January 9, 2012 - 3:00am
By Scott Jaschik
Inside Higher Ed
Discussion at MLA 2012 (Seattle, 3-6 January 2012) about the evolution of the Ph.D. Dissertation, the length of time spent creating the document, and the role for digital publication, alternate forms of content, and the push to shorten the time to complete the Ph.D.
"The average humanities doctoral student takes nine years to earn a Ph.D. That fact was cited frequently here (and not with pride) at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. Richard E. Miller, an English professor at Rutgers University's main campus in New Brunswick, said that the nine-year period means that those finishing dissertations today started them before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Kindles, iPads or streaming video had been invented."
"The MLA's discussion of the dissertation is in some ways an outgrowth of a much-discussed report issued by the association in 2006 about tenure and promotion practices. That report questioned the idea that producing monographs should be the determining factor in tenure decisions. When the report was released, many MLA leaders said that the ideas the association was endorsing also called for reconsideration of graduate education, and especially of the dissertation.
As part of the process of encouraging change, the MLA recently conducted a survey of its doctoral-granting departments. Among the findings:
- 62 percent of departments reported that their graduate schools have guidelines for dissertations, but most of those guidelines are general, dealing with issues such as timelines, composition of committees and so forth, and not dictating the form of a dissertation.
- 33 percent of departments have written descriptions of what kind of dissertation is expected of graduate students.
- Minorities of departments have specific rules authorizing nontraditional formats for dissertations, and even smaller minorities of departments have approved a dissertation using one of those formats.
- Of those with traditional dissertation length requirements, the range of minimums was 150 to 400 pages. Most maximums were 400 to 500 pages."