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Dissertation revisions (#2)

January 10, 2008

As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, I am in the midst of doing corrections and revisions of my dissertation. Happily, things are progressing well. Additional meetings with committee members since the defense have cleared up some confusion on what exactly it was I had to revise.

In a lot of cases, interesting issues and questions arise during the closed-door component of a defense (i.e., after you give the presentation). Committee members bring up issues that your work instigated, but that you didn’t necessarily solve (or set out to solve). From a purely scientific point of view, this is great; your work made people think about what’s next. Science never stops. But, as a now mentally-drained candidate sitting there listening to the discussion and trying to answer as best you can, thoughts go through your head that they want you to do more work. Thankfully, in my case, most of these issues need to be addressed in the text in one way or another as remaining problems but I don’t need to personally do more analysis.

As one committee member put it, “You want people to have a clear idea of what you did and what needs to be done next.” Sometimes it feels that addressing problems and limitations of your work is somehow taking value away from it. As I progress in the practice of science, however, I appreciate the value of papers/studies that discuss what doesn’t necessarily work that well or what isn’t quite understood yet. As a reader, I can then get inspired and think of a novel method or application of an existing method to the problem.

This kind of goes back to my cog-in-the-wheel post a few days before my defense last month. It might not feel personally satisfying to not figure something out, but, from a collective perspective, this is important information for making incremental progress.

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