The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

May 22, 2013

A Dissertation: The Raw Data (along with some slightly subjective commentary)

Since I've had the privilege of defending and walking, I thought some might be interested in learning what exactly goes into a dissertation. So here goes:

Total number of hours:
Not sure about this one; I originally tried to keep a weekly log, but it soon fell by the way side. However, from the moment I passed comprehensive exams and began working on my dissertation's prospectus, it took me a total of 2 years and roughly 9.5 months (from the middle of June 2010 to the end of April 2013). However, I had to redo my prospectus so that set me back a little bit. Also, I worked full-time. Frankly, sometimes I had some bouts of inactivity that could and should have been avoided with a bit more self-discipline, so I'm confident I could have actually finished everything in about 2 years and 3 months with a little bit more effort on my part. On the other hand, I'm not married, and no doubt otherwise it would have taken me a bit longer.

However, it is possible to do an entire chapter in about 5-6 weeks, even with a full-time job (including plenty of time for rigorous proof-reading), because this is about the pace I had for my last few chapters (granted, they had less original research then some earlier chapters, however). Also keep in mind that your prospectus supplies much of your content for the first chapter.

All in all, in theory, it should be possible for a single guy or lady to produce a dissertation in about a year, even if working full-time, if that person has a clear sense of direction and is very self-disciplined (I did mostly well on the former, could have done better on the latter!)

Total number of pages:
284, including front matter and the bibliography.
238 for the actual content (not counting front matter or bibliography); this is actually a little bit shorter than average, it seems.
My bibliography was 28 pages, which I think is about average or possibly a bit above average.

Total number of words, including footnotes, bibliography, and front matter
91,954   (not, I'm not going to figure out how many sentences!)

Comments on the bibliography
By my count, I had approx.  362 sources. Out of those,
approx. 80 were foreign language sources (not translations), 41 of those were ancient Greek sources (including apostolic fathers, but mostly secular 1st century sources), 26 were German, 9 were french, 2 were Dutch, and one each were Latin and Italian. It is  recommended that at this level the student not rely on translations but rather provide his or her own translation. My own weakness was that, not being proficient in Latin, I had to rely on translations for Augustine, etc. (with one exception where I translated a simple phrase from John Calvin). In the case of my dissertation, I was working with a lot of 1st century Greek sources that used the terms prognwsis or proginwskw, so it was important that I provide both the Greek text and my own translation (with a couple exceptions; the Greek physician Rufus was especially difficult to work with, and in one particular citation of Plutarch I wimped out and had to use Sandbach's translation!).

Most utilized work outside of the Bible: John H. Elliott's A Home for the Homeless, which was extremely influential for my thesis.

Most surprisingly helpful source: Paul Boom, How Children Learn the Meaning of Words (in my opinion, this book had some great thoughts on lexical semantics)

Most obscure source (i.e., most difficult to get a hold of): Horst Goldstein, "Das Gemeindeverst√§ndnis des ersten Petrusbriefs." This was actually an inaugural dissertation (so far as I can determine) for Dr. Goldstein when he began teaching at M√ľnster U. I had to purchase this from a German bookseller in Germany (please note that when buying from a store in Germany, there is a fee for transferring money, and the fee may actually turn out to be more than the cost of the book, including shipping!). Anyway, it's quite possible I own the only copy of this work in the U.S. A close second place goes to the commentary on 1 Peter in French by Ceslas Spicq, which, so far as could determine, only exists in one library outside of Europe a library which shall remain nameless since it refused to lend the book out! :) Fortunately, I got my own copy for roughly 30 dollars via the very helpful "ABE Books".

Most bizarre source (i.e., odd to find it in a dissertation on 1 Peter): James Holden, History of Horoscopic Astrology. This was actually a somewhat helpful source because it gave brief biographical sketches of some of the obscure 1st century astrologers I was citing (because they used the terms prognwsis or proginwskw).

Some final thoughts (that are hopefully helpful):
A dissertation is a long journey, but it helps if you focus on one chapter at a time. Once you finish  the introductory chapter, treat each chapter as a paper in its own right. However,
Keep the big picture in mind: in other words, be constantly asking yourself how that chapter fits in with your thesis. A couple times I got lost and actually had to remind myself what I was supposed to be proving!
Figure out formatting and abbreviations early on: I wasted a lot of time going back and fixing abbreviations to fit SBL standards (or, in some cases, making up my own if SBL didn't have it). Do this chapter by chapter and make sure you stay consistent.
Constantly update your bibliography: unfortunately, I waited until near the end, and let me tell you there's nothing more daunting that putting together a 30-page bibliography from scratch!
Proofread and have others proofread: this is a lesson I had to learn early on. By the time you're writing your dissertation, sloppy work with typos is not acceptable (in retrospect, I think I could have done better, both stylistically and technically, on all those papers and articles I wrote leading up to my dissertation). After the first chapter, I learned that I needed to proofread each chapter at least 6 times  (don't try to do 6 read-throughs all at once, trust me on this), and then I had 3 other people proofread for me as well (here's a tip: make a deal with another ph.d. student or two that you'll read their dissertation if they'll read yours).

And now, when all is said and done, I have the summer to revise my dissertation (thanks to feedback from my primary, secondary, and outside readers) and, if the Lord wills, eventually try to publish it. For now, I think I'll just take a deep breath and go read something totally unrelated to Academic Biblical studies, preferably something involving spaceships, aliens, and distant planets :)