Part three of a five-part series on the dos and don’ts of thesis writing by PhD Candidate Eric Jardine.
III. Publishing: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Another thing that helped me write my dissertation was something that you might otherwise expect to undermine the process: writing and publishing articles. Like with writing, there are a few reasons why writing and publishing articles during your dissertation is useful. First, you kind of have to if you want to get a job afterwards. Take a morning someday and look over the PhD student pages of various departments, particularly in the USA. You will find a lot of high achieving people on those websites. High achievement in academia, as we all know, is measured by the quality and quantity of your publications. These high achievers are the people that you are going to be competing against when you apply for that single tenure-track assistant professor position. If you want to stand out, you cannot simply write your dissertation. You need to publish more. Many published articles is the new baseline. You need to excel relative to this fairly rigorous baseline.
In addition to shaping your future career prospects, publishing during the PhD actually makes your dissertation research easier. I am not saying that some of those published articles will find their way into your dissertation and that the larger project is easier because you have already written some of it. Some people will do this, but it is not for me. What I am saying is that the process of writing an article will teach you how to better write your dissertation. Writing, analysis, research, and thinking in general are skills that get better with practice. Writing an article is practice under fire, where you will grow in leaps and bounds. When trying to publish, you will get reviewer comments and, due to the double blind nature of peer review, they will be blunt and honest. Take these comments as useful suggestions that can help you identify where you are incorrectly specifying your argument, need more evidence, or need to write clearer. With enough practice, you won’t need reviewers to tell you were your argument is weak or your evidence is lacking. You will be able to spot many of the flaws yourself. In the dissertation, being able to spot where an argument is weak or where you need more evidence are huge advantages, as you will spend a lot of time working by yourself.
Publishing is also useful because there are certain qualities to published work that are often absent from graduate student writing. Many of us probably already know what many of these elements are. A hook, an clear research question, a roadmap explaining what you are going to do, section headings, and so forth. Even though we all have a loose impression of what these essential organizational elements are, it is a different matter to apply them to a work as big as a dissertation. Organizing that sort of beast is, well, a different animal. Publishing during the PhD gives you the skills to better organize your thoughts and your work.
Finally, working on side projects is great to do during the dissertation because it is a productive, skill-building distraction. No matter how interesting your dissertation might be for you, there are going to be periods where it will be unhealthy to work on it day in and day out. Having a side project on the go provides you with something that you can work on without feeling guilty. It is real work, so if you work on it and not the dissertation that is fine. You obviously don’t want to do only side projects and no dissertation work, but doing both to some degree is highly advisable.
For Part I. the Lulls click here.
For Part II. The Value of Putting Words on a Page click here.
Part IV. How to Make Friends and Write a Thesis to be posted April 11, 2014.