I Read Part of My Dissertation Today

Boy, what a piece of shit that thing is!

Why, you may be wondering, did I put myself through such torture? Well, I have been reading some scholarly articles lately (old habits die hard!) and I started thinking, “Hey, you know what this conversation between academics really needs? It needs me and my research!” See, I conducted research as part of a scholarly conversation. Only, I never actually entered the conversation because, by the time I defended, I was so tired of my work that I couldn’t bear to look at it or think about it for months and months.

But here I am almost two years later thinking, “Hey, maybe there’s something in there that actually doesn’t suck.”

I was wrong.

Why does my dissertation suck? It’s not because it wasn’t a good idea or good research. It’s not because it’s not on an important topic.

Instead, my dissertation is a piece of shit because I was trying to please too many people. I can see where I included the sources and arguments that my advisor wanted me to include. Then I can see how I tried to squeeze in some discussion of the texts and ideas that my other committee members thought were important. This includes requests made by one faculty member who asked me to stick a bunch of citations in the document at the last minute because my advisor hurt her feelings once.

Yes, there was a power struggle between the members of my committee, and I was stuck in the middle trying to seamlessly integrate all of their advice (mandates, actually) into a single document with my name on it.

Wait, you may be wondering, what about you and your ideas?

I can see a few traces of my voice and my original idea in the diss, particularly in the old drafts. Reading it is almost like walking through the woods at night, drunk. Occasionally I wander onto a path that I recognize. “Oh, I know where I am now! I remember this place!” And then, before long, I wander off again onto some twig-strewn tangent where I distinctly remember someone telling me to go even though it is inhabited by hungry bears.

Dissertations are awful. Every last one of them. They’re a record of a kind of hazing, of the writer’s struggles to Get. Through. This. Motherfucking. Program. Now.

Other than that, they are not worth much.

So, I finally closed the book (literally and figuratively!) on my piece of shit dissertation at last. I will never enter that scholarly conversation. I am not sad. I just wish I had known seven years ago what a dissertation actually is: a story of what a PhD candidate has to do to survive. In other words, it is a story of time passing and of utter compromise.

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6 Responses to I Read Part of My Dissertation Today

  1. recent Ph.D. says:

    I hope at least the good liquor hasn’t run out yet.

  2. Anthea says:

    Yep..sounds like you need a drink. Sorry to hear about this trauma over your PhD. I didn’t…but I did have some wierd requests just before I submitted it. One prof (who had to be added to my committee at the last moment since another was really ill) asked me to reduce my thesis to the length of the Origin of the Species which Darwin if I remember rightly took almost 20 years to write. I nearly bust a gut on hearing this request since rewriting it was the last thing on my mind. He didn’t give any examples how this reduction was to occur…nothing in writing. Fortunately his request was overruled by the rest of the committee.

  3. Kelly says:

    Question: How do you build a camel?
    Answer: Ask a committee to build a horse.

    Good luck. The best thing about being a postacademic is that you can throw out all the meddlesome BS inserted by those petty jerks and revise the document to be your own, should you desire. Good luck!

  4. Fie upon this quiet life says:

    I reread part of my diss somewhat recently and realized that the overall argument was weak because of taking bad advice from a committee member. But the parts that were genuinely mine were pretty damn smart. I like those parts. I think that you’re right about the rite of passage, though. It sucked, and I’m glad I’m done with it.

  5. Pingback: Sentences | A Post-Academic in NYC

  6. needsanewwardrobe says:

    WOW. I turned in my dissertation (in Immunology) last monday. I defend my phd a week from this upcoming monday. I cannot wait to get out of here. I HATE THIS SO MUCH. and i completely understand the lack of your own voice in the text. my boss always tells me to write it in my own voice, and then will rework it into hers, or get in her ideas. it ends up being her dictating my dissertation to me to me. bleh. I just don’t even care anymore. i have never been so depressed about a phase in my life as i am right now. i feel so powerless and just want to leave. the thought of staying in that lab 1 hour longer than i need to makes me want to vomit. i can almost taste the freedom… not really, i just keep telling myself that.

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