I don't intend to spend this post moaning about the job search. Suffice it that silence during the job search is in many ways worse than a rejection letter.
But what I want to write about is something entirely different. I was just rereading Mixed Bag on The PhD Explosion. Odd, I left a comment there before, but don't remember all of the post from my first reading. But it got me thinking. She writes in part about feedback from others.
I'm going to come out with something that is almost embarassing for me to relate. I spent five years of my not so young life writing a dissertation, over 62,000 of my words. Because my committee had been scattered to the winds (only two of the four members of my committee were within 1000 miles of my home institution), my chair advised and the others agreed that my defense be waived. So it was. But here's the crux: The sum total of all the comments I received from my committee would fit on a single typed page of text!
In fact, two committee members essentially said nothing related to the content of my dissertation; one basically indicated that comments would be forthcoming, that I would receive suggestions for changes that I should bear in mind if I wanted to publish any of it (it's been nearly a year since the committee first read the completed draft, and more than six months since I filed the diss with everyone's signatures on it, so I doubt those are ever coming); and the fourth member of my committee, ironically the "outside reader" was the only one with substantive comments, albethey brief.
What am I to make of that? Let's get this straight. I respect and admire all four of my committee members. I enjoyed and gained from my interactions with each, over the years I worked with them. My committee was truly interdisciplinary, each one with their own, mostly non-overlapping expertise. My topic crossed the domains of all four of them, and it's certain that no one of them "got" all of the dissertation. But... couldn't they come up with something to say? Okay, they had more to say when I sent them some preliminary chapters, but again, the most substantive came from the "outside reader."
When I wrote the first 100 pages, I sent it along for comments. At that point Dr. C wrote to me that I would make few friends with those chapters in their present state, that I should put all the theoretical stuff aside, do something substantial, then get back to them. Ouch! So, I did put it aside. I wrote little for the next year. In the end I probably edited out at least half of that original stuff, and rewrote much of what remained. In the end, I did do something substantial. I don't believe they would have signed off on it, if they didn't believe so as well.
Don't let it be thought I didn't earn this PhD. Well, think what you like. I have no doubts. But I tell you, it's damn lonely to have so little feedback. Is my topic really that obscure, that remote from what others have done or thought about? I'm not sure I can accept that. Was my committee that uninterested in what I wrote? Were they just so busy that all they could muster was a read through and a signature? Do they really have that much confidence in me and my work that they considered their comments to be superfluous? (How many academics do you know who think their remarks are superfluous?) Did they think I'd be too sensitive to their criticism? (That never stopped them before.)
I don't know the answer to any of these questions. But I sure wish I had more than silence to reflect on.