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It seems to me there's another option here that's seldom considered: just write a monograph-style dissertation which you've designed in such a way that you can publish individual chapters when you need to, with miimal additional tinkering.

In other words, rather than stapling 3+ papers together, build perforations into your five+ chapters.

That's what I did, anyway, and it's stood me in good stead. Sure, I haven't yet gotten my whole argument out there, but I do have most of its parts in place, and they're pretty compelling on their own!


Michel that's basically what I did too. I think it is clearly the best choice. I don't know why, first of all, just 3 became the standard for the paper dissertation. That is awfully short. You could write 5 papers that could pass as a loosely related monograph or closely related set of papers - that seems the best of both worlds.


I don’t know, I can’t help but feel you’re making a bit of an unfair comparison, Marcus. A three-chapter dissertation can contain three bold and interesting papers that suggest a fruitful and rich research program. Furthermore, a smaller dissertation allows you to build strengths in other areas of philosophy. In my own case, although my three-chapter dissertation was on political philosophy, I was able to write papers on social epistemology, philosophy of science and experimental philosophy. I left grad school with eight papers (three of which came from my dissertation) that would eventually all be published. I doubt I’d have been able to do this if I was busy working on a 300 page dissertation.

I think it is worth pointing out that expectations vary according to sub-field. In ethics it seems like a book is expected before tenure. In philosophy of science, no way! Also, the question of what works best on the job market is sensitive to what region of the world you’re talking about. I think the three-chapter dissertation provides an advantage in certain job markets (Europe, Australia, Asia, perhaps). Outside of the US, you’re expected to get grants and publish a lot. The work culture puts a lot of emphasis on publishing a lot and publishing well. I know at my current institution we would never take a candidate seriously if they had zero (or even one) publications but a stellar dissertation. You need a project of course, but a promising project on its own isn’t nearly enough.

A Philosopher

I did something similar to Michel, but not quite. I wrote 4 papers designed to be immediately sent out to journals as-is, but which had theses that fit together as premises in a larger argument. I wrote an intro to overview the project and a conclusion which used the 4 theses to argue for a position. That all makes it sound a bit cleaner and more integrated than it was, but it was far from stapling 3+ loosely related papers together. I guess this is more like Amanda's "best of both worlds" suggestion.

"they are looking to hire candidates whose research they find fascinating, original, broad, ambitious, and so on."

This is good to hear. I knew someone who I thought had a monograph dissertation with these qualities. They weren't the best technician of philosophy, but their work ticked all those boxes. It was gripping, to say the least. I also think it took years to write it, and they left philosophy shortly after finishing.

My dissertation did not tick these boxes. I don't think I was ready to write such a creative dissertation, but now that I'm a few years separated from the PhD I think the work in my dissertation is slowly morphing into something more along these lines (even if not much of the original dissertation is left).

Recent Grad

I think, as other others have pointed out, there's a bit of leeway in terms of *what sort* of dissertation you end up writing. What really matters is, first, that you structure your dissertation in such a way that you can easily divide it into stand alone papers--ideally, you need to be sending these papers off *as* you're finishing chapters. And second, you need to be able to present your work as part of an interesting *research project.* So if the various parts of your dissertation are too dis-unified that might make this difficult. But keep in mind that no one is going to read your dissertation to get a sense for your research project (search committee members, feel free to tell me I'm wrong). They'll read your cover letter, research statement, writing-sample, papers, recommendation letters etc...

Jake Wright

I did the three paper dissertation with a bit of a twist. My dis was eventually five chapters, but C1 was a lit review and C5 was a sketch of how my three papers tied together into a coherent view. (My advisor described this as "tying it up with a bow.") I could see something like this addressing some of the worries expressed above about where one's research goes after the three papers, wanting to have some level of mastery over a broad area of philosophy (at least within one's AOS), and avoiding a dissertation that only makes a few narrow points.

I don't know whether I count as a "recent" job candidate (I was last on the market actively five years ago), and I haven't been on any philosophy searches at my current institution (we're very small and no one's left since I've been here), but I think that, for many institutions like mine, there wouldn't be any meaningful difference assessing the three paper dis versus the monograph dis.
I get what Marcus is saying about search committees wanting to have candidates whose research programs are "fascinating, original, broad, ambitious, and so on." But I think that's ultimately true at a certain kind of institution that is not representative of the entire discipline. For the overwhelming majority of jobs, publishing a book or having a fascinating research program is not a requirement for tenure or continued NTT employment. Further, how many articles might be required is much lower than what would be expected at an R1. For both types of job at my institution, I think I would want to know whether and how you would teach the classes we need you to teach, and for a TT job, whether your research program is sufficient to think you're a good bet to get tenure.

