I Fear My Dissertation Is Not Having the World-Changing Impact I Thought It Would.
[Originally published September 26, 2013.]
When I first defended my graduate dissertation three months ago, I was sure there would be a robust reaction from policymakers, journalists, and the public at large. Now that a little time has passed, however, I’m starting to think that maybe—possibly—my dissertation is not getting the attention outside of academia I was expecting upon publication.
In fact, it appears that nobody except my thesis advisor and my mom has read the whole thing, entitled Studies in Asymmetric Exponential Distribution, Positive Excess Kurtosis, and General Econometric Computation Using Data on Race and Gender in the United States from 1996 to 2011 at all.
I blame the lack of reception on a poor outreach strategy. It definitely wasn’t the title—the original title was longer, but I trimmed it to make sure that it was more readable. And it couldn’t have been the amount of work I put into it; I’ve been writing it since 1997. Thus, the clear hypothesis is that I simply failed to properly get my ideas to the world.
I sent an excerpt to the New York Times for publication in their “Opinion” section, though maybe I should have sent it to their news desk instead because, if you think about it, it’s also news. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell who’s supposed to cover what these days in the media.
I also sent it to President Obama, but rather than invite me to discuss ways to incorporate my research into his second-term agenda, he just sent me a form letter. “Dear Joshua,” someone in his correspondence office wrote. “Thank you for your letter.” I’m sure he read the whole thing, or at least parts of it, but he should really work on his correspondence—it almost sounded as if he didn’t even take the time to glance at the executive summary.
I still don’t get this Twitter thing, which turned out to be a huge impediment. My dissertation title itself happens to be more than 140 characters, so there were additional difficulties. And neither my aunt nor the random woman based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, who immediately followed me and messaged me spam re-tweeted it to their followers. One person favorited it, but a preliminary investigation has thus far revealed that that button seems to be entirely useless. Also, the person who favorited it had zero followers and subsequently messaged me spam. In my excitement, I clicked on both links, which also contributed to the poor outreach strategy, as now I don’t have access to a functioning computer.
Of course, while these distributional problems appear to explain the lack of reception, further research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.
At this point, I’m beginning to get concerned about the prospects for my upcoming publicity tour, called “Rock the PhD,” in which I’ll travel around the world to raise awareness about the implications of my dissertation. So far, I’ve received only one invitation—it was from someone in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The link they sent me didn’t open, though, so I’m not sure exactly what the plan is.
I’m having difficulty securing enough funding for the tour: I started a Kickstarter campaign, but it hasn’t received the support I was expecting. In fact, only my thesis advisor and my mom have contributed so far. After one month of testing, Kickstarter doesn’t appear to be a particularly effective tool for disseminating information; however, further research is needed to test this hypothesis. If you’d like to donate, I’m offering a signed copy of my dissertation to anyone who gives $50 or more (but you have to print out the paper yourself because otherwise the ink will eat into my budget).
Not all hope is gone, though. I am in the middle of a screenplay based on the dissertation that I am planning to shop around Hollywood. It’s entitled Asymmetric Exponential Distribution, Econometric Computation, and Studies in Econophysics by Race and Gender in the United States from 1996 to 2011 — A Mystery Thriller, and right now I’m thinking that Scarlett Johansson would be a perfect fit for the lead role of STATA econometrician.
Luckily, I have plenty of time to work on the screenplay. With so few jobs out there for graduating doctoral students, I’m currently employed as a barista at Starbucks. Preliminary analysis suggests that the coffee is overpriced—but further research is needed to be certain.
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