Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Morning angstiness

Why is it that whenever a professor gets to telling you about their dissertation, way back in the good old days, they claim to have written it
(a) in the final three months of their candidature
(b) while dealing with a new baby, new job and/or relationship break-up
(c) while standing on their head, in a burning building, and simultaneously breaking three world records in underwater skiing.
(Okay, I made that last one up).

Could it just be that the intervening years make them remember the process as quicker and less fraught than it actually was?
Were dissertations back then shorter or expected to be less polished? (Admittedly a few of these people did their PhD in the USA, where I have heard the PhD thesis is a smaller piece of work than it is here).
Or could it be that the sort of people who go on to work in academia after their thesis is complete are the brilliant but easily distracted ones with a tendency to rush work through at the last minute before a deadline?

Is there no hope for the plodding perfectionist?

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shrinkykitten said...

I don't know how long disses are there -- but their length here depends on the university and the department. One of my friends did a 30 page diss, which horrified me! My master's thesis was 150 pages!

English, philosophy, linguistics disses are longer than psych ones typically.

And, honestly, every single person I have watched do a diss have done it in a few very painful months. All at the very last minute. But, my field is different than yours.

StyleyGeek said...

Here it is expected to be between 80,000 and 100,000 words and polished enough that it is publishable in book form.

We have three research-only years in which to complete it, and most people I know start writing sometime in the middle of the second year. So that's at least a year and a half of pretty solid writing.

(In the hard sciences, it's often different because experimentalists may not have all their data until part-way through the third year, and then do rush to write it all up. We tend to do our analysis concurrently with writing.)

I've heard (in rumour form only) that for a PhD in the USA there is a lot of course-work too, so that the dissertation is not the one thing by which the student stands or falls. On the one hand, I think that might take some of the pressure off -- i.e. by the time you are writing up, you already have some solid evidence in the form of your coursework that you are part way to completion.

On the other hand, I found the hardest thing about my MA was trying to balance the coursework and writing time and split my brain in ten different directions at once.