Thesis and papers or vice versa?

I wrote my thesis before we started the papers; but FSP thinks that it is better the other way around:

I have found it to be a not-good use of time for a student to write a thesis and then turn the thesis chapters into papers. It is far more efficient (time = a*grant$^2) to go straight to manuscripts and add any extra thesisy stuff in Appendices or ancillary chapters to the thesis.

Furthermore, as a reviewer and editor, I have seen many a manuscript that was ‘too thesisy’ and needed significant revision. This commonly happens when a thesis chapter is transformed into a manuscript but is not transformed enough and retains too many thesisy elements.

The review comment “This reads too much like a thesis” is a negative one. The comment typically refers to the fact that the details of the study — or the background material of the research — are explained in excessive detail and at a more elementary level than what is appropriate for a journal article.

Along the way, FSP also gives some pointers as to how a thesis should be too:

A journal article should not be thesisy, but a thesis should be — that is, a thesis should contain detailed information. The thesis is an archive of the work that was done, and may contain all sorts of information that should be documented somewhere, if not in a published paper. Some of the detailed explanation parts of the text, however, are not so useful even in a thesis; e.g. if a student spends pages explaining some basic background information that could easily be summarized in a few sentences with a few key citations.

I prefer the papers-as-chapters mode of thesis construction because it helps both the students and me, but it’s not a perfect system, as it works best if the student can and does write without too much assistance and if the other co-authors (including me) provide timely but not intrusive comments (a topic for a future post).

A nice post; take a look and do not miss the comments section.


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