If the three paper dis can pass muster to be judged sufficient for awarding a Ph.D. and won't negatively impact one's long-term plans vis-a-vis research, tenure, etc., it's probably a good option for a lot of grad students.
Ultimately, I think that requiring the monograph dis is probably a relic of trying to set all students up for R1 jobs. It's great for students who are aiming at such jobs, but may not be the best choice for those of us who weren't.

Marcus Arvan

Hi jp: to clarify, I didn’t mean to imply that 3 paper dissertations can’t be deep, broad, or interesting—just that the nature of the project (3 papers) may lend itself to less ambitious projects. I say this because I have seen a surprising number of candidates whose research programs seem like *really* narrow interventions in a sub-literature, and because of my sense that this may count against them. But your points are well taken. It’s certainly possible for a set of 3 papers to be ambitious, etc. My main thought was merely that maybe monographs incentivize this more. Anyway, either way, I would just suggest that candidates bear in mind that search committees don’t necessarily just care about your publishing record: they may care a good deal about whether your research program seems particularly interesting, ambitious, original, etc.


A tangential response to Jake Wright's comment: I have never written, been taught how to write, nor, so far as I know, read a lit review. I wouldn’t know how to write one. I hear people saying the words “lit review” quasi-regularly. But I’m perplexed by it, and feel like this reveals something bad about my training. If anyone is willing to correct my ignorance in any of these areas, or to point me in the direction of a source for correcting my ignorance, that would be great.

(Btw, I’m five years post-PhD, fairly well published and have a TT job, in case that helps you audience-wise)


Thanks, Marcus. You're absolutely right that publication record is just one of many factors that are considered when assessing a candidate's research profile. Having a research program matters, although I'd say too much emphasis is often placed on this.
But that's a topic for another day, I suppose :)

Jake Wright

To Ignoramus (though I'm sure you're not): I would guess it's highly unlikely you've never *done* a lit review, even if you've never heard it called that during your training. As I think of the lit review, it's the portion of the book/article/dissertation that summarizes relevant work on the topic with which you're engaging. For a narrowly-focused paper, this might simply be nothing more than a review of a few philosophers' positions to situate your work within the debate. For a response, it might be as simple as summarizing the salient points of the paper you're responding to. For a dissertation or monograph, it might be a fairly exhaustive history of the topic. SEP articles are, essentially, very detailed literature reviews. The reason my dissertation had one in addition to the three papers was that a lot of what I had to say depended on understanding the history of laws of nature as a philosophical concept. Because much of what is reasonable to say in a paper's lit review is less involved than the sort of background and familiarity with the concept that my committee thought appropriate for a Ph.D., I traced the history in a separate chapter.

The depth of a lit review varies significantly based on the project itself, but I think what's important about it (and what separates it from other portions of your paper) is that you're just presenting the work without injecting your own view via criticism, extension, etc. If you want an example of a lit review, you might check out S2 of this paper, which I would consider a lit review. https://philpapers.org/go.pl?id=WRITTB-2&u=https%3A%2F%2Fphilpapers.org%2Farchive%2FWRITTB-2.pdf


As someone who did a multi-paper dissertation, I'm not necessarily inclined to defend the format. The fact is that there's still an expectation in the field that you be able to give a short elevator pitch about your dissertation, and that's just kind of hard to do when your dissertation wasn't arguing for one specific thesis. Some jobs also ask you to provide a dissertation abstract, which is hard for the same reasons. It seems like a lot of people use their dissertations as a way to brand their research and themselves in a way that's easy to remember, and it's not easy to do that with a multi-paper format. And while I don't think that multi-paper dissertations are necessarily more shallow than monograph dissertations, I do suspect that some committee members (especially older, more traditional ones) will think that way about them, right or wrong. Bottom line: it can make your life harder when you're on the job market.
That being said, I think monograph dissertations are probably harder on one's mental health during graduate school. Lots of people burn out in the process, or become completely sick of their topic by the time they defend. And being pressured to come up with that one big, brilliant idea like that seems like a recipe for impostor syndrome. Multi-paper dissertations are better in this regard because they take some of the pressure off, and give you the flexibility to pursue new ideas when your original plans don't work out as planned. And being able to publish as you go can be a real motivator. Not to mention that you might actually be able to finish in 5 years instead of 7 or 8.
For that reason, I can't say that pursuing one format or the other is really a better choice. What Michel suggests above - the monograph that easily breaks down into a few papers - is of course the ideal, but I think a lot of people start out trying to do that and end up with something more like a traditional monograph or a multi-paper dissertation (writing is hard, and doesn't always go as planned). I guess my advice would be that people who write multi-paper dissertations should think hard about how to spin their dissertation so that it sounds more like a monograph, even if it isn't one.


