Friday, June 13, 2008

Sittin' down in right field, my glove off, collecting dandelions in my hat

After a year spent on one complete chapter and (approximately) 25 different iterations of the same 2-16 pages of an introductory chapter until finally, having realized the ridiculousness of my approach, I tamed the beast by eschewing minor alterations that were like so much putting of pine-scented-car-trees on a pile of shit in favor of just flushing the 25 iterations, starting with a clean bowl, and writing the thing the way it was supposed to be written from the get-go, it has become increasingly apparent that my precise odds of a successful foray onto the job market will be equal to slim to none.

And, in my better moments of self-deception, of which I am a master after years of philosophical study, I've convinced myself that I am fine with prolonging the stay in graduate school just a little longer; that I should take my new-found approach to the dissertation and finish it instead of futilely wasting my time on applications for the fall market.

But, as I have also become a master of avoiding actual work towards completing the dissertation, I have devised a way to make my possible entering of the job market-shit yield better odds for myself. I'll be forthright, it would require the cooperation of everyone on the market next year, but it's worth a shot:

Hows 'bout we all just agree to not really try all that hard on our applications for next year so as to level the playing field for us mediocre ABD's with no publications to their name?

Deal?

--STBJD

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be your competition, so I can't respond to your suggestion, but here's some advice from someone who has finished and defended a dissertation: wait until the end to write your introductory chapter. If you're using the process as an excuse to outline your argument, that's one thing (and the time you've spent on it has probably been well spent in that regard), but there is no point in trying to write a satisfactory final version of your introduction before you have written somewhat complete drafts of all chapters. No point at all.

Anonymous said...

Take a break from your Ph.D., do a few extra Masters Degrees in other disciplines, become an interdisciplinary scholar, come back to your dissertation with a much wider perspective (and the tools of multiple disciplines at your disposal), slay that dragon of your dissertation and then do a one to two year post-doc to improve your publication record...oh yes, and apply to every job under the sun in those intervening years, receiving a deluge of rejection letters every spring...that will toughen you up!

Anonymous said...

One year for one chapter?? You sorry.

Sisyphus said...

Great! We work at about the same pace. I'm glad to see I am not the slowest dissertator on the planet (we may be tied for that award, I guess).

Have you thought of going to, or recreating at home on your own, a dissertation boot camp?

Yeah, I never bothered to get off my ass and register for one either.

Anonymous said...

A lot of us have spent a lot of time wasting time -- rewriting the same 15 pages, whatever. God only knows.

This is (obviously) a sign that something is wrong. In my case, grad school eroded my sense of purpose and my sense of self-worth.

Personally, I would recommend focusing primarily on figuring out what is wrong and fixing it. Diss comes second. Job market distant third.

I now have a job and a Ph.D. and a publication.

Caveat: if you really can make a credible run at the job market, then it might be tied for second (but certainly not first). Even so, the job market is somewhere lower than the 7th circle of hell if you're not really ready for it -- which I think means having a good pub, or a done diss, or incredible letters from famous people.

Just how I see things.

Anonymous said...

Read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the first poster's advice of writing the intro chapter last, I think this is completely backwards. If you're not able to accurate conceptualize, in detail, your intro chapter, then you don't really know what you're going to say in your dissertation. You need to have all that shit worked out BEFOREHAND.

The intro chapter is the blueprint to your dissertation. Just as you wouldn't, or properly could't, build a house without a definite plan, you can't sufficiently (or easily) outline your entire argument in the intro, which I agree is the best use of that space.

On the otherhand, maybe it's just my preference. Different strokes for different folks.

Anonymous said...

I want to sleep with one of my committee members. I make excuses to ask them about my work, just so I can go to their office. Is that normal?

Anonymous said...

