Dissertation Publication Consternation

Recently, I had coffee with a former supervisor from my academic days. It was very nice of her to want to meet up now that I am adjuncting again – temporarily. We used to work together rather closely on some projects back when I was an idiot graduate student who thought that working on “some projects” with full time faculty would help me get a job of some sort.

We had a nice chat about what I’ve been up to and local politics and the various stresses that she experiences as the Chair of some committee or other. It was just two girls talking.

Until…the questioning that I suspected would come (but still hadn’t prepared for) began.

“Have you been trying to publish your dissertation?”

Hmmm. Let’s think about this for a moment, have I been trying to publish my dissertation?

“Uh, well,” the words were all jumbled in my mouth. “I, uh, sent off a couple of proposals two years ago. I got some interest, but, you know, it’s a long story and I, uh, not sure now, uhhhhh.”

It was something like that. I can’t speak well in conversations in which I know that the other person thinks that if I just did something more, that if I just did the right things in the right order, I would be where she is in a few years: pulling in a full-time salary and benefits and chairing some worthless committee.

She was perplexed at my non-answer. She furrowed her brow. “What’s your diss about again?”

I was stumped. I said some words in response, but I could not remember in that moment what my dissertation is actually about. I’ve pondered the question in the days since and, honestly, I only have a vague idea even now. Her question reminded me, yet again, of the dominant mode of thinking about academia among academics: that if you don’t have a job you obviously want one and must still be hoping to get one, no matter how long you’ve been out of the game.

The conversation also reminded me of that time I was in junior high and my mom was getting on my case because I did so badly in Math. She was afraid I wouldn’t get into a good college or whatever, and she said sternly, “you could do better in Math if you wanted, but you just don’t care about it!”

Now, back then, my mother was making an accusation. But in the years since I have seen her statement less as an accusation and more as a description that is quite accurate. I am invested and committed to things that I care about. Other stuff? I can’t even remember it exists. My SO always tells me that I know what’s happening on all the really good TV shows, but I can’t keep the main plotlines straight on the bad ones: “wait, who is that teenage vampire sleeping with again?”

Anyway, my coffee companion continued to question me about my attempts at publication and what had happened and where I left things. She said, “I know someone at [such and such] publishing house, so why don’t you send me your proposal and I will send it to my friend?”

Why didn’t I just say no? I don’t want to publish that book. I have no interest. I do not care about it. I’d have to revise it to include all the literature from the last 2-3 years. Good grief. The thought of having to do scholarly work in my (former) field while adjuncting, making coffee for corporate executives, and hoping that it all eventually comes to something is about as appealing as sticking a fork in my eye.

But I was flummoxed, once again, at the disconnect between the views of full-time faculty and the real world. My former colleague was earnestly trying to help me. I wanted her to believe that the end of my career was just a glitch that would soon be corrected, even if I don’t believe it myself.

I still haven’t sent my dusty old book proposal to her. I probably won’t. It’s passive aggressive, I know. It strikes me that she, like many others, doesn’t connect the dots. She teaches at a university where there are hundreds of adjuncts. She supervises many of them. And, yet, she seemed kind of confused about the reason I don’t have a job. Frankly, it’s bizarre.

I have to memorize a speech for the next time (and there will always be a next time). I could say that I want to do other kinds of work now and engage different audiences. My dissertation was not a waste of time because I didn’t publish it. It sent me down a new path, one that, in the end, I’m grateful to have found.

Or, I could go the pithy route. It could go like this:

“I am no longer interested in pursuing an academic career or in conducting scholarly research because there are no jobs available, and I don’t believe that fact will ever change no matter what I do.”

Simple as that.

*On a related note, the most popular post on this blog by far, is  “How To Finish Your Dissertation When You Really Hate That Shit.” …. In case you too want to finish your dissertation and then find yourself, in a couple of years, unable to remember what it’s about.

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7 Responses to Dissertation Publication Consternation

  1. Dawn says:

    I have been saying recently that my dissertation is still haunting me, almost 3 years after I closed the book on it and grad school. PhD in hand, I’m now firmly entrenched in a decidedly nonacademic job/career. It’s still not where I want to be, and maybe that’s why the Diss Ghost is on my back. I don’t feel “done.” I am not sure if that’s because the next “logical” and expected route is book manuscript. Or is it because I’m not done with research, but I don’t know what to do next, and the diss is the “easiest” launching point?

