Dissertation Advice *

Gary King
2009 unpublished
1. You're probably wondering how in the world you can write 250 pages! But this is both easy and irrelevant. (a) Its easy because a dissertation is the equivalent of maybe 3-5 papers, and you've written that many every year for at least the last 10. So write a paper, then another, and then another; at worst you wind up with a series of articles as a dissertation; at best you have a whole research program or a book. (b) Its irrelevant because the dissertation is not about writing 250 pages; its
more » ... ing 250 pages; its about reorienting your life, making the transition from a student taking classes-doing what you're told-to an independent, active professional , regularly making contributions to the literature. To do this, you need to arrange your whole life, or at least the large professional portion of it, around this goal. This transition can be brutal, but it is crucial for far more than your dissertation. You must change not into a dissertation writer, but into a professional academic. (c) Psychologists say that to become an expert it takes 10 years of "effortful learning" (which is a lot more than just practice; its hard, and means pushing beyond the edge of your competence); you can't do that without changing your life and figuring out how you can devote enough hours to get this done. 2. Never shoot for the immediate goal; aim for the one after that. (a) One reason is that the prospectus is impossible: you need to convince 3+ faculty that you will discover something that will surprise them and that they do not now believe to be true. (b) The prospectus is irrelevant: no one in the world will care about this 5 minutes after its approved. No one will ever ask you whether you did what was in your prospectus, etc.