Chris Uggen's Blog: co-authored dissertations as (oxy)moronic

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

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.

14 Comments:

At 7:32 AM, Blogger Dave P. said...

A truly bad idea. We interviewed a candidate this fall and one of our chief concerns was that X's research clearly wasn't X's own, but was essentially coauthored with their advisor. It became clear when said candidate said "we" often when answering job talk questions, and didn't know details about fairly basic issues (e.g., the items that constituted a scale).

Now, if you're going to undertake that Talking Heads paper, I'm your man...

 
At 1:12 PM, Blogger Sara said...

What??? Surely, you're joking... Really, please, tell me you're joking.

Jen and I used to joke that if we replaced the word "ethnic economy" with "parental incarceration," our work (at the prelim stage) made many of the same kinds of arguments. If only we'd known we could get out of it altogether by co-authoring.

While I didn't produce a "big fat" dissertation (I think I may hold the distinction for shortest out of MN), at least it's all mine. Yes, this matters.

 
At 7:18 PM, Blogger jeremy said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with chapters in a dissertation involving papers that would be co-authored papers when they came out, so long as it was plain the student was first author of those parts and solely responsible for some large bulk of the dissertation.

Also, although this doesn't seem anything like the example you are considering, students could be in a situation in which the subsequent publication version of diss chapters subsequently would have to be co-authored for reasons associated with data access issues. I wouldn't have that preclude the student being able to use such material in the dissertation and think of it for that purpose as fully their own.

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

dave, i've watched in horror as candidates struggled with similarly basic questions. they sound like new research assistants rather than future colleagues.

sara, i wish i were joking. your diss wasn't especially long, but it was hard like a diamond. not much throat-clearing, but some fine set-up and follow-through.

jeremy, i'm fine co-authoring with students on the peripheral portions of their diss, but i think we do them a disservice when we co-author on the core research article(s). when the previous commenter comes up for tenure, for example, a sole-authored article in a flagship journal will do far more for her than a joint-authored article with her old advisor (even if i'm second author). it doesn't mean we can't collaborate, of course, it just means that she should get sole credit for authoritatively answering the big research question she poses in the diss.

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger Jim said...

To make matters worse, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University is leading the race to the bottom of graduate education quality by replacing the Ed.D. dissertation with a 50-75 page group "Capstone Experience."

What a sad joke...

 
At 5:39 PM, Blogger Brad Wright said...

Maybe it would work with Siamese twins? Other than that...

 
At 7:48 PM, Blogger Mike said...

it seems to me that a separate degree would almost be in order. i seem to recall a doctor of arts (d.a.) being offered in some places to qualify individuals for teaching. demand for such degrees, in the long-run, would have to be low--those with such degrees would probably great difficulty finding jobs.

 
At 8:29 PM, Blogger Amy said...

I once edited the Master's thesis of a friend of mine that was obviously the kind of group experience Jim talks about. I love the girl to death, but it was terrible. And even more so because there were 4 names on it! All these students were going to get a Masters', off this one project?! I was floored. Bad writing, bad grammar, bad construction of the paper as a whole and within many of its parts.

It was a slight ethical dilemma for me, too. She was paying me to copyedit, but some of the writing and facts and conclusions I just could not let stand. Where was I to draw the line between copyediting and then correcting mistakes and pointing out (and correcting) plagiarism? Some I just fixed, 'cause she's my girl and all. Other problems I noted in the text and suggested how they might be fixed. However, I was returning it to her just a day or so before it had to be submitted. I know she couldn't have corrected all the problems I flagged.

That's when I realized there's money to be made by correcting those in academia.

 
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At 1:51 AM, Blogger Lionel Abbott said...

It’s true that dissertation can really be the shining work of student that they can truly call their own. And it can also be treated as the products of what they learn while inside the uni. So, I think co-authored dissertating writing would not be good at all.  

 

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