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Old 17th February 2013, 11:49 AM   #1
LightinDarkness
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Complete a dissertation or 3 published papers for a PhD program?

I've gotten some very helpful response from my fellow JREFers before on higher education issues, so I thought I'd run this by our resident academics/graduate students:

The PhD program I am in just decided that students may now complete the dissertation requirement by EITHER completing a traditional dissertation OR having 3 "publishable quality" papers. I am in a field where the dissertation is generally book shelved and never looked at again, and most people don't turn them into books. Most people do try to spin their dissertation into a few journal articles - so it seems to me its wise to skip the dissertation ritual and go straight to that. In my favor is that I already have 1 solo authored article, so I only need to do 2 more.

My reluctance comes from the knowledge that academia is very conservative when it comes to credentials. People are used to asking you about your dissertation and it is a standard part of the job interview process, after all. I don't want to spook hiring committees based on the fact that I didn't complete a traditional book length dissertation. But...on the other hand, since the point of a dissertation is to show you can do research, wouldn't 3 published articles do just that?

So, what option to choose - the normal dissertation or the 3 (2, for me at this point) article option?
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Old 17th February 2013, 04:15 PM   #2
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I have no first hand knowledge of the process, but I thought the idea was that you have to sit there and defend your paper, showing that you understand what you wrote.
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Old 17th February 2013, 08:12 PM   #3
LightinDarkness
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Originally Posted by Jim_MDP View Post
I have no first hand knowledge of the process, but I thought the idea was that you have to sit there and defend your paper, showing that you understand what you wrote.
The oral defense is required in both cases. However...even with a "traditional dissertation"...your committee doesn't let you get to the defense if they think there is any chance of you not being able to pass it.
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Old 18th February 2013, 08:18 AM   #4
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This depends very much on the field. In economics, a dissertation is usually three articles connected by a staple. In the humanities, a book often remains the norm.

Don't think just about hiring for the first job. Will a book be expected for tenure? And, if so, is the dissertation usually the first draft of that book?
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Old 18th February 2013, 09:04 AM   #5
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Don't know about your institution, but in mine (and all the others I know of) the 3 papers need to be inserted in a general introduction and general discussion and conclusions, that will then be bind and shelved, never to be opened again
So you would end up with a dissertation, only in a different format. Never heard of 3 loose papers, though.
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Old 18th February 2013, 09:41 AM   #6
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Im in a field where people do books but its not expected (like history).
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Old 18th February 2013, 11:28 AM   #7
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I am working on a PhD in engineering and we have the 3 paper option. As Megalodon said, they would be bound together with an introduction and defended as a whole. In an interview, I'm pretty sure you would spend less than 5 minutes on the topic of your dissertation. If it goes beyond that it's because the interviewer is interested (a good thing). Then the topic will probably never come up again.
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Old 18th February 2013, 02:34 PM   #8
pgwenthold
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Originally Posted by LightinDarkness View Post
The PhD program I am in just decided that students may now complete the dissertation requirement by EITHER completing a traditional dissertation OR having 3 "publishable quality" papers.
I see it as a false dichotomy.

A dissertation IS a publication, and so anything that goes in your dissertation needs to be "publishable quality." If it isn't good enough to be published, you shouldn't be using it in your thesis.

Others have mentioned turning thesis chapters into publications, but that is actually bass-ackwards. Write the paper first. From there, it is trivial to turn it into a chapter of a thesis. Slap on a 3 page "Guide to the Thesis" with an introduction, and you are done.
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