The Completion Agenda, Part 3: Revising Your Dissertation

The Completion Agenda, Part 3: Revising Your Dissertation

You’ve successfully defended — but you’re not done yet

Dean Terry / Creative Commons
July 06, 2015

If you had to pick a cliché that best describes completing a dissertation, “it ain’t over till it’s over” would work well. So far in this series we have discussed finishing a submittable draft and successfully defending the dissertation. But as every doctoral candidate knows, no matter how well the defense goes you are very likely not quite free and clear yet.

In my case, while I waited outside the meeting room, my committee discussed my dissertation for either 10 minutes or two hours; I honestly can’t recall through the fog of tension and time. I do remember encountering a friend in the hallway to whom I described my situation. She asked, “What’s the best possible outcome?” I had no doubt: “Ideally, they pass me without asking for any revisions.” She arched an eyebrow and asked in Spock-like tones: “Has that happened with any dissertation defense, ever?”

As a matter of unverified but likely fact, I think not. Globally and historically, I believe no doctoral committee in academic history has ever addressed the candidate, “Hail the new Mozart! It’s perfect and flawless. Don’t change a thing!”

[Read more…]

The Completion Agenda, Part 4: Finishing and the Job Hunt

The Completion Agenda, Part 4: Finishing and the Job Hunt

How are you using your dissertation to move your career forward?

Jeremy Wilburn / Creative Commons
August 12, 2015

One of the sadder conversations I have had in my 15 years of writing about academic careers is, unfortunately, a common one. It usually happens when I’m at a workshop or a conference and people approach me who are enduring a rocky patch in graduate school, on the job hunt, or on the tenure track. At some point I will ask them, “How are you using your dissertation to move your career forward?”

And the answer is usually either, “I’m so burned out I don’t want to think about it anymore” or “What do you mean?”

Here’s what I mean: A dissertation should be a thoughtful intellectual contribution to knowledge in your discipline. But it must also be a tool for you to succeed in your career, first in finding a tenure-track job (or postdoc position) and second on the tenure track — assuming those are your goals.

[Read more…]

Welcome, Outsider: Here’s How You Can Foster Faculty Confidence

Welcome, Outsider: Here’s How You Can Foster Faculty Confidence

September 15, 2015

At a leadership conference almost a decade ago, I met an incoming dean who had no previous academic experience except being a student. He was, in fact, a longtime business professional with a list of impressive “real world” accom

plishments. He had been hired, he said, to radically transform a business college at a major research university. I cautioned him that to accomplish anything in higher education, especially a revolution, he would have to work long, hard, sincerely, and creatively to win over most of the faculty (not to mention staff, students, and alumni). Fast forward: After two tumultuous years and several faculty revolts, he was “resigned” by his provost.

The recent major upset at the installment of J. Bruce Harreld, a business leader and consultant, as the new president of the University of Iowa, thus, did not surprise me. I spent four years at Iowa as director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Industry outreach and donor engagement — the donors tending to be successful businesspeople — were and are now among my key duties, so I know that the differences between higher education and corporate America are real; border-crossers tread dangerously.

Given that, I offer here some suggestions and observations for outsiders entering academe:

[Read more…]

Academic Job Hunts From Hell: The Fake Search

Academic Job Hunts From Hell: The Fake Search

How do you recognize when the favored candidate has been predetermined?

October 04, 2015

In an ideal world, every academic job search would be efficiently, faithfully, and sensitively planned and executed and every candidate treated with respect. In reality, the quality of a search depends entirely on the competence, attention span, ethics, and intentions of those who run it and thus varies considerably. The sad fact is that, starting when you are a graduate student fresh on the market, you are going to suffer searches that are badly run, disingenuously staged, or even spiked with hostility.

So, in a series of essays, I will look at different kinds of “search fails” and detail not only how to survive them but also how to gain insights that might help you be a better candidate for the searches that could actually bear fruit.

[Read more…]

How to Use Student Evaluations Wisely



Image: Scales condemned by Department of Weights and Measures, 1917 (Seattle Municipal Archives)

When I was a doctoral student, nervously facing my first set of student evaluations, I turned for advice to my father, who was already a professor when those evaluations were first introduced. “We should be polling students to see what they thought of our classes,” he insisted. “Of course, their evaluations can’t signify the be-all and end-all for what constitutes effective teaching.” His position sounded sensible to me then — and still does, now that I am a dean.

