A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across the strangest article about dissertations and the Russian black market. After reading the piece, I knew that it was time for another installment of graduate degrees in the news!
"The Craziest Black Market in Russia" by Leon Neyfakh (click here)
Last year, a prominent member of President Putin's United Russia party was accused of plagiarizing his dissertation. Neyfakh comments that "more than 1,000 high-achieving , well-heeled Russians . . . have recently been caught plagiarizing large parts of their dissertations." And the majority of these individuals . . . are politicians!!
Apparently, these individuals -- politicians, judges, doctors, police officials!! -- are paying ghost writers to write their dissertation for them. In some cases, the ghost writer copies and pastes someone else's work, passing it off as an original piece of research, and then hands it off to the person who hired them. Neyfakh reports on a number of companies advertising their services as dissertation ghost writers. Apparently, it is big business.
A volunteer organization known as Dissernet is responsible for exposing instances of high-profile plagiarism. Thus far, the group has uncovered 5,600
cases of suspected plagiarism. Consequently, Dissernet has been the target of reprisal by the individuals accused of plagiarism.
The article is brilliant. You might think that this is a spoof, but it is not. Published in Slate -- not The Onion -- I started off shocked while reading, but by the end I was laughing my head off. This is perfect beach reading.
"PhDs Embrace Alternative Dissertations" by Vimal Patel (click here)
In 2014, Nick Sousanis successfully defended his dissertation on visual thinking at Columbia University. The remarkable aspect of this story has to do with the fact that Sousanis wrote his dissertation in the format of a comic book. According to Patel's article,
"For a variety of reasons, humanities programs at many colleges have started to allow dissertation formats to veer from the traditional book-length monograph. These projects have taken the form of a suite of three or more papers, a documentary, an interactive analysis of a text, or even a comic book."
Despite this fact, many departmental hiring committees continue to prefer candidates who write traditional dissertations. They are considered the "gold standard" for tenure track teaching jobs. However, for graduate students not interested in pursuing work in academia, an alternative dissertation may be ideal. For instance, Jesse Merandy, a Ph.D. candidate in English, is creating a "game for mobile devices that tells users about the life and work of Walt Whitman as they walk Brooklyn Heights, where the poet lived." His project proved invaluable in landing a job helping professors and students with digital projects.
I was fascinated by this discussion of alternative dissertations and started to wonder what a non-traditional dissertation might look like in fields other than the humanities. Also, Patel includes an invaluable piece of advice for graduate students -- speak with your thesis or dissertation director about your career interests before you start writing your thesis or dissertation. Your career hopes may be an important factor when deciding to write a traditional or non-traditional thesis or dissertation.