Reconsidering the Dissertation

Stacey Patton has written a thought-provoking piece for the Chronicle that touches upon a few conversations currently going on regarding the job market and alternative career training. In the article, “The Dissertation Can No Longer Be Defended,” Patton argues that many scholars in academia (most notably History and English faculty) consider the dissertation broken, a “stubborn relic that has limited value to many scholars’ careers and, ultimately, might just be a waste of time.” Former AHA President Anthony Grafton disagrees, arguing “For me, the dissertation makes intellectual sense only as a historian’s quest to work out the problem that matters most to him or her.”

Beyond the debate over the debate over the dissertation process, Patton’s piece offers a different perspective on a few ongoing conversations regarding alternative-career paths. Last week, I posted a piece Alexandra Lord wrote (also for the Chronicle) in which she implored department heads and administrators to consider alternative-career training as a permanent part of graduate curriculum reform. The two pieces suggest interesting ways in which to shape a new conversation about an appropriate academic centerpiece for alternative-career minded graduate students.  Is the dissertation useful for someone who is not interested in a teaching position, and if not, what is an appropriate alternative? We want to hear your thoughts, not only about this issue, but about Patton’s piece in general. Please comment below or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

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