- What kind of dissertation are you doing? What would be your ideal scenario for a dissertation? How is this usual/ unusual to your field?
- What’s the point of a dissertation?
- What else can a dissertation do besides display research and traditional writing skills?
- Why are these new skills and portfolios necessary?
Navigate our Choose-Your-Own-Dissertation interactive Twine experience here!
To any late stage PhD candidate in the humanities, the following dialogue is painfully familiar: “What do you do?” … “How much longer do you have?” … “And what exactly does one do with a PhD in such and such?” Despite the many comics, GIFs and essays bemoaning this series of questions, the fact remains that the uncertainty following a PhD is more guaranteed now than it has ever been. Such uncertainty brings up questions about the types of jobs one can secure, the different skills needed outside of higher education, and the ways in which we can find our future professional community.
Lurking in the corners of such questions is the dissertation. What does a dissertation crafted amidst uncertainty look like? How do we approach it? How can we remain excited and engaged with little guarantee for what comes ‘after’? Historically, the dissertation was the final product that helped cement one’s place as an academic. Now, whether because of push or pull factors, more and more PhD candidates are looking for a new relationship to the dissertation.
We frame the dissertation as a process, not a product. In advising people to begin a PhD program, the question should not be, “Do you want to be a professor?” (aka, “Do you want the certainty of a job that may or may not be available to you?”), but rather, “Do you want to do a dissertation?” The outcome of the dissertation cannot and should not be the driving force: the labor market is too precarious, the guarantee of tenure track work has dissolved.Reframing the dissertation as process opens up a number of alternative ways of thinking: it becomes an archive - a place to capture the ephemera of performance, games, conversations, and exhibits. The process includes project development, false starts, wrong turns and revisions. The outputs are not pre-determined, but dictated through the process.To this end, we offer the following essay through a non-conventional form. We each respond to a series of questions, situating ourselves through our dissertation projects. We are three of the nine co-directors of the Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) network, an interdisciplinary graduate fellowship program through Imagining America.
We work in social sciences, humanities, arts, and media. We have a range of community engagements. We are each at different stages of our dissertations. However, we share a curiosity about how the dissertation process can remain engaging, inspired, and challenging, without depleting us or our work into a narrow monograph. We have invited responses to some of the questions from other PAGE Fellows, past and present, who also think creatively about their dissertations. We also include a small interactive game about navigating the path and process of how a dissertation can look and the possible futures it may introduce. In our conclusion, we include resources to non-traditional dissertations which we use as inspiration and as creative examples of how to think beyond the monograph.
Alexandrina Agloro is a doctoral candidate in communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She sees her work as social movement quilting: weaving together people, organizations and resources to create a more just world.
Elyse Gordon is a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Washington. She is a co-founder of Eat for Equity Seattle, and a strong advocate for social justice and creative philanthropy within Seattle.
Johanna Taylor is a doctoral candidate in public policy at The New School. She is also active in the New York art community as Programs Associate at The Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
Additional members of the PAGE community past and present added their own perspectives about the future of dissertations in response to the questions that they felt most passionate about including Janeke Thumbran, Josh Franco, Nick Sousanis, and an anonymous former member.
What kind of dissertation are you doing? What would be your ideal scenario for a dissertation? How is this usual/ unusual to your field?
Johanna: My dissertation is simultaneously a standard social science research project and a challenge to enact interdisciplinarity in my field. With it I am working to unite my own background as an arts administrator and cultural policy scholar to challenge my own perceptions of the world. I am studying the social and political impact of socially engaged art practices in Corona, Queens, where socially engaged art practices are being implemented to address community issues faced by the borough’s internationally diverse residents.
I am excited by my current process of data collection. Spending time in the field at events is truly exciting and the reason why I left working in arts nonprofits initially - I was seeking to understanding granular experiences on the ground and connect them to a broader city level conversations of the political power of art engagement. Increasingly I am incorporating these same methods of social practice into my own practices of data collection. This means holding open workshops in community spaces that become alternative focus groups to gather data for my dissertation. It means facilitating connections for new programs that people I meet in the field to build access. It seems that the social practice of dialogue around the actually dissertation itself is the real work, the true product of the dissertation. Fundamentally my dissertation is a multi-format public program where everyone is invited to contribute their perspectives, make connections with one another, and leave with new ideas and networks to enact change in the world they see around them.