Many people find that they don't know what they're going to write in their dissertation until they write it. They may think they're going to argue one thing, find that that line of argument doesn't work, alter their approach, in the process find a new, more central theme, develop that theme, discover that they need to approach that theme differently than they were originally going to, cut out thirty pages that are no longer relevant...and so on. I don't have more than anecdotal evidence, but I think that this is how most people write, and that it is unusual to accurately grasp the structure of your argument before you've written a substantial portion of it in detail.

Now, however widespread that writing style in fact is, suppose that you're a person of that kind, and suppose you decide that you're going to write your intro chapter first, and that your intro chapter is going to outline your entire argument. Then you're going to find yourself struggling to write the damn thing, because you have all kinds of empty spots and doubts that you can't work out prior to actually writing. Before you know it, you've been trying to write an intro chapter for many months that could have been spent messing around in the guts of the dissertation and getting closer to having a synoptic view of the project.

Speaking for myself, it took me until I had written about half of my dissertation and had to come up with a coherent story about it for the job market to see the overarching structure. In fact, I think that that would have been a huge benefit of going on the market for me, even if I hadn't found a job.

Anonymous said...

If you work out your dissertation as you go along, then you run the great danger of hitting a dead end or later finding a fatal flaw in your position, thus requiring you to start over or pick another dissertation topic altogether. This may set you back months if not years.

There's no reason you can't think through your entire dissertation before you put pen (or pixels) to paper. This is what you would do anyway as you make up your dissertation as you go. NOT doing this is just plain laziness and, as mentioned, risky.

That said, it seems reasonable that many dissertators adopt the former strategy, as Anon 10:30 speculates...only because most people (in my experience) are lazy, procrastinators, or otherwise not very diligent. But because many grad students take this approach, it does not mean it's a prudent one.

But as Anon 9:10 might agree with, to each her/his own.

Anonymous said...

There's no reason you can't think through your entire dissertation before you put pen (or pixels) to paper.

Uh.
Yeah, there is.
The reason is that almost nobody can keep track of the enormous amount of argumentation, or reasoning, that a dissertation comprises. Isn't that glaringly obvious? Do you think Thomas Mann thought out all of Magic Mountain before he set pen to paper?

Anonymous said...

"Just as you wouldn't, or properly could't, build a house without a definite plan, you can't sufficiently (or easily) outline your entire argument in the intro, which I agree is the best use of that space."

Only philosophers say things like this. Of course this is completely untrue. You can build a two bedroom house. And later on add on a bedroom to the house or an entire wing. Or put a cottage in the back. You can even build a house, demolish it, and build a brand new one in its place. All these things are normal ways of building houses. In some communities, MOST of the houses are not "original", they have been added on to and modified over time.

Sometimes people build a duplex, and turn it into a single-family home, or vice versa. Etc. etc.

Asstro said...

Huh? Are you all so sloppy that you don't distinguish between having a plan and writing an intro?

Yes, you should have a plan. No, you don't have to write your intro chapter before you begin; and in fact, should probably wait until the end.

My experience with my dissertation was that I had a plan. I detailed every chapter. That was my prospectus, and I was required to defend my prospectus before a committee. This was pretty elaborate, so I knew exactly what my argument was going to be in each chapter before I got around to writing that chapter. Obviously, modifications and tweaks to that plan followed as the writing carried on. Then, after all changes were made and the whole thing was written, I wrote my intro and my conclusion. I actually found the conclusion the hardest to write, since it seemed like I had just said everything that could possibly be said.

Anonymous said...

I'd disagree with Anons 2:06 and 9:10, on the assumption that one has already had to have a prospectus approved, and that the prospectus defense essentially consisted in a review of the literature and a rough blueprint of the project. That should be sufficient to ensure the topic isn't going to run out of gas, and that the person has a rough idea of where she's going.

Beyond that, almost everyone I know has found that in writing their substantive arguments, their position has changed significantly, and that polishing an introductory chapter before any of those were written would have been wasted effort.

Knowing that the project is viable and having an idea of where it is going does not require having a polished introduction.

