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Transforming your thesis into a book: week 1

Godefroy, François, 'Le Jongleur Pitt, soutenant avec une loterie l'équilibre de l'Angleterre et les subsides de la coalition', 1794, BnF.

Godefroy, François, ‘Le Jongleur Pitt, soutenant avec une loterie l’équilibre de l’Angleterre et les subsides de la coalition’, 1794, BnF.

This week has been very much about remembering the nuts and bolts of my thesis, re-reading it, typing up notes I’ve made over the last year and a half, reading the books that have been piling up, doing a sweep of new books that might be relevant to my research, and so on and so forth. I’ve also been busy on the application front, for funding and conferences.

It’s wonderful to know that I finally have the spare time to attend conferences without having to use up my precious holiday days. On the downside, being in the no-man’s land means that you have to pay full-whack for conference fees and without the support a full-time position gives, there are very few places you can apply for conference funding. Wonderful as it is to see so much support for Postgraduates, it would be a huge financial relief to see more opportunities for help for ECRs too.

Overall, it has been a busy week, not least as it’s my penultimate week in Oxford so I also have to juggle making time for friends and tying up loose ends alongside my other creative projects (giving a reading in Reading tonight for instance, and planning my one-woman poetry show). I remember relishing the variety of my projects during my PhD, but I must admit that after a year and a half of 9-5, my sudden freedom is something I’m still learning to adjust to.

My plan to work on one chapter a week did not work out, mostly as I realized there was extra reading and research I wanted to delve into first. I have high hopes for having something more concrete to report by next week however (if the move doesn’t get too much in the way of course!)…. Fingers crossed!

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Transforming your PhD thesis into a book

I am, as the excellent Nadine Muller puts it, in that twilight zone between the end of the PhD and the academic job.

I went straight from my PhD into full-time employment and sometimes it feels as if I took a year and a half break from academia. However, when taking a step back I realize that working full-time didn’t stop me from publishing my first critical edition of a text, a brand new thesis-unrelated chapter in a forthcoming book, reviewing for French History and revising a previously submitted article. I’ve maintained my goal to be Impact-heavy with blogs for IB Tauris and the Voltaire Foundation, as well as a series of videos explaining my research. There is the fact too that my work was in the eighteenth century (i.e my field), and for a world leader for eighteenth-century scholarship, so it’s not as if I swapped footnotes for something radically different. In fact, I think that working on other people’s research and being more disciplined with referencing has been a positive for my own practice. I have also made the most of my workplace’s flexibility to gain more teaching experience as an associate lecturer for Oxford Brookes one day a week. Lining up these cold facts makes the year and a half look more active on the academic front, but it doesn’t shake off the feeling that I’ve been prioritising short-term deadlines over the more pressing need to transform my thesis into a monograph.

So here we are now, just me and the thesis with nowhere to hide. I have a spring deadline to resubmit it to the publisher so have taken the gamble to cut down on all paid work outside of the lecturing and the occasional poetry gig and just knuckle down into re-working it. What I want to do to it is clear to me: give a greater thread of unity to four very different chapters, re-work the introduction and conclusion to make them less thesis-like, hack half of a chapter off as it is already published anyway and is taking all the limelight away from the other half.

I can’t help but feel that there is something missing in my thought-process. You often hear the phrase that the thesis and the monograph are two radically different things but finding a precise way to explain that difference has been hard to find.

Here are some websites that I found useful:

  • The Postgraduate Online Research Training website has got a great section on publishing your thesis. The ‘re-writing as a book’ section is particularly useful. I will especially bear in mind the advice to ‘Embed the references to critical literature more naturally within your argument: the rather crude form of the critical survey or literature review, so necessary to the PhD, is perhaps the single thing that will need most work.’
  • An excerpt from William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book was enough to convince me to buy his book. It’s written in a very engaging style and I like the fact that it’s open to various types of monographs: ‘ An idea for a book can be quiet, noisy, insidious, overheated, cool, revisionist, radical, counterintuitive, restorative, synthetic.‘
  • The website PhD2Published has been often recommended to me. It seems mostly aimed at ‘first timers’ as it says, with very useful advice for submitting to journals and so on. It might not have the exact information I need but it is an excellent community and has given me ideas for other aspects of my career, so not one to be sniffed at.

Do you have any others to add?

My goal then, to keep myself accountable, is to write a weekly report of my progress, outlining what I’ve achieved, anything useful that I’ve found in the process, etc. I’m going to try and dedicate a week per chapter, and then a week for the intro and conclusion, followed by a fortnight of tinkering with references and checking the monograph holds up. This is wildly over-ambitious, so wish me luck!

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Anon, ‘Vous aurez mon prince tous les plus nouveaux soit journal ou journaux. Je le lirai tous les jours tu ne manquera pas entend tu postillon’, hand-painted etching, c.1790-1792, BnF.