The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than on the outside. The same is true of a thesis – there is so much behind that final product that goes under-explored, or even unwritten. When writing your thesis, it is tempting to try to squeeze everything in, filling up all your word count. However, this is frequently a bad idea, because you can become wordy and over-complex, your final PhD lacking the clarity which it desperately needs. Sometimes, brevity is a virtue – just look to Augusto Monterroso, a Guatemalan writer who’s most famous story, ‘The Dinosaur’, runs thus:
When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.
It encapsulates everything it needs to work, and yet still leads on to interesting questions and possibilities. But these exist only in the readers’ minds – like the TARDIS, The Dinosaur is bigger on the inside.
It is important to think of a PhD thesis in these terms. If it is truly intended as a contribution to scholarship, then it is critical that it is written – and not written – with an awareness of its future potential.
Firstly, of course, the researcher must consider their own publishing future. There are many options for furthering your work, and, in the humanities at least, the most coveted but perhaps the most elusive is the monograph – your thesis as a book. One of the later posts in this series will reflect more fully upon my own experiences whilst attempting to negotiate a book contract; here, the intention is to highlight the options, of which the monograph is only one.
The researcher might also write articles on subjects related to their thesis. They might choose to independently explore themes which they were unable to include in their final submission, but which they have previously planned and outlined. Rarely is anything wasted in a thesis – those piles of discarded notes are a mine that you may be able to feed off for some time. But you might also find it valuable to think outside the box, think outside the discipline – for instance, I would like to think that I could, and will, apply the concepts and thinking tools from my thesis well beyond museology to literature, film studies, urban, landscape and geographical studies, sociology, anthropology, politics and philosophy.
If you want to do the latter, it is crucial to follow the CFPs and listserves for journals outside your discipline’s core publications. Be open-minded. In the last month I have logged four possible articles and a conference – one in theoretical science, one in photography, one in videogames, one in horror and the last in architecture. I wouldn’t have known about them if I didn’t watch those feeds. I’m fortunate too, of course, that my thesis has scope for development well beyond museum studies; it is not always the case.
Don’t just wait for calls for papers either. Find sympathetic journals – take suggestions from your supervisor, your colleagues, look at journals published by the same house or edited by similar people, and contribute articles to publications arising from conferences you attend. Cast your net internationally. Make a list of journals you feel will be open to your ideas and offer them articles if they seem open to it. Pitching peices correctly and to the right recipient is vital too – I have been burned that way myself in the past, though my own misreading of the extent to which the publication’s intentions and desires matched with my own. Understand who you are pitching to – read their requirements, their previous articles, and consider their readership; who are they, and, by implication, who are you, seeking to appeal to? Those conference contacts are vital too. Presenting at conferences, particularly after you have handed in, can keep your profile up and lead to publication opportunities expected and unexpected.
Don’t discount blogs, either those of organisations or your own personal site. They’re free to look at and international, so they get a lot of attention – or they do if they have a good conceit and are well designed. They can be a valuable place for discussing ideas which have yet to be thought out to the standard required by peer review, as well as sites for discussing things which may be too innovative, risky or personally yours for a journal to take on. But treat them with respect – don’t think of them as just a dumping ground. Not all the thoughts you write down are useful or coherent. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that, too. Give your blog cohesiveness and write it well – then it will gain traction and credibility.
For the museum studies researcher, the possibilities are even wider, because what they produce in their PhD can potentially have a direct effect upon the practice that occurs in museums and galleries. Their thinking can change the styles and structures of museum management, approaches and attitudes towards the use of exhibition and back of house technology, new methods and forms in architecture and exhibition design, new conservation techniques, powerful political changes in the representation of cultures and innovative educational programming. It is worth thinking of this as a kind of publication also – it can certainly count towards the REF’s ‘Impact’ factor. I would like to think that it’s entirely possible for research from another academic school could have similarly diverse impact – my own project, for example, was as much a work of literary theory as it was museology.
And don’t assume that all the publications which come from your thesis will be yours – if you really are to make a contribution, it is laudable to hope that from your own PhD will spin one, two, three, maybe four or five others. Thinking about the future family tree of your work requires thinking outside your own limited notions of and desires for how it can and should be produced. At some point, you have to let go.
Publications opportunities are diverse, and the inside of your thesis is potentially massive, extending beyond the scope even of you, it’s author. The heart of your TARDIS has a strong capacity for reconfiguration and development, and your thesis will not be the same forever. Think of it as a Library of Babel in miniature; a thing with multiple interlocking and changeable possibilities.