The fact that I am honestly studying art practice and artwork itself is foreign among policy dissertations which are often quantitative studies driven by economic questions and statistical analysis. Pursuing truly granular, qualitative research questions already makes me an outlier within my field. Yet being the “art person” in my department has become empowering over the years, preparing me to now actively redefine my dissertation as a social practice.
Alexandrina: My dissertation is in two parts: The Resisters, a game I built through participatory design with young people, and an accompanying ethnographic monograph about the process. I have greatly enjoyed and benefitted from my committee’s willingness to entertain the game elements of my dissertation, but I wouldn’t say that my dissertation is non-traditional and entirely beyond the proto-monograph, since I am still writing a traditional monograph that is beholden to my university’s requirements for a written dissertation. Instead of having solely an alternative form of a dissertation, in order to build the game and do the research I wanted to do, I feel like I am completing two dissertations.
While I embraced the double-dissertation, the end product is quite close to my ideal dissertation situation. I’ve built a digital project that involved participants and real world scavenger hunts, and I understand how there is still a place for writing and reflection within non-monograph dissertations. As I’m finalizing writing up my findings, I’m noticing that the written portion allows for a kind of reflection that would be difficult to include in a performative digital archival document. And there are shortcomings to the traditional monograph format, particularly when writing about digital work. For example, my participants and I wireframed many parts of The Resisters in Popplet (an interactive web-based organization tool). In my ideal writing situation, I could embed my Popplet so that my readers could navigate the system in the way that I am describing it. Instead, I am taking screenshots of certain parts of my Popplet, and inserting them into the written document. The translation feels clunky and flat.
Within my field of digital media studies, dissertations with practice-based elements are becoming less unusual, although in communication (my degree granting program), a dissertation that is more complex than the traditional monograph is unusual. Within the digital humanities, collaborative and interactive projects are becoming the standard rules of engagement, and it seems like scholars entering this field should have hands-on experience creating their own digital projects instead of basing their terminal degree research on analyzing other pieces of digital work.
Elyse: At times, I feel like I am doing a fairly traditional dissertation, in that I have a series of theoretical and empirical research questions, and have designed a rigorous, reflexive social scientific study to answer the questions. The project involves an extended case method of two models of engaged philanthropy, in order to better understand the ways that philanthropy and inequality are intertwined, if/how donors are transformed through engaged giving, and whether philanthropy can be an effective tool for addressing social change.
My project develops case studies of two Seattle-based philanthropic organizations, which each represent a different giving model. The preliminary part of my research (in which I’m currently engaged), involves relationship building with community partners. Over the next 10-12 months I will employ qualitative methods (participant observation, extensive semi-structured interviews and archival work), and will use inductive reasoning and analysis to strengthen existing theory on philanthropy as a mechanism for social change.
While the framings and motivations for the dissertation arise out of my personal scholar-activist commitments, the research design itself is neither participatory, nor is it particularly collaborative. The project, the questions, and the curiosities indeed grew out of organic relationships and interests of mine, and I have had varying levels of ease of access in developing research partnerships. However, the project is not particularly transformative or radical in its execution. As far as outputs, I do feel strongly about writing up the dissertation as a book, rather than a traditional monograph. I would like the byproduct of my work to be accessible and have as broad a reach as possible, and I thus I want to make sure that the writing serves two purposes: for my committee, and for a book.
Then again, compared to my colleagues, my dissertation project is not so conventional. Generally speaking, very few geographers work with community partners, much less in an engaged manner. Within my own department, I’ve had little to no training about how to navigate the power dynamics and different incentive structures of the business and nonprofit world. The impetus, design and execution of the dissertation has always been a bit ‘against the grain’, particularly in the fact that it is qualitative, yet applied and engaged. Most geographic research that is applied comes out of our quantitative or physical trends.
Outside of my academic community, I was already firmly invested in exploring alternative ways of giving in Seattle. The dissertation grew organically out of these relationships, communities and organizations. This development felt very powerful, because I was able to change gears from an initial dissertation idea that was more ‘academic’ and critical, to one that felt more honest to my interests. I didn’t have to do a lot to “set up” the project - it was sitting right in front of me, and I just had to be open to seeing that.
Abstractly, my ideal scenario for a dissertation would be something that inspired me and kept me curious and passionate, that is compelling to my community, that can translate and resonate to a non-academic audience, and that lends itself to dialogue and discussion. It also would have the potential to be communicated in multiple media and to many different publics. It would not be done in isolation, and it would resonate with more than just the committee.
Janeke Thumbran: My dissertation explores how whites-only universities in South Africa produced knowledge on and in black communities that not only kept the discourse of apartheid in place but also rendered communities as racial sites that were excluded from the educational offerings of universities. In particular, I examine how the discipline of architecture was instrumental in crafting black communities into sites of race and power and my archival sources consist of MA dissertations in architecture that were completed at these all-white universities. I read these dissertations as texts through which the knowledge and authority of apartheid discourses were operationalized and in so doing, I am compelled to think about the ways in which my own dissertation might enable similar notions of disciplinary power and knowledge. In attempting to think beyond the proto-monograph, there are ways that I can undermine or subvert the notions of power and authority that cannot be separated from the process of crafting a dissertation.
My ideal scenario for a dissertation would be to use architecture as a concept that can be turned on its head through the different format of the dissertation. My dream dissertation would involve designing a physical object that represents the ways that architecture organizes space in racial and gendered ways, how it produces knowledge on communities and how it structures the very notion of community and community life. This might take the shape of an architectural model of a building or a community, or it could be an abstract object that would call for multiple interpretations and reinterpretations of space and design. Envisioning my dissertation as a physical object rather than a proto-monograph (or even as a digital project) is definitely unusual in my field (History). At best, historians have converted their completed proto-monographs into digital projects, but I have yet to hear about how other historians, particularly historians of Africa, are thinking seriously about the purpose and format of their dissertations in dramatically different ways.
Nick Sousanis: My dissertation was written and drawn entirely in comic book form. It’s a philosophical inquiry centered in education (my field of study), specifically exploring our ways of learning or means for constructing knowledge – with an emphasis on the visual, which is approached in both the discussion and the form. How is it unusual? Ha! The use of images historically in scholarly work is almost entirely relegated to figures, illustrations, charts – content that may provide extra meaning for the textual content, but not important in its own right. By doing this in comics, I hope to have turned that on its head – the discussion is only complete in the marriage of the images and pictures and through the very shape of the compositions I orchestrate. Form and image embody content rather than illustrate it. To a comics maker, this is not that radical a proposition – it’s simply how they work – but in the academic community it represents something highly unusual. One hopes that going forward, with this dissertation and several others in other alternative formats that have emerged in the last several years, that won’t be the case for much longer.
What’s the point of a dissertation?
Johanna: A dissertation is a chameleon of layered possibilities. On the surface every discipline has their own set of standards and departments within them create their own expectations that establish their place of advanced rigour. Beneath the surface students work to meet departmental expectations while battling whether to incorporate their own passions and worrying about how the dissertation prepares them for whatever professional life follows the doctoral work.
The deeper layers of possibility invite us to acknowledge our passion for the field, the topic, and research. Identifying our passion for pursuing this path challenges us to more honestly reflect it in our dissertation, a true culmination of our doctoral work. This honesty is scary because it makes us vulnerable and takes us away from the standard job market. Hopefully though this means we are pushing our fields further, challenging it with interdisciplinary thinking and alternative forms of sharing our research. Ideally the job market will continue to grow in line with these new forms. I see this happening through new opportunities outside of academia in foundations, research centers, and even community development organizations.
Alexandrina: In our title page, the dissertation is “in partial fulfillment of the requirements” for earning a PhD. So, knowing that, a dissertation seems like it is a method of how graduate students display their acquired research skills in action, at its most technical level. The dissertation is a demonstration of research and writing skills that are at a particular standard—the distinction of it being PhD level work.
Elyse: In my ideal world, everyone would approach the dissertation as the time to discover our identities as researchers. It is a chance to figure out our epistemological commitments, our deepest curiosities, the methodologies that speak to us, the ways to design rigorous research, how to communicate our findings, and how to do this all in a way that sustains us as whole persons. The dissertation is a chance to develop confidence as a researcher, and to learn whether/how we collaborate. In its final form, the diss is an opportunity to develop the written/visual/multimodal voice, and to learn how to communicate findings to the appropriate audience(s). Historically, this has been directed only at an academic audience, but I think it should be up to the student to determine how they direct their findings and artifacts.
What else can a dissertation do besides display research and traditional writing skills?
Johanna: The dissertation does not define our future careers but rather is a launch point introducing the breadth and depth of what is to come. It can be a change to try out or even perfect new skills or ways of thinking that we are curious about. It expands our knowledge and professional cachet in unexpected ways.
These new skills take the form of a variety of direct resources and techniques. The dissertation process may mean establishing connections to broad networks of unexpected stakeholders who support your work, opening up new pathways for future research, projects, and even careers. It a project management experience, solidifying organizational and interpersonal skills that are invaluable for whatever comes next. Also, it is a change to break from things you have done before to learn something new from GIS to animation to expand your repertoire.
Alexandrina: In our rapidly shifting academic environments, the dissertation is an opportunity to showcase the range of skills a newly minted PhD has. The dissertation as a culminating project has the opportunity to for a scholar to position themselves uniquely. It’s like asking scholars the question: What is it that you do that is compelling, interesting, and can only be done by you?
Additionally, a large-scale project like the dissertation is an opportunity to learn and develop new skills beyond research and writing that will be useful to a graduate student after they finish their programs. It would be an opportunity to learn a skill or create an accompanying portfolio that is useful beyond the dissertation.
Elyse: Dissertations can and should be seen as the primary capstone and portfolio piece that can launch our careers. It signifies the jumping off point for whatever comes next: the dissertation might show our empirical expertise, or it might be a portfolio of communication. It might be an archive of experience, research design and experiments. It is a chance to showcase, “here’s how I saw a project from beginning to end… and here are all of the decisions I had to make during that process.”
I think the function of a diss as an academic research document is important, but that it has significance far beyond an academic perspective. The diss can provide us an opportunity to highlight our many skills: problem solving, time management, flexibility, management, collaboration, creativity, analysis, program management, etc. A dissertation can not happen without many of these things, and it is a constant negotiation throughout the (years-long) process. The material dissertation lives and breaths that history, as the repertoire of knowledge production. It’s a testament to how much we adapt and develop an independent trust/confidence/compass throughout the journey.
Also, I would hope the dissertation can be a document to be communicated to a wide range of publics. Unfortunately, it seems like these types of public-facing artifacts are usually secondary and become additional requirements. This is evidenced repeatedly at the University of Washington through my involvement with the Certificate in Public Scholarship. Many of us are making public-facing artifacts for our Practicum projects that are ‘in addition’ to the work we would do already for the dissertation. In my instance, I will be producing an entirely separate set of documents and artifacts that may or may not directly inform my dissertation.
Other PAGE Voices: Perhaps because of the interdisciplinary and action oriented nature of PAGE, most of the other PAGE members invited to respond to these questions chose to focus on what makes the dissertation compelling and alternative skills from this process. Their responses are below.
Josh T Franco: A dissertation can incite and deepen relationships. These relationships can be a core of community building, of shaping a place. A dissertation can be an excuse to invite yourself into people's lives. The dissertation writer can provide a venue for the willing to engage in critical thought and looking in which they can find pleasure and possibilities for shaping places and conditions to better suit their lives. The dissertation can be a site for novel demonstrations of loving and relating.My dissertation focuses the town in Marfa, Texas. It comes out of ideas originally infused in the collaborative installation and performance project MARFITA (2011). Like the dissertation, research for that project begun in 2009 required the involvement of some key figures and many willing participants. In hindsight, I can now see that the process that began in 2009 has resulted in the inception of new friendships and the deepening of existing ones. Politically, these friendships have and will continue to matter in conversations around Marfa's present and future. Stakes in Marfa are shared by many intersecting (art) worlds, especially as the relationship between art production and gentrification--outside of but always in relation to metropolitan centers--continues to unfold mercurially. The dissertation has given reason for me to have sustained relationships with invested parties, including residents and non-residents of Marfa. It has also given reason for an international audience interested in Marfa reason to reach out to me, particularly in the last couple of years as publications related to the dissertation have gone out into the world. In our conversations, a network builds. This network will, I hope, be a site for ongoing community beyond the mere dissertation process.
I will not claim an aim for this community, politically, aesthetically, or otherwise. What Marfa, and "protecting" Marfa (from hokey tourism, gentrification, developers, cultural erasure, commercialism, the fashion industry…), means amongst just the interested people I know personally is too diverse. What we share, and what I'm constantly humbled by, is the willingness to undergo this process called "dissertation" together. Certainly, I am the one with it in my daily thoughts, who sits at the keyboard and puts it in the shape called for by the university-industrial complex. But those pages, in many ways, are the least of it. What the dissertation has done is give a number of us an excuse to think hard about a town where we live, come from, or care about deeply. Hundreds have done this momentarily with me or at virtual distances. A few are thinking with me all these years. The point is that, against the typical experience, the dissertation has provided a site for sensing the self radically un-alone, if not in-common, with an unlikely and otherwise non-existent constellation of many.
Anonymous PAGE Member: A dissertation has the potential to create new knowledge and perspectives. It engages a problem that has not yet been addressed or articulated in a particular way and gives the graduate scholar an opportunity to do the work of deep study. I think this is important because critical humanities and social science work is often political work. My study of race and racism is directly linked to my desire to live in a less racist society. But the intention of anti-racism, having beliefs about the potential of social change, having participated in learning to support those beliefs, while very important cannot alone produce a sustainable approach to addressing structural and social racism. The dissertation is not the answer. It is one form of the practice, innovation, and contextual understanding that it takes to look more critically at any issue and work toward a theory, method, or pedagogy to support one's point-of-view. In this sense the dissertation is not a display of research, but rather is an aspect of research itself. As such it can create a exploratory space within which its author can bring together the academic, political, and social aspects of her work in a really substantive way. Thus while the experience of writing a dissertation can become removed from this purpose because of the bureaucracy and professional power relations that often comprise graduate education, it does not have to be a be a piece of work that only represents an institutional standard of competence in a field. It can also serve a critical purpose. But in order for this to happen more often, graduate training itself has to change. Rather than matriculating individuals who reflect a few favored canons of thought, graduate programs should train its scholars to inquire, study, write or produce media, art, music which open new discourse or disrupt the assumptions of an old one. Only then can the form and content of dissertations serve scholarship rather than serving a department or school.
Nick Sousanis: I should note here, that I came into my doctoral program as a comics maker and declared my intention to do my work in comics from the outset. My advisors and committee were particularly open to it, yet mostly unfamiliar with comics. I think by doing a good portion of my work from the beginning in comics form, I helped them better understand how to read comics, how to look at comics critically, as I of course helped improve my craft and understanding of the form. Furthermore, in an effort to broaden my cohort to one versed in comics, I found ways to immerse myself in the comics-making community. This introduced me to a peer group who could speak to the visual and formal issues that I was investigating in ways that my advisors and cohort at school couldn’t, nor would I expect them to be able to. I think in venturing outside of how things are typically done, the student must necessarily to take it upon him or herself to make these sort of outreaches and be responsible for finding your own outside eyes for feedback. For me it was necessary for the work to be as thoughtfully considered in both the academic landscape in which my degree would come, but also in the comics community, in which the form was grounded.
While as I said before, I had come to school as a comics maker, which definitely gave me a leg up on learning curves and in convincing my advisors, I don’t want to suggest one can’t take on an entirely new skill later in the game – only that it means diving in and doing everything one can to embrace both (or more) of those worlds. It means seeking out a community and resources that can help you find a path that works for you, and shouldering a responsibility to make your ownership of those languages/modes/tools evident. To step outside of well-trodden paths requires a great deal of independence, but, in my view, the places the work can take you are far worth the additional undertaking. Excited to see what’s to come…
Why are these new skills and portfolios necessary?
Johanna: Boldly enacting alternative dissertation models is a graduate student call to action and a provocation to our fields at large. They offer glimpses of future alternatives.
The dissertation is a chance to forge new pathways in research and creativity that would otherwise go uncharted. As a “student project” it is not bound to the same funding or political limitations that guide projects within organizations. We are daring to test new media, creating visual representations of our thinking, and establishing events as critical reflections. Through our dissertations, doctoral candidates are beta testing research methods and forms of knowledge dissemination.
Alexandrina: These new skills are necessary because writing a traditional monograph dissertation alone is no longer enough to get you an academic job.
In an ideal graduate program, a student would have realistic conversations with advisors and administrators about their post-PhD goals. Knowing those goals, a backwards trajectory could be planned so that the student will receive theory, research, and appropriate skill-based trainings as part of the PhD process.
Elyse: The rise of contingent labor and the precarity of adjunct life is quite apparent to contemporary PhDs. However, I would highlight that there’s a growing body of graduate students who recognize that the demands and expectations placed on academics are just not meant for all PhDs. For those of us who feel like we might want a career that allows for research, collaboration, project management, education while still setting clear boundaries, directly impacting our communities, and participating in a culture that encourages whole-person worthiness, we are likely to look beyond tenure-track jobs. The dissertation is a chance for us to begin to practice the type of work and research we want to do; it is also a chance to practice being the type of person we want to be while doing rigorous work - something that will, hopefully, be true for most PhD students, regardless of the profession they pursue after degree completion.
