Crowdsourcing: How do you feel about the new MLA Dissertation Proposal?

Dear Adjuncts, Grad Students, Post-Ac, Alt-Ac, and other academics who are getting or have PhDs but who do NOT have a FT faculty position. UPDATE: Or people in TT jobs not doing much research due to teaching load!

The MLA, via this report, has recommended reducing time to degree for people in MLA fields.

Reduce time to degree. Departments should design programs that can be completed in five years from entry into a doctoral program with a bachelor’s degree as the highest degree attained. (p.15)

Individual trajectories vary, and some students’ programs may take longer, especially those that require specialized linguistic, archival, or technological knowledge. (p. 2)

Given this, I have some questions for you. Surely someone else has asked.

  1. Would you be happier if your time to degree was shorter? 
  2. Would you be happier if you didn’t have to produce a monograph dissertation? (links from former MLA president Sidonie Smith) 
  3. If you didn’t get a job and produced a traditional monograph dissertation, how do you feel about that work now?

Here are some media followups to the report and some criticism.

I have lots and lots of thoughts about this recommendation. Do I have thoughts! But I am a tenured professor, so my thoughts may not be relevant, and my rule #1 of talking with privilege is to listen. So please, speak to me, O Adjuncts, Post/Alt-Ac, and Graduate Students of the Internet.

What I want to know is for those of you who have or are getting PhDs who do not have a full-time academic job, whether because you are a graduate student, an adjunct, or someone not in academia, how do you feel about this? If you haven’t gotten an academic job, how do you feel about your scholarship now? Was it time wasted? Would you do it again? Would you rather have had options? If we are going to radically transform the nature of the humanities dissertation in order to better serve graduate students and save opportunity-cost for those who don’t land full-time faculty employment of some sort, do you think that’s a good idea?

Please respond in comments below, via twitter, via my public facebook page, or emailing me lollardfish AT gmail DOT com. Feel free to comment anonymously or confidentially via email. I will only quote you with explicit permission.

9 Replies to “Crowdsourcing: How do you feel about the new MLA Dissertation Proposal?”

  1. Eris says:

    Just to give my own frame of reference: I'm full-time alt-ac (by choice), finished my PhD in Classics in six years (went straight from BA to doctoral program), and wrote a standard 250-page or so dissertation.

    I would have loved to finish in 5 years, but I was a first-gen college student, single mother of two, and I was working on a very interdisciplinary topic, so six was the best I could do. I think grad school is an important time to learn how to be an academic, but it's not a real job and it's not the real world. I see little reason to spend more time than I did there.

    On the value of my dissertation, I have complicated feelings. I think I feel it was more useful now than I ever felt while I was writing it. I was keenly aware that only 4 people would ever read it (perhaps only partially), and it consumed my life in a way that seemed to be not worth the eventual return. Looking back now though, I'm grateful for what I learned about time and project management, honestly (how boring is that?). I was able to see a huge endeavor through from the earliest stages to the very end. Could I have learned those lessons with less time and depression? Probably, or even, most definitely. If I had decided to go TT and then write a book, it was probably good practice (but then, is writing monographs what we should be spending the vast majority of our time practicing for?).

    Writing a dissertation was the least of grad school's problems for me. If the point was to train me to be a scholar, it did so incredibly inefficiently. If the point was personal enrichment, I'd say it was a massive failure simply judging by my mental health during that time. If the point was delay the real world until after the economic crisis, well, I guess it succeeded.

    I think it's good the MLA is looking at changes, but at some point, we will have to systematically address the philosophical question of what we are trying to offer our grad students and then the pragmatic question of how best we can succeed in that. To be fair, the MLA is far ahead of the APA (Classics org) in this, and I applaud them.

  2. Ginger Stickney says:

    I have not done a PhD although that was the plan. It took me four years though to do an MA, and that is for complicated reasons having to do with both personal stuff (working mom to three young children), a truely unbalanced adviser (who openly discriminated against me for having children), and non-personal things such as having to do an MA only program due to my attendance at an unknown state university. Frankly I think it takes entirely too long to get a PhD and I think that schools are not honest about things like how MA credits rarely transfer. My husband basically had to redo his MA in order to get his PhD here at UGA. He was also urged by one professor to take an EXTRA year, and he had to really put his foot down.

    I'm more indifferent about the thesis. I think on one level if you plan to research and write it's good practice. On the other hand, I don't think students are given enough support in writing their thesis. You go from having deadlines to free falling. I was lucky in that my end MA adviser (I did write a thesis of 120 pages) gave firm deadlines and a great deal of guidance and support. I also am stunned at the teaching load many students are handed. My husband had to teach two brand new classes last semester when he was supposed to be preparing for comps and doing thesis research. But in the end, I think the comps are the most useless aspect of getting a degree.

    As for my feelings about my thesis…well I don't know. I am utterly useless in terms of the job field. I can't even get an adjunct position with my MA. I am proud of the work I did. It was, I think, a well done piece of work. But it has netted me nothing in the end except for personal satisfaction which is both good and bad.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I'm a 4th year PhD student in linguistics, on track to graduate in 5, and aiming at non-ac / alt-ac jobs in education research or teacher professional development. (I don't know if linguistic anthropology or educational linguistics are MLA fields, so your mileage may vary.) I'm just wrapping up dissertation fieldwork at the moment, and I think the research design, data collection, and analysis have been really helpful in building my bona fides as a researcher and teaching me to go through the process of carrying out a major study. I'm not as excited about writing the monograph because I'd rather spend my time doing something that shows my value to teachers and education administrators, and specifically to potential employers/clients. As it is, I feel that I'm split between two audiences for my work – academics and practitioners – and while practitioners are more important, being the reason I got into this mess in the first place, the academic audience is more urgent, because I want to graduate.

    I'm happy to talk about this further if you like – I'm @nemaveze on Twitter.

  4. Eileen says:

    I'm one of the lucky ones, in that I got a TT position while and this year, so I probably don't count, but I'll throw my two cents out for what its worth. My grad dept instituted a five year plan the year I started, and I was the only/first person to finish "on the timeline" when I finished in six. I wasn't ready to be done after year five, despite my advisor pushing me out the door and a very senior member of my committee dragging hir feet and insisting that six years was too fast. I think I'm ready now (or at least I have to be, since the diss was filed this week!).

    Five years seems doable, but for me it would have been at the cost of an additional research language and I would have needed much, much more closely guided reading/historiography/research design/methodology training than I got (my program threw us into the wilds to be raised by wolves).

    Regarding the diss, I think even for people aimed at the tenure track, something has to change. At least for history, the changes from diss to book that publishers demand are such that it doesn't make sense to me that a dissertation should be a 300 page near monograpgh that has to be hacked into a book by tenure time or else–why not a much shorter, more intensive archival project, or something else that could be a foundation to a larger project? I'm pretty burnt out by the marathon that was the final days of my dissertation, which is not a great place to be looking down the tenure track.

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