May 2, 2012

Dissertation Dissing

The average humanities doctoral student takes nine years to earn a Ph.D.

At least that's what I read was said at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association held this year at Rutgers.

Students finishing dissertations now probably started them before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Kindles, iPads and many other technologies existed.

In the article "Dissing the Dissertation," Scott Jaschik is writing about graduate students, so this may seem far off track for a blog about writing at a community college. But I have had my own discussions with colleagues and students here and at a university where I teach in a graduate program about dissertations. For undergrads, the idea of writing a book that almost no one will ever read sounds quite absurd.

The question in the article is really whether or not dissertations prepare students to work in this century in any place other than academia?

The discussion at the MLA conference seems to have centered around not only the time required to complete a dissertation but also the topics and format.

Is it possible that digital projects and publishing, and "public scholarship" may actually become alternatives? That stone wheel turns very slowly. The MLA actually issued a report back in 2006 about promotion and tenure practices that had also questioned this monograph (or "proto-book") production process.

At PCCC, we often question the writing exam we require students to pass in order to graduate. (We are the only college in NJ to require one.)  It's no dissertation, but might there also be better ways to measure writing ability at this level than the snapshot but "classic" five-paragraph essay written on the spot?

It's one thing to diss dissertations but it would be a whole other thing to actually see schools ditch dissertations. Still, the discussions in places like the MLA adds further fuel to the movement towards another kind of University 2.0 that I think institutions will be pushed towards harder by the workplace and by their students.


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