Jake Wright: this is off topic, but am I right that you are a non-TT track permanent lecturer? If so, I think it would be great for The Cocoon if you wrote a post about your position. (If Marcus, agrees, of course!)

After starting at an R1 and seeing how well we treat the many permanent lecturers on our faculty, I find it increasingly bothersome that the common perception still seems to be that the only job worth getting is a TT job. From what I have seen, various permanent lecturer positions can be better (in all sorts of ways) than some TT positions. To use just one example, suppose a grad student has a choice between a TT job at a location he finds highly undesirable, and a permanent lecturer job in the home town he loves close to friends and family. The pay is the same. I suspect this person would face a lot of absurd pressure to pick the bad location, simply because it has the TT label. This has always bothered me, but now that I supervise graduate students at a non-leiterific PhD program, it worries me more.

Oh - and sorry if I am totally wrong about your position!


I wrote a big old-fashioned dissertation at a mid-Leiter-ranked grad institution, and luckily received (single) TT job offers both years on the market.

For me, writing an old-fashioned dissertation had enormous intrinsic value. I loved the process of putting a sustained project together, and still feel a greater sense of accomplishment when reflecting on the dissertation than when reflecting on well-placed publications. I undoubtedly created lots of extra work for myself because diss chapters have had to be significantly revised to be publishable as standalone pieces. Well worth it. I may refrain from undertaking a book project until I get tenure. If I do, it will be a sacrifice. If you feel the same way, I suggest writing an old-fashioned dissertation: grad school is your best opportunity to carve out real time to figure out how to write a scholarly book. But you don't have to ever write scholarly books to succeed in philosophy, so this is probably bad advice for many people!

In terms of instrumental value, my guess is that, as postdoc suggests, choosing a dissertation format is primarily an exercise in branding. In my experience, some hiring committees clearly like to see that you've written a booklikething (especially if you publish on the side). Other committees seem to totally disregard the dissertation if you've got well-placed publications. I suspect these committee preferences tend to have more to do with the training and philosophical dispositions of the particular committee members than with the type of school they work at. The takeaway is that nearly everything you do as an academic is going to turn off some people in a position to give you a job, and turn on other people in a position to give you a job. All you can do is develop some brand or other and cross your fingers.

Finally, my guess is that, in practice, many grad students don't really have a choice in this matter: some advisors expect old-fashioned dissertations; others expect the three-paper model. Grad students rarely feel like they're in a position to flout these expectations. Less bleakly, advisor-grad pairings that work out tend to be aligned on this sort of expectation from the start.

Jake Wright

Hi Amanda: You're not wrong! I'd be happy to, if Marcus was willing. Also, for what it's worth, I turned down a TT position to take this NTT job on the grounds that it was an all-things-considered better job.

Recent Grad


I'm surprised that you found search committees cared about what sort of dissertation your wrote. I went all in on a traditional, monograph-style dissertation and (according to my committee) it was a success. But, as far as I can tell, search committees could care less about my dissertation. I've never been asked a question about it. All of my research questions have been directed at papers/writing sample and the research project I outlined in other job-market documents. In fact, I really regret being so single-minded about writing a good monograph. It's taken me a lot longer to spin off individual papers as a result, which has almost certainly hurt me in this market. Out of curiosity, was it more research-y jobs that seemed to care about what sort of dissertation you wrote, or did you (also?) find a preference at teaching-focused places?

Marcus Arvan

Grymes: same here, broadly speaking. I’m glad I wrote a monograph dissertation. I feel like it taught me how to research and think systematically, which I think has been valuable both intrinsically and instrumentally. Intrinsically, I think it’s valuable to learn to think more narrowly (viz. self-contained articles) but also systematically (viz. constructing large-scale systems or theories that hang together and intersect with various disciplines and sub-disciplines). Instrumentally, I think it has been helpful with learning how to develop long-term research programs to keep publishing in, as well as for writing books (which I’m not sure I ever would have been able to do without learning how to write a monograph during the PhD).

