Where do dissertations go when they die?

From Freshspectrum

Cartoon from Freshspectrum.

It’s done. Congratulations! That dissertation you’ve stressed over for months… that you’ve labored over for years… It’s finally complete. You’ve uploaded it to a database, or submitted it to the library, and there it sits. New knowledge. Waiting for discovery. Put on that fancy new robe and stride across the stage.

After you pick up your diploma,
go ahead and drop your dissertation in the bottomless pit to the left.

The sad fact is, your dissertation will likely never be read, remembered, or referenced. If you have a really supportive mom, she may read it (or at least pretended she did), but otherwise that big tome you worked on is likely going to be collecting (digital) dust on a shelf. That’s not to say that all dissertations meet the same fate, but a overwhelming majority of them will. This is perhaps particularly true of modern dissertations, which likely investigate some small aspect of some tiny phenomenon that few people even knew existed in the first place.

After you pick up your diploma,
go ahead and drop your dissertation in the bottomless pit to the left.

Is our system of PhDs, dissertations, and academic hazing antiquated? Out of touch? I have spent at least a couple of showers washing my hair and thinking about what to do with my own dissertation. How to make it useful. How to make it accessible. How to make it have an impact.

After you pick up your diploma,
go ahead and drop your dissertation in the bottomless pit to the left.

I could distill the 250 pages into a 25 page journal article. Or I could splinter it into a million blog posts, conference presentations, or other bit size chunks. Or I could continue it and develop it into a longitudinal study. Or even turn it into a book. Or maybe Buzzademia has it right, and I should turn it into a ten item listicle and call it a day.

After you pick up your diploma,
go ahead and drop your dissertation in the bottomless pit to the left.

Whatever comes of my dissertation, perhaps the process was more valuable than the product. My thinking was stretched. I gained skills I never even knew existed. I learned how to craft and hone an argument. I wrote more than I ever thought imaginable. But most of all–most importantly of all–I was able to rediscover myself. To take on a challenge and overcome it. To jump over that bottomless pit and move on to what’s next.

3 thoughts on “Where do dissertations go when they die?

  1. Please don’t let it die. What you do with it really depends on who you want it to talk to?

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