Friday, March 12, 2010

Dissertation Mining

I recently got to a point in a couple of papers I've been working on where the most appropriate thing was to let them rest for a while and allow the dust in my mind to settle around them. I started thinking about what to work on next, and I thought that maybe the thing to do would be to polish up a key section from my dissertation. The section I'm thinking of is the section I should publish if I don't publish anything else from my dissertation; where I make the central argument for the central conclusion.

One nice thing about this kind of writing is that I've already done most of the legwork. I won't have to do much extra reading to acquaint myself with the literature, or spend much time trying to orient myself within the conceptual space. I've already got a pretty polished "rough draft" to work from. And I've already got a few new ideas about how to strengthen and buttress the argument.

So I'm looking at it, thinking about how to reorganize it, how to structure it, and where to modify or cut text. How the new ideas are going to fit in. And I'm thinking about how boring this is and how much I have no interest in actually doing it. At best, I would like to have already done it. But I don't want to do it. At all.

Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of my dissertation. I think it's a pretty good one. I'm glad I did it. But there's hardly anything in it I wouldn't do at least a little differently if I had to do it over again. As I said before, one of the most stunning things I learned when I was preparing for my defense was how effective dissertating was at making me a better philosopher. But now that I am that better philosopher, I don't much feel like going back and revising that old stuff. Even though I still think I was right. One of the greatest things about not being a dissertator is that I don't have to do it over again.

But then I wonder, does not mining your dissertation send a signal? Or does mining too late send the same signal as mining for too long? Am I in a situation where if I'm going to do it, I had better do it now? Because maybe then I would go ahead and do it now.

--Mr. Zero

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that if they've got you deciding what to do based on what signals it would send, then the terrorists have already won. (But you knew that.)

The Terrorists said...

Us 1: Mr. Zero 0

Anonymous said...

I don't know how many other papers you've published, but if you're being productive (in areas related, at least, to your dissertation), I don't think it matters _too much_ if you don't mine the dissertation now or at all. Probably no one will ever know or care.

But. There is also the general phenomenon that many experience when writing a paper that one may not enjoy the "polishing" bit. If that is the only reason, then you need to probably "hold your nose" and mine it now, for at least the one central publication.

Also: as you point out in the post, you've already done a lot of leg work and invested a lot of time in this topic - if you're in a position where (in terms of time) you could much more easily get a publication out of the dissertation than on some other topic, then you ought to mine it now.

In other words - if the choice of mining it amounts to whether to have an extra publication, and you're still looking for permanent employment (or trying to get tenure), then I'm afraid the answer is "yes, mine it now."

So I don't think of it as an issue of what signals to send, but about whether you need an extra publication.

I say all this as someone who did mine the dissertation for one paper, but regrets not mining it for more, especially as tenure approaches and one wishes one had more quantity to please the people making the tenure decisions.

Anonymous said...

Not mining your disseration sounds bizarre to me. You've spent years on the project. You should at least get a publication or two out of it...

Anonymous said...

Mine your dissertation
Don't waste all that work

Anonymous said...

By the time I was finished with the dissertation, I just wanted to move on to other pastures. I also felt that making the dissertation project manageable required that I focus on such a tiny slice of a debate that the audience for a mined article would have been very small indeed.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm voting with the "work on what you're interested in as long as you'll be able to be productive that way" crowd.

I got one paper out of my dissertation. It was a good paper, but definitely not my favorite. I'm not sorry I moved on quickly.

Applicantus said...

If there is a carve-able bit there you can get out as a publication, and it would take you a shorter amount of time to get out than any other publication, and only requires holding your nose while you do it, do it, definitely. Don't let it go to waste. Anon 10:37 nailed all the reasons perfectly. I am in exactly the same position, cannot stand to look at the thing, but plowing away at it, nose plugged. Minor pain, compared to the prospective gain, I keep telling myself.

Anonymous said...

When canvassing job files and during job interviews, I'm always interested in finding out what the candidate has done or will do with their dissertation.

Anonymous said...

Instead of mining, it can be better to step back and try to look again at the issues you discussed in your dissertation. At this point, you might be able to write a new, very interesting and cutting-edge paper on that material, one which is several notches of quality higher than all the work in the dissertation (which probably involved a certain amount of slogging).

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't mine it unless you are really desperate. The advice I always got was - unless you're really under the gun or pleasantly so, say, in the sense that you've got a book contract to turn it into a book - stick it in the drawer for at least 2 years. Based on the time line you give us, that would still be about another year from now at least. So if you're letting the dust settle right now, let it settle. There's nothing wrong with a few weeks off.

"Now going back would be like doing Hollywood Squares." -Max, Kicking and Screaming (1995)

Anonymous said...

During my (one) APA interview, I was specifically asked about my dissertation. Not the old "tell us about your dissertation," but rather "tell us what you're doing/going to do with your dissertation. Are there articles there? Potential for a book?"

This was in addition to standard questions about future research. So, for what it's worth, at least some committees are interested in the question of what you do with your dissertation.

zombie said...

I have found that, although I'm now a postdoc doing research in a different area, I'm still asked about my diss in interviews. And sometimes I'm asked what I plan to do with that diss.
It was an interesting topic. I think I could get some good papers out of it. I just don't wanna do it because I was so relieved to be done with the damn thing and never wanted to look at it again. But in a sense, to write something that long -- a book basically -- and then do nothing with it seems a waste of effort. And I get the sense that there's an expectation that I "complete" the project, so to speak, by publishing.
So given ongoing interest in the topic, and that I could probably get a paper or two out of it with minimal work, it is worth doing.

SLACker said...

Interesting discussion. I finished my diss. recently and, like some others, I don't really want to think about it at all for just the reason Mr. Zero mentioned: by the time I was done with it, I felt like I was ready to go back and start again. It takes writing a dissertation to properly prepare you to write a dissertation.

In any case, I recently talked about this over lunch with a former adviser who suggested teaching my dissertation as a class as a way to reengage with the material. His thought that doing so would a) make me think about it again and b) allow me to do so in a novel way. I think this is an excellent suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am old fashioned, but if your dissertation was competent and you are proud of it, perhaps there are arguments in there that I might be interested in seeing. I realize that you may have personal reasons for not wanting to do the work to move your arguments from your obscure university library to a real journal, but it would be a nice thing for the rest of us if you would share.

Anonymous said...

Unless one already has other publications under control, I would think it is wise to get some publications out of the dissertation. One problem with looking for greener pastures elsewhere is that sometimes those pastures aren't as green as one would like. I mean that one sometimes may start doing research in a new area one doesn't know as well, and then discover problems in one's research along the way, that more research is needed, gaps in your knowledge, etc. This can be time consuming and stressful if one is under the gun to publish. At least with the dissertation, you know the issues by heart now (maybe this is why it is boring to return to). But the benefit is that you have a good grasp of the issues and the main problem becomes one of just writing them up in article form. During the first few years when one is going for tenure I think this is a better position to be in as one needs to be somewhat safe about getting all the work done.

Applicantus said...

Thank you, Anon 6:42, for putting it this way. Surely a more pleasant motivation while working than thinking about one's own need for publications or etc.