I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to write down some of the issues I’m butting my head up against, as I write my dissertation. I’m not going to use names because hurting people isn’t my goal. I just want to vent a bit — and, should any present or future students in my program read this, perhaps give them a bit of advance warning of possible issues… so they’re forewarned.
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One of the first and biggest issues for me was the subject of the dissertation itself. I greatly enjoyed the research which went into my master’s thesis, and as I took classes for my PhD I’d been happily looking forward to doing more work on my thesis subject. Unfortunately, near the end of my second-to-last learning class (as opposed to classes specifically about dissertation stuff) I found out that the dissertation’s subject matter had to be at least… I think it was 80 or 85% ? -different from the subject of my thesis.
This was a nasty shock, since what it pretty much meant was that I couldn’t continue working on my thesis subject. More disturbingly, I’d been angling my research and classes specifically towards that subject for the past two years! I asked, in some surprise, why that information wasn’t given right up front to every doctoral student beginning the program — and received an airy reply along the lines of: “Oh, it was! Weren’t you paying attention? You must’ve just missed it.”
Um… no. I tend to be real careful about persnickety scholastic shit like that. But I kept my temper and said no more — after all, perhaps I had somehow missed this critically important information… somehow? So instead I checked with two sister scholars in the program who were friends of mine, and who were at different points in their scholastic endeavors than I: had they heard that their dissertation’s subject matter had to be at least 80ish % different from the subject of their thesis?
They both emailed me back almost immediately, and were both quite shocked. Was that true?! Surely not! I assured them it was indeed true as I’d heard it from one of the program’s core faculty members. I was bleakly amused that they both thanked me for letting them know, so they wouldn’t get caught in the same intellectual snare I had — of having no idea what my dissertation would be about when I was but one semester away from having to start the work that led up to it.
Curiously enough I also mentioned this to another core faculty member, to see her reaction — was she aware students weren’t being given this critically important information? She too thought that surely I was wrong… and she was surprised when I told her about my two (carefully unnamed) friends.
So hopefully my dismay has made things a bit better for future students — be sure to ask about this if you’re a doctoral student anywhere! …but it was still a real bite in the ass to discover so late — and then be told that somehow it was my fault for not magically knowing.