I have a question about working outside one’s dissertation field, and wonder to what extent the topic of one’s dissertation dictates the career. Is it permanent? I am now working on a topic largely unrelated to my doctoral work, and I have already discovered this to be less-than-an-asset on the job market. For jobs in my dissertation field, any search committee would look askance at current project; for jobs in “current project field,” they will look askance at the dissertation. (Think: dissertation on revolutionary France, current project on Argentina).
To what extent are we defined by a choice of dissertation topic, even throughout our careers? I have heard people commenting about a very senior (famous) historian who wrote a recent book, saying “how can he work on Y? He’s a specialist on X!” (X being his doctoral subject). He completed his Ph.D. 30 years ago, and has written a number of books. My view is, surely he’s had time to become a specialist in some other field/s of history since then. But this view is obviously not shared by all in the discipline. Should a junior scholar wait til after tenure to bust out their “true historical passion?”
Renata, I agree with you that people in our profession can be extremely fussy and fuddy-duddy about switching fields and gaining new competencies. (And as someone who wrote a book that wasn’t a revision of her dissertation at all but was an entirely new project–well, let’s just say that I can relate to your anxieties.) People are unusually identified with their first books, especially if their first books were well received. I once had a colleague who was absolutely haunted by this. He once said to me, “it’s just agonizing to think that people will read my first book and think that that’s who I am as a scholar!” Continue Reading »