As an ABD student bent on finishing up this summer my personal mantra has become
“The best dissertation is a done dissertation.”
Yes, it may be a tired cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason! It’s really easy to get lost in the details and to focus on all the minutiae of your project. After a couple of years in grad school this is how your brain works. There is definitely a sense of pride in producing our best work, but the struggle of best vs. done is important to recognize as you near completion.
Finishing graduate school and the time that you take to do so is very much a risk vs. reward moment as you will need to make decisions that will determine your career trajectory for years after this moment. Don’t prolong graduate school by falling prey to the delusions surrounding the “best dissertation”.
3 Myths that have you pursuing a perfect dissertation at your own peril:
1: If I write a beautiful dissertation I’m guaranteed a good job. I don’t need to focus on my professional identity.
This is entitlement thinking and you’d better stop it. Right. Now. Don’t be naïve in assuming that the academic labor system will reward you financially or professionally for a beautiful dissertation. Hiring managers and search committees will not read it. They will however, read your publications, have seen your talks at conferences, and review grants that you apply for; all of which are all items that end up on your CV. Do good work on your dissertation, but remember that in completing your dissertation you should be consistently publishing, presenting, and applying for funding for your work. A beautiful dissertation is nothing without a productive track record to support it.
2: My perfect dissertation will revolutionize the field!
It is great to be proud of your work and to create something that is a valuable contribution to your field. That is one of the greatest parts of a graduate education. Remember to keep things in perspective here though: How many other dissertations have revolutionized their fields? How about published, peer-reviewed articles? How many people are going to read your dissertation versus read your published articles?
Ask yourself these questions and think long and hard as to whether you’ve inflated the importance of your work to stratospheric proportions in order to justify what you are doing (and giving up!) in order to achieve this academic credential. It’s a common mental trick that happens to a lot of us late in the game so don’t feel embarrassed if this has happened to you; finishing is tough!