Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Evidently good news to some, a horror to others, but...
My dissertation "Attitudes toward the Natural Philosopher in the Early Roman Empire (100 B.C. to 313 A.D.)" has been accepted for formal defense. Five leading professors at Columbia University are reading it now (two of whom having already acknowledged its readiness for defense), and the department is scheduling a defense date, which will likely be sometime in the next two months. I will sit in front of all five (four men and one woman) for two whole hours while they grill me with questions and criticisms, and I defend my work. If I pass this examination I will have completed the last requirement for my Ph.D., which I will then receive in May (the next standard conferral date at CU).
Realistically the worst that can happen is that I will receive a provisional pass, having to make certain specific revisions at a professor's request before the pass is completed, but that is common, and is unlikely to take more than a few more weeks to satisfy. Normally such revisions are minor, but occasionally it can be something major, and I have no idea going in what to expect, beyond the fact that I am confident I can defend my sources and findings. I certainly know the material inside and out, having lived and breathed it for almost a decade. But I'm the kind of guy who hopes for the best while planning for the worst--and in the very worst case scenario (which is unrealistic to expect) I'll miss the May conferral date. But even in that event I can't foresee any reason I won't complete by the next conferral period in December. Either way I'm pretty sure I'll graduate in '08.
An infamous Douchebag recently alleged I was about to break the record for the slowest dissertation in history (a Douchebag, I must add, who hasn't even completed his own Ph.D.). In fact I'm only slightly over average. I received my B.A. in history (with a minor in classical civ) from UC Berkeley in 1995, completed my M.A. in ancient history at Columbia University in 1998, and finished my M.Phil. there in 2000. This is a formal equivalent of what's often called ABD, "All But Dissertation," hence in effect the same as a Ph.D. minus the dissertation (though with three majors and one minor, as I explain a bit more a good ways into my last blog entry). And I will most likely receive my Ph.D. in 2008.
My fellowship ended with the M.Phil. (I was effectively on merit scholarships at Columbia every year until then...one of the differences is that a fellowship has teaching requirements, hence I taught as a graduate student instructor to earn part of my tuition). Since then I've had to take more work to pay tuition and bills (since I am in fact poor). This tuition work included various freelance jobs in writing and editing, including completion of what are in effect three books: I researched and wrote about a fifth of The Empty Tomb (for about a grand), the whole of Sense and Goodness without God (which has earned over eight thousand dollars in profit so far), and the online book Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False (for which I was paid over five thousand dollars). With my dissertation (essentially an obsessively researched book of even greater length), that comes out to a book every two years, which is better than even most professors can boast. And that's not even counting everything else I did or published in that period. Needless to say, I've been a very busy man.
Consequently it has taken me eleven years since I started grad school to finally complete my Ph.D. (though only the last eight years were spent on the dissertation itself). This is slightly but not unusually long. It typically takes 2 years to complete an MA (the Columbia program intensifies this into a 1 year program) and then 5-8 years to complete the Ph.D. (at least in my field, history), which is 7-10 years in all. At Columbia you must prove progress in your work every year just to continue beyond 7 years (and I did, which means I could not have remained a Ph.D. candidate if my faculty advisor did not think I was doing good work). So my 11 years is slightly long but not excessive. Since twenty years is not unheard of in the humanities, there's no risk of my making the world record.
The same Douchebag also hinted that my taking "so long" indicates my lack of intelligence. The fallacy in that should be obvious, since the time it takes to complete a degree bears little relation to anyone's IQ, as it has more to do with the tedious time required to complete extensive research (in history, this is mainly a function of how many books and articles you must read, and how long it takes you to read them, factors no amount of smarts can really change...in case you were wondering, my first draft's bibliography extended to over 850 items, in three languages, which is only a fraction of the books and articles I had to read, and I had to confirm the translations, or translate myself, over a thousand key passages of Latin and Greek...a lot of work) and how much time one can devote solely to school work (which is never a great deal for members of the working class like myself). So I think we can dispense now with the typical Christian insults-by-fallacy. Oh, did I not mention the Douchebag loves Christ? Chalk him up as one more example of how loving Jesus doesn't seem to improve anyone much. If I had a nickel...
Okay, okay, enough bagging on the Douchebag. Back to what my fans have been asking: Will I publish my dissertation as a book? Yes. It will appear as The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire, probably by an academic press no earlier than 2009. My advisor actually concluded that about a quarter of my first draft (including most of my material on technology, about a year's work) was unnecessary to the thesis I'm defending, so it was removed. But he had no other objections to it, so it will all be restored in the published edition, which of course will also be revised to be more accessible to a lay audience (though it will still be written for experts). I already have several other books in the pipe as well. But I'll tell you about those as they come.