Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dissertation Done


Evidently good news to some, a horror to others, but...

My dissertation "Attitudes toward the Natural Philosopher in the Early Roman Empire (100 B.C. to 313 A.D.)" has been accepted for formal defense. Five leading professors at Columbia University are reading it now (two of whom having already acknowledged its readiness for defense), and the department is scheduling a defense date, which will likely be sometime in the next two months. I will sit in front of all five (four men and one woman) for two whole hours while they grill me with questions and criticisms, and I defend my work. If I pass this examination I will have completed the last requirement for my Ph.D., which I will then receive in May (the next standard conferral date at CU).

Realistically the worst that can happen is that I will receive a provisional pass, having to make certain specific revisions at a professor's request before the pass is completed, but that is common, and is unlikely to take more than a few more weeks to satisfy. Normally such revisions are minor, but occasionally it can be something major, and I have no idea going in what to expect, beyond the fact that I am confident I can defend my sources and findings. I certainly know the material inside and out, having lived and breathed it for almost a decade. But I'm the kind of guy who hopes for the best while planning for the worst--and in the very worst case scenario (which is unrealistic to expect) I'll miss the May conferral date. But even in that event I can't foresee any reason I won't complete by the next conferral period in December. Either way I'm pretty sure I'll graduate in '08.

An infamous Douchebag recently alleged I was about to break the record for the slowest dissertation in history (a Douchebag, I must add, who hasn't even completed his own Ph.D.). In fact I'm only slightly over average. I received my B.A. in history (with a minor in classical civ) from UC Berkeley in 1995, completed my M.A. in ancient history at Columbia University in 1998, and finished my M.Phil. there in 2000. This is a formal equivalent of what's often called ABD, "All But Dissertation," hence in effect the same as a Ph.D. minus the dissertation (though with three majors and one minor, as I explain a bit more a good ways into my last blog entry). And I will most likely receive my Ph.D. in 2008.

My fellowship ended with the M.Phil. (I was effectively on merit scholarships at Columbia every year until then...one of the differences is that a fellowship has teaching requirements, hence I taught as a graduate student instructor to earn part of my tuition). Since then I've had to take more work to pay tuition and bills (since I am in fact poor). This tuition work included various freelance jobs in writing and editing, including completion of what are in effect three books: I researched and wrote about a fifth of The Empty Tomb (for about a grand), the whole of Sense and Goodness without God (which has earned over eight thousand dollars in profit so far), and the online book Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False (for which I was paid over five thousand dollars). With my dissertation (essentially an obsessively researched book of even greater length), that comes out to a book every two years, which is better than even most professors can boast. And that's not even counting everything else I did or published in that period. Needless to say, I've been a very busy man.

Consequently it has taken me eleven years since I started grad school to finally complete my Ph.D. (though only the last eight years were spent on the dissertation itself). This is slightly but not unusually long. It typically takes 2 years to complete an MA (the Columbia program intensifies this into a 1 year program) and then 5-8 years to complete the Ph.D. (at least in my field, history), which is 7-10 years in all. At Columbia you must prove progress in your work every year just to continue beyond 7 years (and I did, which means
I could not have remained a Ph.D. candidate if my faculty advisor did not think I was doing good work). So my 11 years is slightly long but not excessive. Since twenty years is not unheard of in the humanities, there's no risk of my making the world record.

The same Douchebag also hinted that my taking "so long" indicates my lack of intelligence. The fallacy in that should be obvious, since the time it takes to complete a degree bears little relation to anyone's IQ, as it has more to do with the tedious time required to complete extensive research (in history, this is mainly a function of how many books and articles you must read, and how long it takes you to read them, factors no amount of smarts can really change...in case you were wondering, my first draft's bibliography extended to over 850 items, in three languages, which is only a fraction of the books and articles I had to read, and I had to confirm the translations, or translate myself, over a thousand key passages of Latin and Greek...a lot of work) and how much time one can devote solely to school work (which is never a great deal for members of the working class like myself). So I think we can dispense now with the typical Christian insults-by-fallacy. Oh, did I not mention the Douchebag loves Christ? Chalk him up as one more example of how loving Jesus doesn't seem to improve anyone much. If I had a nickel...

Okay, okay, enough bagging on the Douchebag. Back to what my fans have been asking: Will I publish my dissertation as a book? Yes. It will appear as The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire, probably by an academic press no earlier than 2009. M
y advisor actually concluded that about a quarter of my first draft (including most of my material on technology, about a year's work) was unnecessary to the thesis I'm defending, so it was removed. But he had no other objections to it, so it will all be restored in the published edition, which of course will also be revised to be more accessible to a lay audience (though it will still be written for experts). I already have several other books in the pipe as well. But I'll tell you about those as they come.

30 comments:

Dan Pinto said...

Congrats!

Hope everything goes well.

FreeThinker said...

I hope it's not too premature (or "unlucky") to say CONGRATULATIONS, Dr. Rick!

Agnostics_R_Us said...

If you were looking for the proverbial "hell yeah," you got it.

Chris said...

Excellent work my friend, quite an accomplishment. I think you should take a nice long vacation.

Solon said...

>>The same Douchebag also hinted that my taking "so long" indicates my lack of intelligence.

Actually, using the word "Douchebag" (capitalized?) in a post is usually more indicative.

>>The fallacy in that should be obvious, since the time it takes to complete a degree bears little relation to anyone's IQ

Almost as obvious as the pedantry in answering every little slight.

Though I find your so-called "atheist" and moral writings horribly naive, sincere congratulations. It's a long, tough haul. Best of luck with your future book.

Zachary Moore said...

Congratulations! Everything else is just formality, from my experience. Enjoy it!

Abyss of Silence said...

Do sad little trolls (like Solon) have nothing better to do with their lives than sneer at everything you say?

Just wondering.

Dr. Neander said...

I hope you still plan to write a book on the possibility that Jesus did not even exist. That would be interesting. Happy Ph.D.

Solon said...

>>Do sad little trolls (like Solon) have nothing better to do with their lives than sneer at everything you say?

You must be thinking of some Christian nut. I think I've only questioned one post before where I found the assertions facile. I think getting a Ph. D. is quite the opposite: tres difficile.

Josh said...

Congrats! I hope your defense goes well.

Looking forward to reading The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire =)

Agnostics_R_Us said...

Solon,

"Though I find your so-called "atheist" and moral writings horribly naive, sincere congratulations."

You could have at least linked to a defense? Otherwise we are just left with the pretentiousness factor in that apparently you consider "moral writings" to be antithetical to non-theism. Standing on that firm ground of your imaginary friend, eh? If that's being informed, I'll settle for naivety and all the things I do know about morality from human experience.

Pikemann Urge said...

Well done, Richard! Academia is sure an exciting field, though sadly not very accessible by non academics (this is mostly the fault of academia, not the lay person).

But don't worry about the douchebag too much. Live and let live, I say. Sometimes, silence is the best response (douches hate it when you ignore them; and actions speak louder than words). :-)

And indeed, any reasonable person understands that to do something right usually means taking the time to do it. Rome wasn't built in a day - or something like that!

Heathen Dan said...

Kudos on your achievements! I've always enjoyed your writing (especially your article "A Fish did not Write This Essay"). I don't know how much you get out of royalties (if at all!), but I promise to buy your book Sense and Goodness, as well as the Empty Tomb, in the near future.

Best cheers!

5150 said...

Congrats!- I've just started reading your book and enjoyed your appearance on "The God Who Wasn't There"- Your debate on youtube in which you teamed up with Dan Barker is excellent and I enjoyed your radio debate on the errors in the Koran (you really smoked that guy). I just found your blog- I want to search it to see if you've written about the Tao te Ching. I am a freethinker, and think that your take on Taoism would be interesting (I know you're an expert on this subject.) Take care.
http://bartholomewcanary.blogspot.com/

Cellophane Jane said...

