Congratulations — you’ve successfully defended your Ph.D. But before we can rightly call you “doctor,” you still have to complete one more task (and I don’t mean going on the job market). I’m referring to the process of proofing, binding, and eating your dissertation.
For many students toiling away at their dissertations, preparing to eat the dissertation is an afterthought. But in all the time that one spends combing through archives, collecting data, interviewing subjects, drafting, presenting at conferences, or whatever else, it can never hurt to have the delicious end result in mind.
Faculty advisers rarely have the pedagogical expertise to help students turn their tomes into a delectable meal. To be sure, most of them have successfully eaten their dissertations, but largely before the academic jobs crisis and new media turned the profession on its head. Being able to eat one’s dissertation and being able to support another’s eating are different things.
Too often, I’ve seen the common-sensical wisdom bandied about that a dissertation needs nothing more than simple additions: an heirloom tomato, a good olive oil, and a sprinkle of Maldon finishing salt. Sure, this is one way to prepare a dissertation, but it hardly scratches the surface of culinary possibility and, further, it trades in old-fashioned, Spartan idealisms. We must keep in mind two things: the dissertation is not a monograph, nor are all dissertations finished products waiting to be served. Most require some tinkering.
For an overly thick dissertation riddled with fat and sinew, a slow braise followed by a char finish can whittle the dissertation down and bring out its gamey goodness. For a thin dissertation, one might boil it into stock with root vegetables. Even still, slicing a finished dissertation thinly can yield any number of usages: pizza toppings, charcuterie, even sashimi. I’m personally a big fan of preparations that yield leftovers — try dry roasting the dissertation with a spicy rub and finishing it on the grill.
I would be loathe to stop at preparation; frankly, many of us perform the eating itself wrong. As Michael Berube writes, “A dissertation should not be consumed haphazardly as though one is chowing down on a lengthy seminar paper. This is a meal to be consumed with attention and care, but also with an outlook on the future.”
The most egregious misconception about eating the dissertation comes from those who still claim you must read it. Dissertations, delicious though they are, are not an elitist foodstuff. When I see people flipping through a dissertation, studying it like a well-researched book, I can’t help but think it’s going to waste. Perhaps foodie culture is to blame. Dissertations are much like short ribs or brussel sprouts — time-honored, and chef-centric, they have suffered from overblown pretension.
The most important kernel I can offer about eating your dissertation is have fun with it. There is no formula on how to consume and celebrate your freshly defended diss. There are as many dissertation preparations as there are tastes. Just remember: prepare with love and care, celebrate the occasion, consume mindfully, and most importantly, don’t read it.