Anyway, I agree with you and a number of commenters that there may be no one right way to do a dissertation. But I guess my worry is that PhD students may jump at the 3 paper option as the easiest path to finishing and publishing—on the assumption that it’s also best for the job market. And I’m just not certain that’s always (or even usually) the case. On the other hand, I definitely get why people want to finish quickly and not go through the time and unique stresses of going the monograph route. As someone who *barely* came up with a “big idea” for a dissertation after two years of feeling helpless and like I would never finish the degree, I definitely don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to go that route. I’m just ambivalent because I think it did have value, both intrinsically and instrumentally (in the long-term).

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jake: I’d definitely be into you writing a guest post on that! Just shoot me a post by email ([email protected]) whenever you have the chance. Also, I’m curious about your choice in passing up a TT job for a non-TT one. My initial reaction is that you have a lot of guts, given how difficult it is to get a TT offer in this environment. Then again, the wrong job in the wrong place very well might make sense to pass up—at least if you’re willing to take the risk. I’d just be curious to learn more about the decisionmaking process you went through (how you weighed various considerations, etc.)!


Q: "If you have recently been a job-candidate, which path did you choose: monograph dissertation or three-paper option? Do you think the choice you made was advantageous? "

I'm on the job market now and I recently chose something similar to the three-paper option. Whether this move was professionally advantageous, in the sense of improving job prospects, I can't say yet. But I couldn't be happier with my choice; it made my graduate experience far more enjoyable, and in some ways more educational, than I think writing a monograph would have made it.

In any case, when critically comparing alternatives to the monograph in PhD education, it's worth keeping in mind how different they can be. Marcus is focusing on the three-paper option, which is welcomed at NYU, Brown, Princeton, and MIT. Oxford, Rutgers and Purdue also offer an anthological option, possibly accepting three papers as well.

In some cases, however, actually publishing the papers can be required (see some of the European programs), and the number of publications that are required might vary, sometimes totaling more than three publications. Another variable among anthological formats is the nature of the supporting documents. Some programs might require one introductory chapter and another concluding one, while others might require a single supporting chapter that introduces or synthesizes the articles. And some programs will accept an introductory chapter of several pages, whereas others require this chapter to total upwards of 12,000 words, introducing the works, synthesizing them, and possibly more.


Jake: I look forward to your post and thanks for agreeing to write it.
Now learning that you turned down a TT track position, this makes you an even more fitting person to write down your thoughts. My hope is that posts like this will help overturn the "TT jobs are always best" myth. And like Marcus, I would love to hear how you worked through the cost/benefit analysis of ultimately choosing your current job over a TT-track offer.


Hey Recent Grad,

I interviewed with both research-y and teaching-focused places who seemed to care about the dissertation. (I also interviewed with both research-y and teaching-focused places who didn't.) This came out more on campus visits than Skype interviews (though I was sometimes asked for a spiel about my dissertation--rather than my research generally--during the latter, and having a monograph made that easy). My research-oriented market materials (including writing sample) were very much rooted in the dissertation, so that might partly explain our different interviewing experiences.


To add just one more thing about the three-paper/multi-paper dissertation format: even though it might be a little problematic for some search committees, I think a multi-paper dissertation can still give you a professional boost. By having more publications right out of the gate, you get your name out their within your field. People start citing you, you start getting asked to review for journals, you get invited to contribute to edited publications and conference symposia, etc. In short, it can give you a real networking boost. That's maybe important if you're coming from a lower-ranked program and you can't rely as much on institutional networks to get by. So maybe the monograph dissertation strategy will work better for people who are in high-ranked programs and can rely more on their program/supervisor's networks to get their name out there.

job market survivor

Having just successfully finished my time on the market with 2 TT offers, I will note perhaps controversially that I was shocked by how much less my dissertation did for me on the market than I might have expected it to. In keeping with some of Karen Kelsky's advice on this point that Marcus has mentioned before, nearly all of the questions about my research in the course of Skype and on-campus interviews were about my research as a whole, rather than my dissertation. I discussed my dissertation broadly but very briefly and most of the detailed questions were about my future-focused research. They wanted to know whether I could get tenure with *new* papers, not solely from the dissertation I'd finished. And this was true across type of school (liberal arts, research-focused, etc.). My writing sample was unrelated to my dissertation and no one seemed bothered by that.