Congratulations! I've really enjoyed your book on Atheism and your blog.

CJ

Abyss of Silence said...

Solon,

Well I apologize if I haven't taken your snide remarks in the right light. Perhaps I was wrong in reading antagonistic disdain in most of what you've posted here. Maybe you were trying to be funny.

I found it hard to take seriously, "It's a long, tough haul. Best of luck with your future book." considering what preceded it.

It could be that I've unfairly mentally labeled you from some things you've written in the past. I'm disinclined to think so, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

And with that I'm ending this discourse before Rick deletes all of these off-topic emails.
JC

Victoria said...

Hey! Congratulations on finishing your dissertation. We knew it was coming, but finally being queued to be scheduled for defense is really a milestone.

I want to hear all about what that's like. As a lay-person it's difficult for me to imagine what questions they could possibly ask.

Oh! Also, congratulations on proliferating the return of the word douchebag. I find that it can be the perfect descriptor sometimes when other words don't quite hit the mark. I'm for its continued use.

petrich said...

Congratulations on having passed that career landmark, Richard Carrier. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

And I hope that it's a valuable correction to the "Xianity the super-scientific religion" apologetic; Greek and Roman pagans were the real inventors of science, and the rediscovery of their work stimulated the re-emergence of science.

I sometimes marvel at the gall of many Xian apologists and their shamelessly trying to take vicarious credit for things that their predecessors had often vehemently opposed. It makes me wonder when they will try to take such vicarious credit for the idea of evolution.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Congratulations! A big achievement. You history PhD's must be gluttons for punishment. In neuroscience, 6 years is considered long, 7 years TOO long.

Lucretius said...

Do you have an estimate of how many hours it took you to write "Sense and Goodness without God?" Since you stated how much profit you have made to date on the book, I am curious as to how much your time was worth (so far.)

petrich said...

I forget to ask this earlier: Richard Carrier, do you plan to include in your book your master's thesis, "Cultural History of the Lunar and Solar Eclipse in the Early Roman Empire"? I think that it's a valuable discussion of a culture clash about science.

The pdf of that document is scanned pages; I wonder how feasible it might be to OCR them so that they can be (say) easier to include in another document. I do have some OCR software, but it is not as reliable as one might want.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... Actually, using the word "Douchebag" (capitalized?) in a post is usually more indicative [of lacking intelligence].

Please produce a valid logical syllogism demonstrating this sentence is a true empirical claim. Otherwise, please douche. It's starting to smell.

Solon said... Almost as obvious as the pedantry in answering every little slight.

It's amusing to be criticized for not responding to criticisms and then to be criticized for responding to criticisms. There's just no pleasing some people.

Of course, it's also amusing to make fun of idiots and then have other idiots call me pedantic for it. Bonus!

Solon said... I find your so-called "atheist" and moral writings horribly naive

You mean the book about atheist morality that you confess you still have not read?

That's a neat trick. I wish I could tell how naive a book is without having read it. It would save me a lot of time.

Richard Carrier said...

Abyss of Silence: Yeah, good point. Even blokes who say my writing is horribly naive keep reading it. Go figure. Worse, they actually take time out of their day to post replies to it. Somehow I doubt there are many pedants in the world who can claim the honor of such interest and attention. Were this any other context I'd suspect them of having a crush.

Dr. Neander: Yes, eventually there will be a book from me on whether Jesus Christ existed as a real person. It's just not a high priority in my life.

Heathen Dan: I get effectively no royalties from Empty Tomb. I received an advance on royalties, which sales are unlikely ever to exceed. But I get about $4 from every sale of Sense and Goodness without God, and besides that, every sale bumps its sales rank, which Amazon uses to assign its placement on search lists and top twenty lists and so on, so the more it sells, the more exposure it gets, and the more it then sells. So buying at Amazon is double good.

