Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Change the Dissertation

OK, attempt #2 at this post, first time around BlogPress ate my blog post, or rather it lied and said that it posted it but in fact it just lost it! Let's see if the blogger app on my iPhone fares any better.

Anywho, I was reading this article from inside higher edu last week on the MLA's bold plans to change the dissertation (queue the Oooooooh sound track) - see bottom for link since I can't really do much Wysiwyg on this app.

I've written before on the topic of updating PhD programs but I dont think I've touched upon the dissertation aspect. Some tend to see their dissertation as the magnum opus of their student career (at least I hope it's tier student career and not their entire career). They see it as a solitary path, between them and their committees - perhaps this is why we have so Many dissertations in university archives gathering dust...

As you might be able to tell I have a different view. Working in academia for more than 10 years now I have come to see the dissertation metamorphose from the boogie man (this was earlier me) to an academic exercise that shows odd your skills in research and critical thinking. Adding new Knowledge to the world's repository is only an incidental by product (and a badly used one at that since in my experience dissertations are going unused).

So if this is the case, showing off that you can do research, why not show it off with actually publishing a series of smaller pieces in peer reviewed journals? Why not create a documentary or a open educational resource that can be used by more people and shows off that you can research and write? Or maybe a combination of the above? There is no need for a dissertation to be defined as a book-style document, with X-Many chapters ad x-many appendixes, formatted with 1 inch margins except for the chapter heading pages that are 1.5 inches from the top and other arcane rules.

There are obviously bottlenecks that prevent institutions from just turning on a dime - the evaluators do not know how to evaluate alternatives to the book style dissertation and as such can't advise PhD candidates and can't judge adequately the quality of their work. Hopefully in the not too distant future there will be more options for the PhD dissertation.


IHE link: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/01/09/mla-considers-radical-changes-dissertation
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