co-authored dissertations as (oxy)moronic
as a department chair in a university that has been very good to me, i hesitate to publicly question proposals even when i might disapprove of them for intellectual or personal reasons.
that said, a bad idea came across my desk this week that riled me up so much that i'm sorely in need of a reality check. you see, i recently received an exploratory sort of memo regarding co-authored ph.d. dissertations. has anyone ever heard of a co-authored dissertation in sociology or criminology? could anyone envision a scenario in which they would encourage their students to co-author their own dissertations? in which they would hire someone who co-authored a dissertation?
let's see... i suppose that if i wanted to specialize in, say, genetics and crime, that i might coauthor some work with a geneticist. as we wrote a few papers together, however, i'd like to think i'd pick up enough knowledge of genetics to be able to handle chapter 3 of my dissertation (typically, data, measures, and methods) on my own. if not, i probably wouldn't claim any real expertise in the area of genetics and crime and, instead, i'd write a dissertation on a topic that i knew better than anybody on the planet (i dunno, maybe water imagery in the music of the talking heads, 1977-1985).
the proposal even included language detailing how both students would be credited as co-first-authors. oh yeah, that'll allay the concerns of a recruitment committee. in my experience, a big fat dissertation is the one shining work that students can truly claim as their own. those working with me know that they are responsible for the ideas and execution of their own dissertations, but they also know that they own the darn things -- and that they can write solo articles from them that will form the foundation of a their tenure cases down the road.
as a teacher, there is nothing so teary-eyed beautiful as watching your students take off and run with their own diss ideas, develop a deep expertise, and put together a kick-butt job talk and a great book or top-journal-worthy set of papers. in short, a dissertation marks the passage from student to independent scholar. a dissertation is not co-authored.