Notes from the Ph.D. (3)

Here are some nuggets of wisdom on academic research, quality argumentation, and dissertation writing.  These come from Wednesday’s NT Colloquium meeting (faculty discussion) in which a NT student presented a working proposal for his dissertation.  The ensuing dialogue was instructive on numerous counts.  I’ll give credit where credit is due, unless I sense that (public) credit might not have been wanted.

  • Plummer:  We really fight for tight thesis statements here.  Always be precise — have a specific direction and specific boundaries.
  • Pennington:  Avoid what I call “argument by dump truck.”  Some scholars overrun people with the quantity of their arguments until you find yourself putting your hands up and saying, “OK, OK, you have all the footnotes — you win.”  But the best scholars make a few strong, succinct, nuanced arguments and support them well.
  • Anonymous:  I realize that there’s a lot of CYB in dissertation writing (“Cover Your Butt”), but sometimes you just have to move forward and make your argument without endless definitions, caveats, and qualifications.
  • Seifrid:  “Write as little as possible and as much as necessary.”
  • Seifrid:  One Ph.D. student asked his supervisor about the desired length of a dissertation and the response was, “About 300 pages.”  The student replied, “A page a day!”  Now, in some ways, writing your dissertation in clean one-page daily increments is just a dream, but the principle is good: just focus on the next step, the next unit, the next paragraph, the next argument.  You can’t expect to make much progress if you’re always sitting there trying to picture the whole thing.
  • Pennington:  If you try to read everything before you start writing, you’ll be reading for five years.  You’ll never write.  Start writing!  Write at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, make preparations to write the next day.  Park on a downhill slope.
  • Plummer:  Most Ph.D. students in their dissertation stage don’t spend nearly enough time in the library.  You’ve got to get in there, sit in there, and fight through it!  I take the Field of Dreams approach:  “If you sit here, it will come.”

For my few friends out there who have completed or commenced a dissertation, feel free to chime in.  I can use all the help I can get.


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