(And to borrow too heavily on the blueprint analogy, not only do houses get additions, the number of houses that actually perfectly resemble their blueprints is quite small, because often the carpenters realize that however carefully the architect had planned, it just doesn't work to build it exactly they intended. And that's on the assumption that the best metaphor for the introductory chapter is a blueprint.)

I see no need to deride other approaches as lazy.

Anonymous said...

Finally, some real debate again on this blog!

Anon 4:38 said: ...almost nobody can keep track of the enormous amount of argumentation, or reasoning, that a dissertation comprises. Isn't that glaringly obvious? Do you think Thomas Mann thought out all of Magic Mountain before he set pen to paper?


If anyone should have a full view of the "enormous amount of argumentation", it ought to be YOU, the author of the argument. The disseratation is not a group project. Aren't you able to "keep track" of your arguments after the dissertation has been written? If so, then why wouldn't you be able to do so beforehand?

Also, Thomas Mann's work was a novel, not rigorous argumentation. That kind of story can be developed as you go along, though it would still be advisable to have some kind of detailed outline.

Finally, my point wasn't that you ought to write your intro chapter first, but that you ought to be able to, because you ought to have a good idea of where you are headed with your argumentation. Of course plans can change along the way, but never having a sufficiently-developed one in the first place is a (lazy) mistake.

Anonymous said...

You can build a two bedroom house. And later on add on a bedroom to the house or an entire wing. Or put a cottage in the back. You can even build a house, demolish it, and build a brand new one in its place. All these things are normal ways of building houses. In some communities, MOST of the houses are not "original", they have been added on to and modified over time.

You missed the point. The point is not whether you can write a dissertation without a blueprint, but whether you ought to. Isn't a well-engineered and architected house better than an ad hoc one that gets rooms attached on as afterthoughts? To extend the (imperfect) analogy, not only is it more efficient to plan for as many rooms as you think you'll want or need, but it also helps ensure structural integrity with respect to other parts of the house.

Anonymous said...

If anyone should have a full view of the "enormous amount of argumentation", it ought to be YOU, the author of the argument.

Indeed.

The disseratation is not a group project. Aren't you able to "keep track" of your arguments after the dissertation has been written? If so, then why wouldn't you be able to do so beforehand?

Seriously?
Because keeping track, for most people, will involve writing things down.
When I have a big, complicated idea (and I've never had another one as complicated as the one that my dissertation works out), to figure out whether and how it works, I write out lots and lots of stuff. The idea of doing that in my head strikes me as completely unfeasible. (I'm not saying nobody can do it.)

Okay, the Magic Mountain analogy isn't forceful, you're right. What about a proof of the four-color map theorem? Do you think Wiles should have worked that out completely before setting pencil to paper? That just seems nuts to me.

Anonymous said...

What asstro said. The problem with the blueprint analogy is that the introductory chapter is part of the dissertation itself. It's a precursor to the dissertation *for the reader*, but that doesn't mean that it needs to be written or even conceived first.

I'm nearing completion of my dissertation, and the introductory chapter is the last priority on the list. This doesn't mean I don't have an outline (I do), or a sense of how the whole project fits together (that too.) It just means that having the introductory chapter polished is less of a priority than ensuring my substantive arguments are solid.

One should have an outline or a prospectus or a plan of attack, but what the post describes is re-working the introduction, which may not be the same thing.

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

I'm guessing some of this debate has to do with the ambiguous nature of what exactly I meant by introductory when I said I was writing an introductory chapter. So, just like a philosopher, let's monger us some distinctions so as to either help things out, or make things worse (I'm guessing the latter is more probable).

There are two possible ways of interpreting my phrase: "introductory chapter". The first way has to do with a conception of an introduction we can call "Really Real Introduction". This involves explicitly stating the argumentative steps that are taken in the dissertation as a whole and condensing them down to the key claims: I first show such and such, then I show this and this, and finally, I show why this is valuable. End of introduction, begin first chapter. "Really Real Introduction", I agree, might be best saved for last.

