Publish or... have a nice life?

Anyone can now read my thesis online. I think this means I’m technically a doctor now, but I’m not going to fully believe it until I receive the letter that says so.

I spent some time considering whether I should embargo my thesis in case I wanted to make a book from its contents in the future. Ultimately, I decided that that was a very unlikely scenario and that I’d rather people could read it and get something from it immediately, rather than in three or five years.

I’d heard from a lot of people that it’s a good idea to embargo your thesis because many publishers won’t accept work that’s already ‘out there’. Apparently this is quite a recent development in academic publishing, and some established academics were shocked to hear about it! It certainly goes against the developing ethos of Open Access. Also, I seriously doubt it would affect the publishers’ sales - why on earth would anyone choose to read a thesis if there’s a book available (providing their library had the book or the book was a reasonable price…)?

My problem with the pressure to embargo in case I publish a book is that, erm, I really don’t want to publish a book. Yes, I have considered that I might change my mind. But I know myself. I know I’m not going to ever be so desperate to publish a book that I will rend my garments because I didn’t embargo my thesis and therefore can’t get a publisher (also, Not All Publishers).

In fact, making my thesis Open Access could be a kindness to my future self. There were times when I was rewriting my thesis that I absolutely hated myself and my work because I didn’t think anything I produced could be of high enough quality to earn me a PhD, and that I would then have to deal emotionally with having failed. The back-and-forth of the publishing world and having to rewrite that content a second time could plunge me back into those feelings. Why make myself feel like that when I have the choice not to? Right now, for once, I feel pretty good about my work because it turned out it was enough to get a PhD. I should leave it on that high.

I also want to leave this project behind me because it’s gone on for far too long already. Quite aside from the original three years of my PhD, then three months’ interruption and 12 months’ referral period, I submitted for my second viva nearly eight months ago and since then, I’ve mostly been waiting: for my viva, for my viva report, for the bureaucratic machine to process that I’d passed. I’ve only actually done thesis work on a few days this year, when I was preparing for my viva and when I did my corrections (which turned out to be way less onerous than I expected).

Writing a book would mean not only who knows how many more months of Saturday and Sunday mornings and early afternoons writing and editing, but also, I imagine that even short-turnaround books take a while to publish as you have to wait for people to read your work, and go through various drafts and changes and proof corrections. I’m so fed up of the whole thing already, and feel as though if I’d really wanted to keep working with it, I’d have actually made some sort of move towards a book in those 7+ months of dead time between January and now, instead of sleeping in every weekend.

The big question I’ve been asking myself about publication, though, has been: what’s in it for me? I’m not going to make any money from it. Working on it’s going to make me miserable and stop me doing fun things at weekends. I’m not staying in academia, and have been in my non-academic job for nearly two years now, so I don’t need it to advance in my career. It’s publicly available in a form that’s readable enough (I don’t object to people skipping the literature review and sources and methods!) in case it’s of interest or even use to anyone. It’s not going to enhance my life in any way. So, what’s the point?

This doesn’t mean I’m not happy to be a doctor. I worked really hard for it, especially last year, and I’m rightly proud of what I’ve achieved. I’ve spent the last two years dreaming of this all being over, and that incorporates both earning the qualification and never having to work on that project ever again if I don’t want to.

At the same time, though, being a doctor itself isn’t going to make any real difference to my life. It was something I did, at first because I was trying to add meaning to my life, liked studying and couldn’t get a job where I got to use my brain, and latterly because I didn’t want to have wasted three years or the £250 I’d have lost by dropping out during term-time, or deal with how I’d feel if I gave up or failed. And now it’s time to move on from that, because my priorities have changed over the past five years, and I’ve found some meaning in working for a library service instead.

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK