Moving on from your dissertation?

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In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, a reader asks:

Is it usual/acceptable to switch to another research area for a grad student after finishing their thesis? Is it a good idea to mention it in one’s research statement?

These are excellent questions, and I’m curious to hear what everyone thinks. My take here may be a bit controversial. I think that while one should of course try to publish material from one’s dissertation, it can be really good to move onto another area after finishing the dissertation. Indeed, I think that focusing too much on similar stuff as dissertation after finishing it can be a bit of a trap, for several reasons.

First, after spending several years working on the dissertation, continuing to focus on the same or similar topics can be a bit stultifying. It’s important to remain enthusiastic about one’s work, and for me that means continually finding exciting new ideas to work on–not going back to the same well over and over again. Moving on from the dissertation can be fun, not to mention a source of many publications.

Second, publishing stuff from your dissertation can take time. It took me 6 years to publish the first article that I adapted from my dissertation, another 5 years to publish the second., and here I am today, 14 years after receiving my PhD, just beginning to adapt a third paper from it. Publishing stuff can take a while, not just for the average philosopher, but for far better philosophers than you or I (e.g. it took Rawls 7 years after his PhD to publish “Justice as Fairness” in Phil Review).

Finally, and this is important, most hiring committees are looking for candidates with a “five year plan” for your research, as they want to know that you are going to publish enough after the dissertation to get tenure. Hiring committees can care about this in part because they realize that dissertations are forged in a very unique environment: a PhD program where you have faculty advisors and other grad students to bounce ideas off of. Once you’re in a full-time job, you’re more or less on your own–so showing that you can come up with new stuff beyond the dissertation can be super important.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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