You can have a prospectus that approximates "Really Real Introduction", but, in my experience, key premises change from prospectus stage when actually written in the dissertation (if there are any), or your research brings up an interesting problem that you may not have thought of, or you get excited about certain other surrounding problems, et cetera. The prospectus is more like a schematic that isn't actually to scale; it's fairly worthless when dealing with the details of any individual argument, but perhaps useful for big picture things. I have a prospectus (no shit! you mean STBJD is not just an idiot nailing boards together with no plan), but not a Really Real Introduction.

The second type of introduction, which we can call "Real Introduction" is what I've been working on. It lays the foundation for things that are to be discussed later in some form or another. It provides the context of the problem while still serving as a standalone chapter. It isn't "Really Real", because I'm not saying "I do this, then that, and then this again, and I'm smart and right because of this." I'm saying "Here's how the problem is thought about, here's how I'm thinking about it, if you think about it in a different way, you're an idiot." Then, with the context from the "Real Introduction" I begin to consider how thinking about the problem in a certain way leads to other things.

In many ways, I don't need to know how the whole dissertation is going to go to write a "Real Introduction", for I may not have done the research yet even if I have an idea of where it is going from my prospectus. It may be the case that what I think seeing the problem in a certain way does, doesn't actually obtain, or I find another different conclusion. (And you'll be glad to know that this chapter and the other I mention is done. So that makes 2, not 1 in a year. Boo-yah!)

I do need to have an idea of the specific argumentative structure of the dissertation or a "Really Real Introduction". And, it's fairly ridiculous to suppose that this can be written in some explicit detail before you're done with your dissertation.

But, if you can do that, you probably already have a job and are much better at philosophy than me. In which case, fuck off.

Anonymous said...

"Isn't a well-engineered and architected house better than an ad hoc one that gets rooms attached on as afterthoughts?"

Yes, but sometimes we can't afford that. Sometimes all we can afford it to build a simple little house on the plot of land we have, then add on later. That is the situation, almost always, someone is in when writing something big. They've figured out some piece of it, or think they have, and they are going to need to add on later, or radically revise, or even demolish. But if they never get started on that piece they have, they'll never get the whole finished.

But if you wait until it is all perfect in your head, you can be waiting forever. That is an attitude that, as a matter of fact, leads people to either never finishing whatever they are trying to do, whether it be a dissertation or a book or a 10 page paper for an intro class.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but sometimes we can't afford that.

Word up.

Anonymous said...

Did Wiles prove the four-color theorem before or after he proved Fermat's last theorem?

Sorry.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 11:51 pm (from June 13th).

STBJD, I'm truly sorry if I'm one of the people you were telling to fuck off. When I mentioned that I now have a job, I was trying to be encouraging, i.e., saying that things can end well even if you go through some bad/unproductive/shitty times in grad school (because I certainly did). But on a new read, I realize I probably just came across as sounding smug -- and that wasn't my intention at all. So sorry.

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

Anon 11:51 (from June 13th)

The "fuck off" was a flippant one, not intended for anyone in particular and especially not for you.

Your words (and some others) out of the rest, were some of the more reasonable words. It didn't just say: "All philosophers are bad who can't map out 250 pages before they actually start writing it." That's just fucking stupid. Those are the people who need to fuck off with their non-advice advice that was in no way solicited and was only intended to make others feel like inadequate philosophers. When most people make broad proclamations like that, they're talking out of their ass.

Your words were encouraging in a non-patronizing way. Except for the whole seventh circle of hell thing. Jesus, I'm not looking forward to the job market.

Anon 11:51 (from June 13th) said...

STBJD, thanks. :) On the 7th circle of hell thing, I would emphasize the "if" clause. I doubt that anyone has a fun, shiny time on the market, but if you're ready for it, it doesn't have to be completely terrible, and it can even be affirming if you get a call or three for interviews for jobs you would like. But of course it can be very discouraging if you don't get those calls, and so it's usually better to wait than to go prematurely, in my humble opinion -- if that is at all feasible.