Sentiment is growing to move beyond the traditional, book-length monograph to something that might actually help graduate students in their careers.
The dissertation is broken, many scholars agree. So now what?
Rethinking the academic centerpiece of a graduate education is an obvious place to start if, as many people believe, Ph.D. programs are in a state of crisis. Universities face urgent calls to reduce the time it takes to complete degrees, reduce attrition, and do more to prepare doctoral candidates for nonacademic careers, as students face rising debt and increased competition for a shrinking number of tenure-track jobs.
As a result, many faculty and administrators wonder if now may finally be the time for graduate programs to begin to modernize on a large scale and move beyond the traditional, book-length dissertation.
That scholarly opus, some say, lingers on as a stubborn relic that has limited value to many scholars' careers and, ultimately, might just be a big waste of time.
"It takes too long. It's too isolating," says William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College and a critic of graduate education who writes frequently for The Chronicle. Producing a dissertation is particularly poor preparation, he adds, for graduates whose first jobs are outside of academe—now roughly half of new Ph.D.'s with postgraduation employment commitments. "It's a hazing ritual passed down from another era, retained because the Ph.D.'s before us had to do it."
Scholars cite numerous reasons for why the dissertation is outdated and should no longer be a one-size-fits-all model for Ph.D. students.