grad skool rulz #13 – writing your $^#@@ dissertation, part 2
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Last time, we discussed the importance of knowing your dissertation’s genre. Next step: internalize the following advice:
- You are the only one responsible for your dissertation. While a few advisers will write your dissertation, it’s usually a lonely job. If you fail to produce, you alone will suffer the consequences. Why? If you fail to write, you loose jobs and you will have wasted your time. And what happens to the adviser? Nothing. Thus, you are solely responsible for your dissertation. If you ever wonder why your dissertation isn’t done, I strongly suggest you look in the mirror.
- Dissertations are *not* masterpieces! Sure, a few dissertations are home runs, but 90% are, at best, rough drafts of promising work. Many are simply useless pedagogical exercises. Even Einstein’s first dissertation draft was junky. Therefore, you should write a well crafted, competent work. The goal is to show you can actually complete competent research within a reasonable time period. You can write a masterpiece later in your career.
- The only good dissertation is a complete dissertation. Seriously. The overwhelming majority of dissertations are not read, published, or cited. In fact, if you submit your unrevised dissertation for publication, the reviewers might reject it on the grounds that “it reads like a dissertation (= tendentious student work).” Therefore, once you have mastered the basics of research in your field, just get it done! You can always revise it later. There is no benefit at all to spending extra time on a scholarly product that no one will read. Exception: If you are in a field where the dissertation functions as a first draft of your book, you should probably spend more time on it so it looks good to editors. A lot of them will review dissertations, if they are well developed and already “book like.”
- Write a *decent* dissertation. Does that contradict my previous advice? No – I just said that you shouldn’t expect your dissertation to win you a Nobel Prize. At the same time, the dissertation is often a pedagogical exercise and if your adviser is worth anything, they will expect a serious attempt at real science, not junk. It doesn’t have to be a masterwork, but show you’ve learned something and how your dissertation might lead to important future work. Also, employers might ask to see your dissertation. It’s in your interest to make sure the dissertation is in good shape. And heck, if you try your darndest, you might actually accomplish something!
Next installment: Can you really write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day?? Answer: Probably not.