5150 AND EVERYONE: On the right margin of my blog, below the archives, is an alphabetical index. On that index is Taoism. Click that (or any word in that index) and blogspot will build a page showing all blog entries I keyworded with that term.

Richard Carrier said...

Lucretius said... Do you have an estimate of how many hours it took you to write "Sense and Goodness without God?" Since you stated how much profit you have made to date on the book, I am curious as to how much your time was worth (so far.)

Oh, I'm sure it's chump change by that calculation, though I can't really estimate hours logged, partly because I worked on it over a year or two as I had time, and on no definite schedule, and then gradually revised it over the course of another year, and partly because it incorporates revised material I had already written for free (or to myself) over a great many preceding years, and partly because a lot of the research done for it was stuff I was already doing for my own or other reasons and not just for the book.

But I'm sure it was a lot. Assuming my maximum final output is 5000 words every 10 hours (from first to final draft, that's about right when I'm on a roll) and research for the same takes as long (in truth it varies wildly above and below that figure...and my next book took considerably longer), that's 250 words per hour, and Sense and Goodness without God clocks nearly 171,000 words, that's 684 hours, or about twelve dollars an hour (so far...if I continue taking in two thousand a year, which is less than I have been, then my hourly value goes up nearly three dollars a year).

But then, passion was my actual salary. I wouldn't have done the book on hire. Uunless someone paid me over thirty grand, since fifty dollars an hour is my going rate for "involuntary" labor.

Richard Carrier said...

Petrich said... I hope that [The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire] is a valuable correction to the "Xianity the super-scientific religion" apologetic

It will be. At least partly: since it does not deal but briefly with post-antiquity and only focuses on the typical claims made by Christians about the ancients and ancient science, and on Christian attitudes as they really were before the middle ages, it will leave still half the story to be correctly told. I am planning an appearance on the Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour where I will meticulously deconstruct Rodney Stark's version of the "Xianity the super-scientific religion" apologetic, so you may be keen to hear that when it airs. I will blog it, so you'll know.

Petrich said... Do you plan to include in your book your master's thesis, "Cultural History of the Lunar and Solar Eclipse in the Early Roman Empire"?

No. But it was cannibalized for the book, so some of the material is in there, but it's really a different kind of work. I have a notion of someday writing The Eclipse in the Early Roman Empire which would take that short thesis and expand it comprehensively, but the subject so little interests me now it's unlikely I'll ever bother. There are so many other things I would much rather be writing.

As far as turning it into a proper electronic document, the original file was damaged considerably in an old computer crash long ago (I've been through several generations of computers since then!). But email me your interest in this, so I'll remember to OCR it the next time I'm in NY (since I can use my old training center there, their software is first rate).

RantingAndRavingAngryPharmacist said...

Good luck with the dissertation. Someone thinks you lack intellect because it took you so long to get your Ph.D.? Personally, I think someone must be crazy to voluntarily do all that work to get a Ph.D. I'd view the long time as your sanity trying to convince you to do something fun with your life, but it looks like your craziness won out. HaHa! Hard work is worth it and I'm sure you will feel greatly relieved once the big D day is over.

Chris Weimer said...

Richard,

Congratulations so far on getting your Ph.D. to the defense. I wonder, though, who is the Douchebag about whom you speak?

Geoff Hudson said...

How do Richard Carrier, Peter Kirby and Chris Weimer manage to stay students for so long?

Chris Weimer said...

Chris Weimer has not been a student for that long. In fact, he only is a year off from normal, and that was due to a year and a half that he was not a student, but actually instead working.

CW

Richard Carrier said...

Geoff Hudson said... How do Richard Carrier, Peter Kirby and Chris Weimer manage to stay students for so long?

Wasn't that what my blog was about?