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Elisa Freschi

Hi Marcus, thanks for these interesting reflections on self-knowledge as the key element!
As for me, I wrote a book-like dissertation and would heartly recommend it, since it allows one to think ambitiously about a big project. I can also add that I never had any problem in developing a research program (although I am not sure that this is a consequence of having worked at a book-like MA thesis and then at a book-like PhD thesis).

By the way, we somehow discussed this topic already (http://elisafreschi.blogspot.co.at/2013/06/how-do-you-find-ideas-for-your-article.html and http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2013/05/whats-your-process.html#comments)

Trying To Move

I wrote a book-type disseration, but did not develop my current research program from it. I had a post doc straight out of grad school, and the work I did there is what shaped my current research agenda, I was fortunate in that the post doc was in an area that is currently "trending," so to speak. However, it required me to shift gears pretty quickly, and that resulted in me pretty much leaving behind the diss and not doing anything to develop it into papers or a book.

I think the postdoc and the research I did there helped me a lot when it came to getting a TT job at a research university. Writing a coherent research statement that can explain what your research is about and why it matters is important, but you also need to have a publication record to back it up.

Something you don't address, but which a lot of young philosophers don't know, is that tenure requirements in some research schools (like mine) pretty much require you to specialize your research because they expect you to develop a national reputation by the time you go up for tenure. It's pretty hard to do that in 5.5 years if your work is not fairly focused. I would actually like to work on other things sometimes, but at this point in time I really need to work towards carving out a niche for myself that will be recognized. However, this might work against you if (like me) you are trying to move to a different job. It's easier to claim things as an AOS/AOC when your publications are not so narrowly focused. So, I have teaching competence in areas that I never get to teach at my current job, and some areas I think of as being in my AOS are areas I don't get to publish much in, because I spend all my time on the main foci of my research agenda.


The chair at the research school where I got my PhD advised new profs there to focus on one line of research. He encouraged them, as T-T-M says, to become known for something. He didn't think they could if they tried to publish in two areas. FWIW, most of the profs there did focus on one area, at least the younger ones.

Henry Lara

Professor Arvan, if I may, I have a question. I start my Master's in the fall, and thus dissertation time is years away, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the option of writing several related papers instead of the book-length format dissertation. My initial thought was that, given that a dissertation would hopefully provide some material for initial publication, writing several essays would make it easier to do just that. Moreover, it also seems that the profession looks to the essay rather than the book as the paradigm of philosophical work. (I remember reading an interview where Robert Brandom from Pittsburgh said just that!) Wouldn't writing the essay dissertation better prepare a student to publish right after defense? I thought so, until I came upon this post, which made me reflect on the importance for a new philosopher to develop a (hopefully) coherent research program as he goes on the job market. In that case, the experience of managing a larger work may be more valuable, unless the students successfully manages to break a larger project into essay chunks while keeping a coherent big picture together.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Henry: Thanks for your inquiry. I think we need to distinguish two things:

(1) What is most likely to prepare a grad student to publish and get a job, viz. professionalization.

(2) What is best for a person's development as a *philosopher*.

I, for one, am no fan of how (overly) professionalized academic philosophy has become, or of how the discipline has become increasingly focused on articles rather than books.

In my view, both have had detrimental effects on philosophy. I got into philosophy because I was inspired by (A) big, bold, deep, systematic ideas, (B) written in books. I got into philosophy because of Kant's Groundwork and Critique of Pure Reason, Plato's Republic, Rawls' A Theory of Justice, Korsgaard's Creating the Kingdom of Ends, etc.. I did not get into philosophy because of little ideas written in little articles.

This isn't to say that articles are worthless. Far from it! I like writing articles myself. All it is to say is that--in my view--we should be suspicious of a professionalizing culture that emphasizes small ideas over big ones, little articles over big books, etc.

I would suggest, in other words, that you consider carefully who you want to be. If you want to be a good professional, get a job and all that, then maybe writing 3-4 papers for a dissertation is for you. However, if it is big ideas that do it for you--if you got into philosophy for the reasons I did--I would suggest going the traditional dissertation route. For, as difficult as it may be--and although it may not result in easy publications--it will give you something that (in my view) a 3-4 paper option can't give you: the challenge to develop a big, deep idea systematically. It's your choice, of course. The important thing, in my view, is that you know what you are choosing between!

Henry Lara

Thanks professor, very interesting and helpful!

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