Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing by committee

I finally finished my dissertation proposal today. It's been about a year in the making, and most of that time was spent trying to put a committee together. The proposal process is daunting, to say the least. At least 10 different faculty members and administrators have to sign off on my project before I can actually begin writing. The first level is my actual dissertation committee--my director and two readers. They have read my drafts and have made suggestions for improvements and corrections, which I incorporated into the final draft. Once they all approve of the final, it goes to the church history program director, and then to the School of Theology and Religious Studies Ph.D. committee. The committee has three options: approve as written, approve with minor changes, or reject. If they reject the proposal, I go back to the drawing board, try to come up with a new project, and begin the process all over again. If they approve, I make any changes they require and resubmit to the chair of the committee (unless they accepted it as written), who passes it along to the Dean of the School. He has the same three options, and if he approves, I make any requested changes, and he passes the proposal to the Vice Provost's office. The Vice Provost, who is also the Dean of Graduate Studies, recruits an outside reader (a CUA faculty member from outside TRS), who reviews the document and who can recommend that the Vice Provost accept or reject the proposal.

In the best case scenario, all of these reviewers would approve the proposal as written, and the entire process would be finished in about 10-15 weeks. But this is a university, and two of the five levels of approval are committees, and we all know how committees work. So I am, at this stage in my career, a writer with about 10 editors who may not all want the same final product.

Most proposals are accepted with minor changes, but I find myself wondering: if each of the five levels of approval results in "minor changes" to the proposal, how close to the original will the final product be? Will I even recognize the project once it is handed back to me? What if I don't like or can't understand the direction it ends up going in? What if my director and readers disagree want changes that are incompatible with each other? What will this process do to me emotionally? What will it do to my long-suffering husband who has to watch my ups and downs?

If I could press a button and have my finished dissertation just drop into my lap, I would. But it's a rite of passage--everyone with a Ph.D. has had to endure the process, and they want to make sure that everyone coming up behind them endures the same thing they did. Somehow it will all work out...


  1. I enjoy your blog and its many familiar topics (I minored in history with a focus on medieval church history, and have far more background in history and theology than any decent atheist should), and would very much appreciated it if I could have the pleasure of reading you dissertation in my spare time.

  2. Thanks for the compliment. I'm only starting to write (doing the intro and methodology chapters first), but I hope to defend in the spring or fall of 2012.