And yet — as Stacey Patton’s recent essay, “Student Evaluations: Feared, Loathed, and Not Going Anywhere,” demonstrates — many administrators make the mistake of using those evaluations as the sole, definitive, and objective measure of teacher quality. [Read more…]

The Completion Agenda, Part 2: The Best Defense

The Completion Agenda, Part 2: The Best Defense


It probably won’t be harrowing, but you need to be prepared in case it is

Early in my career, I sat on a doctoral committee in a field outside my discipline for the first time. I recall being startled at the dissertation defense when professors in the young man’s department began delivering scorching assessments of his theory, method, cases, and conclusions. As the incendiaries kept flying I grew concerned about his health. He whitened, started sweating visibly, and several times laid his forehead on the table. When it came my turn to speak, I froze and ended up sputtering, “Well, you have answered all my questions!” and fell silent.

But then something incredible happened: The candidate was asked to leave the room, and the committee briskly and unanimously voted in favor of passing his dissertation with minimal revisions. He was ushered back in to the accompaniment of back slaps, clapping, and exclamations of “Welcome, Doctor!”

Turns out that the scene was a norm in the department, a version of some tribal coming-of-age ritual, except the scarring was mental, not physical. Misery and stress were inflicted to test resolve and fortitude. Survival meant passing.

A vast majority of dissertation defenses are much [Read more…]

The Completion Agenda, Part 1

The Completion Agenda, Part 1


Graduate students should remember that the dissertation is the beginning of their research, not the endpoint

The Completion Agenda, Part 1 1Mark Shaver for The Chronicle
Enlarge Image

Graduate school, the job market, the tenure track, and every other stage in an academic career are so fraught with challenge that you cannot afford to dawdle too long on foolish ventures or waste time holding out for perfection when “pretty darn good” will do.

The first supreme hurdle — the one that scares off many potential academics and cripples the progress of others — is, of course, the dissertation. What counts as a dissertation and how long you should take to complete it vary across disciplines, institutions, and committees. But that you must complete it — and that others must approve it before you can move on — is essential.

In this series I will focus on the “getting it done” aspects of the document that are not field-specific. But let’s begin with that existential imperative: No excuses, you must actually finish. Yes, there may be factors beyond your control and, yes, you may want to strive for perfection. But let me make the case for a completion agenda, above all considerations. [Read more…]

Career Lingo: ‘We Will Begin Reviewing Applications …



Image: Men reading the newspaperNanjing, China, by Stougard

Job ads in academe often use the same hiring jargon even while the disciplines, institutions, and positions vary widely. The language may be standard but its meaning is anything but. Culture and circumstance govern how each word and phrase is applied.

So far in this series we have examined the nuances of the following career lingo found in job ads: “degree completed by,” “in a related field,” and “required” versus “preferred” qualifications.” Now we turn to another ubiquitous phrase that can mean different things to different committees: “applications will begin to be reviewed” or “we will begin reviewing applications” on such and such a date.

To begin, what does “begin” mean here? Years ago, when I first saw the phrase in a job ad, I imagined the members of the search committee sitting down on a certain date — the morning of the “begin” date — and gazing upon a huge pile of thick, unopened manila envelopes. The chair would proclaim, “Let us begin!” Then everyone would pull out letter openers and start opening packages. [Read more…]

Don’t Fear Fund Raising, Part 5

Don’t Fear Fund Raising, Part 5


How to be a good steward once the gift has been given.

Careers Fundraisers Stewardess

San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive / Wikimedia Commons

When department chairs, directors, deans, and others embark on academic fund raising for the first time, they naturally focus on “the ask”—that is, on getting the gift. Equally important, however, is the long tail of fund raising: the stewardship of gifts.

There’s a lot to absorb about how you satisfy the many legal, ethical, and procedural requirements of a donation, oversee the munificence over time, and keep donors (or their heirs or trustees) apprised of its progress. And it’s crucial that you do learn because:

  • It’s your job. You, as lead academic officer of your department or college, hold the legal and fiduciary obligation to steward gifts responsibly.
  • It’s the ethical thing to do since the gift is in your charge.
  • For some donors, an initial donation may be a “test gift.” Handle it well, and more will very likely come your way.
  • Your reputation as a good steward will help you become more successful in fund raising in the long run. [Read more…]

Career Lingo: ‘In Related Field.’



Image: “Rapala lures 1,” by Fanny Schertzer

Context and audience matter in understanding a foreign language. The same is true of academia’s “career lingo.” Comprehending the nuances of job-market terms can help you with your application materials, presentations, and interviews — indeed, with every aspect of your candidacy.

So far in this series we’ve defined “required” versus “preferred” qualifications and the meaning of “degree completed by.” Now we turn to a phrase seen in many a job advertisement: “in related field” (or “related discipline”). For example, an ad might state that a position requires candidates to have a “Ph.D. in Geology or in related field.”

Seems pretty straightforward, right? But as usual the words and descriptions used in job ads often have variants and complexities that need unpacking.

First off, this particular phrase in an ad does not mean: “We don’t care what field your Ph.D. is in.” Neither does it mean: “All disciplines are pretty much the same to us; anyone with any terminal degree is welcome.” [Read more…]