Racing towards if not greatness, at least goodness

I have a student who will graduate this spring. She has done a kickass job. She has three chapters of her thesis published or in press at good (albeit not great) journals. She got a small grant to support her work, and has an NIH individual funding for the next stage of her career.


But now, the department committee in charge of such things has decided that she needs to write a “real thesis” and can’t just put her papers plus three more manuscripts (which will be submitted within the next 6 mo window) together. They’ve decided that her thesis committee MUST have an intro and a methods chapter and a discussion beyond what is in the papers. Her  committee doesn’t give a damn. The department (being that we are a MRU) feels it needs standards for its students.

I am frustrated. What the fuck is the point of doing something that is NOT training for the future????? In the olden days, when scientists wrote books or monographs, it was reasonable to do a thesis that was a book or monograph. I am lucky that my mentor let me bind papers together back when that was not the norm. Now writing a book is training for NOTHING that anyone will be doing in science, at least for many years to come.

I tried to discuss this, but was slapped down. In the cost benefit analysis for the student, this is not worth fighting. She’s not nearly as pissed off as I am (she just wants to be done).

So lift a glass of beverage of choice (Langvulin 16 at the moment) to a job well done, and another person of color succeeding.


7 thoughts on “Racing towards if not greatness, at least goodness

  1. I had to do something similar- the bulk of the dissertation was some manuscripts and then there was a general intro and conclusion… I think writing the front and back end parts was useful, because then when it came time to do job talks, or someone at a conference asked for a 2 minute version of “what my dissertation was about” I had already articulated what the bigger story linking the papers together was. It might have been a minor pain but it didn’t take that long and I think at that stage it was useful for me to learn to explain a body of work and not just think at the individual paper level.

  2. I’ve never understood why people, in this day and age, would EVER be asked to write a “traditional” thesis. It’s stupid, no one outside the lab cares about the chapters if they don’t get published.

  3. I agree with yellow fish. I think a chapter of discussion and future directions in more than just an exercise. Just slamming all the manuscripts together is not a thesis. But having to do more than having a thoughtful intro and discussion–like separating out all the methods into one chapter seems a waste of time. It may never be published, but it is still a document that she will always have and be proud of.

    And congrats on graduating a student. Always a special thing. We won’t wander into the discussion of whether or not there will be jobs for these students past postdocing, at least right now.

  4. Thanks Yellowfish and RMH. Your perspective is valuable and I’m going to go ask the student what they thought about it in a few weeks, post-recovery. PLS is close to what my original view is. And indeed, no one else will give a damn about chapters not published.

    As for jobs, I don’t take as many trainees as I used to. This one is good enough that I have my hopes.

  5. I had to write a “traditional” thesis too last year, despite enough publications to just put them together. Must admit that now it’s done, I’m quite satisfied with it. It somehow makes my PhD more complete, makes it one round story. I’ve had it printed like a “real” book, which was totally worth the effort, if only for the pride my family took in it 🙂 (even though I realize that probably nobody will ever read it, making it quite a waste of time…)

  6. If, in fact, it helped you, then it is not a waste of time. It is important to separate out what the field values (published papers) vs. what you need for yourself to keep going. Mixing up these two can be disastrous.

  7. Just as one additional point (besides that it was, indeed, useful in the long run), a lot of people in my program published their intros as review papers. Maybe your student would feel better about it if she wrote it with that in mind.

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