three article default
On Twitter, Brad Spahn asked:
What would you change about your dept to make faculty & grad students happier and more productive? Hold U-wide rules fixed.cc @fabiorojas
— Brad Spahn (@BradSpahn) March 20, 2015
I actually had two answers: First, eliminate the monthly/weekly faculty meeting. But our department already did that!! Except for “big” issues like hiring or curriculum rewrites, we leave most decision making to our elected executive committee. Also, we genuinely try to reduce required meetings.
My real answer, though, was “make all dissertations three chapters.” One of the biggest time wasters in academia is this belief that dissertations are the huge, 500 page master works. That is WRONG, but you do get bonus points for being brilliant in a thesis. The REAL purpose of the dissertation is to show the faculty and wider scientific and scholarly community that you have (a) mastered the current literature/techniques of your field and (b) you can produce new analysis and knowledge. Thus, the standard for a dissertation is “scholarly competence,” not “highest level mastery.” This is true for all programs from the most humble to the top of the profession.
Once you buy that, then the question becomes: what format is the most efficient way to teach scientific competence? Three chapters is probably the best. Since half of PhD don’t teach or do research, there is no point in doing more. Even when people go into university positions, almost all science disciplines require articles. History is the only social science that is not primarily article based. Even in the humanities, many fields are article based (philosophy, linguistics, etc). And even if you are in a book oriented field, like English, why not write a few articles unless you are gunning for the R1 market?
The policy of “three article default” makes people happier and productive. Students have a concrete expectation. There is a stopping point to the dissertation. If they do academia, the format will help them. It is easier on faculty in that we no longer need to manage these mongo dissertations. More time for other work.
Brad thought I was slamming book. I am not – I have written two academic books! But most people don’t do what I do for a living so why not let them default to three articles? And remember, it’s a default – not a rule. If you really, really have a book in your dissertation, you can do it. But most students would be way happier doing three articles.