I wrote a three-paper dissertation because doing so fit most cohesively with the project I was proposing. It also fit my writing style at the time more readily. In the course of 8 skype interviews and 2 fly out interviews (I turned down four additional fly outs because my favored school offered me very early), I think I was asked directly about my dissertation twice, maybe three times. One of those three was simply to ask if it was done. My advice to those going on the market soon, in the aftermath of this, has been to energetically invest in thinking about your future research early on and to perhaps invest slightly less angst in worrying about whether your dissertation topic/format etc. is perfect for the market. This is not to say that my dissertation didn't matter in my job search; it did, probably mostly because it allowed my letter writers to speak well of me in their letters. But no job committee ever saw any piece of my dissertation and few seemed to care about it more than a very high-level gloss in my research statement. Perhaps my experience is unique but I thought it worth mentioning.

Peter Furlong

I wrote a monograph style dissertation, and although I had hoped it would be easy to "perforate" the chapters so that they would easily stand on their own, I found this harder than I first imagined. Because of this, I ended up only transforming a single one of these chapters into an article. On the flip side, having that sort of sustained writing project probably did help me when I turned to writing my first book (which is on a different topic). It is unclear to me how much the dissertation helped prepare me for this, but I did find that when I started writing the book it felt pretty familiar, and this probably made the whole task less daunting. Also, I second Amanda's comment near the top of this thread: It seems odd to me that anthology style dissertations settled on including three papers (at least as the standard practice). If we assume these papers are each the length of an average article, the total dissertation seems pretty short, even if we add an introduction and conclusion. Maybe this is not a bad thing, but I think it might contribute to some old-school people looking down on this new style of dissertation.


Here's a closely related question: if you are in a position to supervise PhD students (and even if you're not, you could answer hypothetically), would you feel equally comfortable with a student doing either option?

Asking myself that question revealed to me how biased I am in favour of the monograph model. I know I am glad I did it that way... my dissertation was ambitious and very long and I thank my committee for not complaining and reading it all (really, I look back with guilt!), but this very ambition makes me look back with pride on what I accomplished. It's a cohesive book of a dissertation and I am proud of it. This past week, I was delivering an invited lecture and - lo and behold - a grad student there had read my dissertation and wanted to discuss it with me. That was an amazing feeling.

Anyway, this led me to the question of what I would be willing to supervise and what I would encourage students to do. I told myself I wouldn't want to stand in the way of a student who was dead set on the 3 paper model, but I would absolutely strongly encourage a student who wanted to work with me to go the monograph route. In the case of the student dead set on the other way, I think I would probably require an introduction that tied together the work in a substantial way.

I don't know if this is a bias I should work to undo... but it was interesting to reflect on it.

Marcus Arvan

Chike: I was thinking about this the other day, and I feel exactly the same way!


I wrote the worst kind of monograph in terms of publications since the arguments of each chapter rested on prior conclusions and so separating out article-sized points that could stand on their own took way too much work. I mention this just to point out that I got lucky and that might be skewing things for me.

But, I wanted to raise a point of caution on the idea that the three article dissertation is strategically superior. Most people aren't going to be competitive for a TT job as ABD with 1-3 publications. That's kind of flabbergasting to write out, but it seems to me that's where the job market is. Keeping track of appointments for the TT jobs I applied to this year, for example, less than half were ABD and most of those were more than one year out. Maybe you need those publications to get anything at all (that's a depressing thought), but my impression is that the monograph might prepare you both for more publications because you have a broader research agenda and for the next step of developing your next research agenda, which is often what is necessary for the TT these days (not to mention tenure; on which, perhaps this is another discussion, my impression is that the standards for tenure are rising in parallel and more people aren't getting tenure, which drives some of the competition for TT jobs as APs move laterally at that point).


An afterthought: the University of Leiden's Law School published some years ago its own position on PhD dissertations consisting of articles: http://media.leidenuniv.nl/legacy/phd-dissertations-consisting-of-articles.pdf

I thought some might find the document helpful. Pages 2-3 list seven advantages of this format, and even though the target audience is law students, the points can easily apply to philosophy students (or departments) considering the same format. (Frankly, I think it's refreshing to see a PhD-granting department in any field encouraging multi-article dissertations.)

Page 4 lists three possible disadvantages. The way they're dealt with can also apply, more or less, to how philosophy students might address them.

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