Erik Larson

Nov 26, 2008

Do NOT Write a Ph.D. Thesis

If you’re thinking of doing it, don’t. Three reasons:

1) Your project will be to write dry, important-sounding prose. That’s basically it. This is so because you’ll need to write something to please your committee, who of course had to write something that pleased their committees, and now demand the same from you.

2) You’ll end up expatiating on and on, much more than you really need to make your argument (and you’ll end up using words like “expatiate” rather than “ramble”). If you find, for instance, that you’ve made a convincing case with 120 pages, you’ll end up going back to figure out ways to add 5 or 10 pages to each chapter. Why? Don’t ask. That’s the deal.

3) You’ll be in real danger of thinking you’re really smart when you’re done, when you still don’t know squat. You just jumped through all the hoops. Yes, of course, you’ll know a heckuva lot about your subject, but your subject likely wasn’t to solve world hunger, or figure out cold fusion. It was a little arcane pin prick of erudition that you drilled into in a kind of Colonel Kurtz-like fashion. You’re just now an expert in that . Out in the world, most of what’ll make you worth listening to will come from what you learned on your own. Because you read. And listen. And discuss.

So, as a public service announcement, please reconsider. Find some other way to feel accomplished. Write the great American novel, for instance. Someone might actually read it.

And, yes, I just finished a draft of my Ph.D. thesis. Mea Culpa.