    I too don’t remember what my diss is *exactly* about anymore. I remember some broad topics, but I don’t know what I was trying to do or say with it. It got forced into a corner, when it had so much more potential — ooh, I’ve never said that before. I often felt frustrated at the constraints of the dissertation process. Maybe I can just research and write, and not care about publishing? Would my new research exist if it wasn’t formally published? Maybe the real question is will I even bother since I’m not sure I care about that angle of my old research anymore?

    I read your older “How to Finish Your Dissertation…” post. Maybe I’ll have to browse around the archives. I appreciate your take on all this.

  2. Liz says:

    The pithy route, while may not be socially correct, is honest. There perhaps needs to be more honesty in the world of academia, of what one can expect.

  3. Anthea says:

    I like your pithy route. It’s much more honest ..but as Liz says I don’t think that there’s much honesty in the world of academia. I’m also shocked at the number of people who are prepared to publish their thesis with a vanity press since they’re so desperate to get their theses published as books. It strikes me as just a sign of desperation since while the thesis is published and technically is a ‘book’…it’s not been published by a university press. …and I’ve heard others saying “oh, so and so’s book isn’t a real book since it was published by a vanity press which we all know doesn’t have a peer review board!”…jeez…the competition is brutal …

  4. post-ac says:

    @Dawn – I like that phrasing: dissertations haunt us. They really do. Even though I don’t know what mine was about, it still haunts me a little. Mostly I think of all that time that was (possibly?) wasted. And @anthea – EGAD! – self publishing the diss! Desperation for sure!

  5. unknownnarrator says:

    Sorry I keep writing the kind of comments you probably hate to read, but everyone is going through this. People have spent a lot of time and money in other fields without finding a secure job. Most companies seek temps or hire part time employees so they do not have to pay benefits. You are going through what most young graduates are going through. It stinks that this is happening to you, but I do not see the harm in sending off your dissertation. If it doesn’t get published, it doesn’t get published. Who cares, it was just sitting there anyway. And you don’t have to go back and revise it. You can draw the line there if you want to. But I think it’s kind of foolish not to try. You have absolutely nothing to lose.

  6. Wendy says:

    People who have full-time jobs in academia live in other world, a beautiful world where if you work hard (as they ferverently believe the meritocratic thesis applies to them even as they claim it does not apply to successful people outside out academia), everything will work out. They live in lah lah land, certainly not a place to do good theorizing about the present state of the world, yet there they sit nonetheless feeding off the labor of the adjuncts. They say they work “hard”, yet fail to use their critical thinking skills, to which they so staunchly advocate in their own classes, to realize that hard is a relative concept. Hard means working 3 jobs for years on end, with no great alternative in sight. Trust me, once they have worked you to death, they have no problem sending you to the curb to make way for the “new guy” or the “new gal.” And they wonder why the students do not develop critical thinking skills. Perhaps the students are choosing to exercise their critical thinking skills by not paying too much attention to their less than ethical university advisors who rachet up their fees every year and sink them more into debt, while firing any professor who is honest enough to expose the system for what it really is–a ponzi scheme. So what do you have left? The weakest of the weak on the front line as our “advocates” (who publically claim they have done so much to help the adjunct, but in private, vote themselves the standard raises every year even though it means more adjuncts getting less of the pie) and a ruthless administration who tries to weaken the profession even further through administrative “bloat.” Certainly, the presidents exploit people the most and their slimeball tactics, their selling out of the academy, should be brought under scruntiny, but let’s not turn a blind eye to our “kindly” coworkers who are secretly colluding with those “bastards” and benefiting from our poverty even as we “do” lunch with them. No good thinking can come out of the situation–except of course if you live in lah lah land where you actually think you get what you get through your own “hard work.”

  7. post-ac says:

    @ Wendy – Lala land is right. I try not to hold it against them because I know they don’t mean to be clueless. Unfortunately, I often can’t help it and now I kind of hate my old friend a little bit. It’s sad. @unknown narrator. Thanks, but I honestly have no interest in doing even the minimum amount of work that would be required to update my proposal letter. I don’t know where the interest went, but it’s gone now.

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