What It Takes: Revising the Dissertation

Some of you who haven’t yet gotten to the writing and revising portion of the thesis or dissertation might appreciate the heads-up: revisions will take way longer than you think. In fact, we would all benefit from referring to it as “rewriting” which, as you will see from the evidence below, is essentially what you’re doing when you revise a project this big:

Exhibit A: Round 2 of full dissertation draft revisions. #YesEveryPage

second revision

(Round 1, which happened after an initial review of each individual chapter, was handled on screen; but I need actual eyes and pens on actual paper for this kind of work, as you can see below…..) Notes and changes are color-coded by advisor making the recommendation and new, original drafting so I don’t lose sight of what I did, where, for whom, and why. This round of revisions to the full project took 89 hours over the course of mid-December through late-January. I have those hours and what I did during them documented in Evernote, if anyone needs verification. So, 89 hours to a slightly less-messy full draft of the dissertation.

That brings us to……

Exhibit B: Round 3 of Full Dissertation Draft Revisions

third revision

The folders you see to the left of this image contain the Round One revisions pictured above in Exhibit A. In the middle of this photo is the newest round of revisions currently going on between now and Monday, when I turn the full draft in for final review in advance of my defense. So far, I have spent 7 hours on them since yesterday afternoon. I anticipate that number creeping up to a little over 30, total. (Yes, twelve-hour workdays for the next two days. Yes, after the 89 hours of second-round edits, which in turn followed the (uncounted, because they occurred during later stages of drafting towards firmed-up chapters to the committee) hours of first-round edits, which in turn, followed the nine months of drafting that led to the point where there was a whole project to be revised, which in turn followed the year of reading, research, and writing of the prospectus that led down this path in the first place.

There will also be revision requests at the defense that I will need to take care of before filing the final version of my dissertation with the Graduate School. And there will be a LOT more revising after that to turn this into a monograph. Then the manuscript will go out to readers for the publisher, and there will be more revisions still…….

This example of one dissertation project revision process is a good illustration of why a) you should only go into academia if you really, REALLY HAVE to–like, this kind of brutal intellectual and time-sucking labor that maybe ten people in the world will care about and read is literally the only thing that makes you happy and fulfilled as a professional, and b) every time someone says “professors are overpaid, they get their summers off and only teach 6 hours a week” it’s such a thoughtless and uninformed comment to have to sit through. Because of course, (acknowledging that this “6 hours” deal is a patently untrue estimation of how much time most professors spend on teaching, as I have articulated throughout this blog) the end goal is, in fact, to defend this project that I have spent two years on so far, earn the PhD…. and then spend the rest of my career engaged in this same process of research, writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, sending out for review, rewriting, rewriting, and publishing, all while juggling my time to handle the teaching and service requirements of the job of professor, as well. From a more realistic standpoint, we might think of it this way:

Writing is a full-time job.

Teaching is a full-time job.

Administrative work is a full-time job.

Professors work three full-time jobs.

Let’s face it: this career is not for everyone, but those of us who choose it should definitely not be disparaged as working less than other professionals do, because we are definitely not sitting around on the beach drinking Mai Thais all winter break (or, if we are, it is with color-coded pens in hand, wrapping up a manuscript).

The takeaway point of all of this? Give yourself several months for revision, and expect to need all of that time. In fact, give yourself two or three times the amount of time you think you’ll need. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

What about you? Currently working on your thesis or dissertation? Share a photo of your revisions-in-progress in the comments section below!


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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1 Response to What It Takes: Revising the Dissertation

  1. Pingback: The Week In Review: February 1-7, 2016 | Melissa Ridley Elmes

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