Thinking of the dissertation as a portfolio is so liberating to me, because there are so many different ways to build a portfolio: you get to choose the narrative of your portfolio. I might have 30 artifacts, and interweave them to write 3 different portfolios, each which tell a slightly different story of the journey. Our research does not define who we are, but it is a product of multiple relationships, personal triumphs, lessons, chapters of our lives …
When I remember that “I am not my research”, then the dissertation feels like an opportunity. When I forget this, then the dissertation feels daunting, alien, full of judgement and potential shame. It is vital to prepare students to feel exploratory, open, and excited about the opportunity to have autonomy and self-direction; to make mistakes; to take risks; to know that all of those failed starts and false turns are part of the journey and can be part of the portfolio. But that failures and false starts do not mean we, as students or researchers, are bad or have failed. The dissertation is our chance to run our first triathlon with a wet suit that doesn’t quite fit just yet. To wear a new costume, play a new role. To travel into unknown territory with some really clear goals and good questions, and then to share that out with the people with whom it will resonate most.
Nick Sousanis: I think one prominent question it raises that I am particularly sensitive to, is one of assessment. How do we evaluate new forms (or at least new to the academy), especially when the supervisors of such projects are likely not versed in the mediums or methods employed? And so on one hand, I’m excited for this burgeoning moment, where there’s greater acceptance of different approaches and more boldness on the part of explorers to go where they need to go. But I think there’s a danger in doing so as dabblers. Novelty without quality hamstrings the overall work, and ultimately runs the risk of contributing to a strong pushback against greater acceptance of new forms. Since word of my work got out in the early stages of my working on it, I’ve felt highly conscious of its reception. To me, it seemed that if it was well received, it helped make further such projects possible, but if I dropped the ball on the form, it could be a setback for others trying to go similar directions. A senior colleague helped me articulate my thoughts about assessment most succinctly: it means owning one’s argument – on all levels. With a traditionally formatted work, the conventions of scholarly writing are well established, authors are expected to be versed in them, and advisors/committees can give feedback on the writing at the same time as the merits of the argument. When the scholar is introducing a form less tread into this forum, a greater part of the burden falls on their shoulders to both be versed in that form and to be able to help their committee come to accept it.
Your dissertation is your calling card for your future, whether your plan is for an academic job or some other kind of profession. Within the ten year history of the PAGE Fellowship, the network has supported scholars to create dissertations that break out of the confines of the traditional monograph. We want to showcase some of those projects here.
Nick Sousanis completed his doctoral dissertation in comics form in the spring of 2014 from Teachers College, Columbia University. Titled “Unflattening,” a version of his dissertation will be published in March of 2015.
Lara Stein Pardo created an interactive map as part of her dissertation that charted Miami’s cultural arts history from the 1920s through the 1950s.
John Armstrong’s dissertation is in part working from a website where he has invited the public to participate in online conversations about what engagement means. His intention is not just to create writing, but engage in an experiment with public scholarship through story.
Melissa Crum worked with Linden McKinley STEM Academy in Columbus, Ohio towards a both a more traditional research dissertation in arts education as well as the Linden Documentary Project to create a documentary with students at the school.
In conclusion, we wanted to leave you with a few pieces of wisdom that we’ve picked up along the way:
Always remember that your dissertation is above all else yours. Your dissertation advisor is there to give you *advice*, but you get to choose to take it or leave it. Your choices have to be your own choices, and your dissertation is work you have to stand behind at the end of the day.
Your dissertation is an opportunity to showcase your work before it’s completed. Especially if you treat your dissertation as a process, rather than a product. If you’re on the academic job market, there is an advantage to being able to talk about your dissertation as a process where you developed skills and methods for critical analysis, instead the diss being an unfinished monograph.
The truth is, very few people care about your dissertation. Future employers (both academic and non-academic) want to hear from you about your ideas and how you think about things. Your dissertation is a demonstration of how you can craft and articulate a complex set of theories and concepts. If you position your dissertation as a reflection of your process, rather than working toward a static written end product… that’s even better!
Finally, if you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re doing it all wrong. There will be moments where you hate your topic, your process, and everything in between. But overall, the dissertation is your choice, and what make of it is entirely up to you. Make the choice to be happy.
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