead to publications. In contrast, student counseling, while important, won’t get you closer to your career goal (unless you want to be a student services administrator!). Same as above – work only if you have to & try to do work that leads to academic opportunities.
4. Grants/fellowships: I am of two minds here. Obviously, getting money is great and a fellowship can you bring prestige. But it’s not as important as publishing. Thus, if you feel crunched for time, work more on dissertation and pubs. Remember, a grad school hit in a top journal is often the first step to good jobs, while no one was ever hired because of a fellowship.
5. Don’t move. Seriously. Faculty are overworked people. At the R1 schools, they usually teach 2-2, have grad students, grants, committees, etc. They also have children and families. Thus, if you move away from the campus, they can easily forget you exist. It’s not malignant, just human nature. Therefore, if at all possible, stay around campus. Also, if you move away from an academic environment, you might easily get off “the wagon” and spend too much work time on non-academic issues. Exception: field work. Even then, stay in touch (see #6 below). Send them field work updates.
6. Be in frequent contact with your committee. You don’t have to visit everyday, but keep close contact with your adviser. Send chapter drafts to the adviser and other committee members who have agreed to help out. You can also email questions to folks while you work. Your committee should know that little by little, you are accomplishing something, even if it is a crummy first draft. It also creates positive expectations for your work.
7. Keep track of all comments/suggestions provided by the committee. Be consistent so that later drafts of your work reflect the suggestions of the committee. If the suggestions conflict, just ask your adviser for his/her opinion about the best way to go. Also, if Prof X contradicts themself, you can gently remind them that you only tried your best to revise the work they way they suggested last time.
Next grad skool rulz … how to write that dissertation!