When you find out that your dissertation is for sale as an ebook without you knowing about it

A recent sociology PhD describes an interesting experience: he found that his dissertation was being sold online as an ebook.

A Google search brought me to a link to BarnesandNoble.com, where with one click I soon discovered that my dissertation was being sold. It took a minute of staring at the computer screen to fully accept that my work could be purchased for (at the time) $32.34 as an eTextbook for the Nook reader. I thought the price was a steal. Literally.

I had graduated about a year earlier with a Ph.D. in sociology. Although I had hoped to turn my dissertation into a book one day, I had not yet started that process. I hadn’t even secured a contract with a publisher…

I began investigating how it could have come to be for sale. Like many graduate students, I was burned out after defending my dissertation. My immediate thoughts were not about which publisher I should contact but about whether I would be able to afford rent and food in this economy. My final weeks of graduate school had been a bit foggy, and I couldn’t recall the specific publication options I had selected when I submitted the dissertation to my university as a degree requirement.

So I dug out my copies of handouts from the Office of Graduate Studies, describing my options for publication with ProQuest (the university’s publisher of theses and dissertations). Reading through the papers, I could find nothing on all the possible ways my dissertation could be sold.

Then I logged into my account on the ProQuest site and saw that when I had submitted my dissertation electronically I had chosen an option for third-party selling. At the time, I was unsure what that meant, and in my end-of-graduate-school haze, I had neglected to find out. I assumed it meant that some other academic company could sell my work to individual researchers, typically few in number, who would have to exert great effort even to discover its whereabouts. I never thought it meant it could be sold, in its entirety, on the same site where one can purchase calendars and the complete series of The Sopranos on DVD.

Remembering some similar feelings at the end of my time in graduate school as I was looking to complete and defend my dissertation, I could see how this information could slip through the cracks. However, the lesson still remains: read all of that fine print so you know what you are agreeing to.

Sociologist reflects on his research about the LA Riots

Sociologist Darnell Hunt studied how perceptions of media coverage of the 1992 LA Riots differed by race in Screening the Los Angeles ‘Riots’: Race, Seeing, and Resistance. Hunt recently reflected on his research:

Darnell Hunt was a graduate student at the time of the riots, studying race and media.

“I was looking for a case study,” he said. “And then the riots happened.”

He immediately focused on the reaction to the news coverage of the riots, which would later form the basis for his dissertation. Hunt took his camcorder down to the center of the protests and left the VCR running, he said, so he could compare the media’s take on the events that day compared to the reality just outside as part of his research.

Hunt is now a sociology professor at UCLA, and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. While he witnessed firsthand much of the upheaval across the city while conducting his research, he said he found optimism in the clean-up period following the six days that the riots took place.

“People saw (the aftermath) as this moment when people came together around a common cause, across racial lines, and talked about the possibility of coalitions and achieving some type of progress,” he said.

Hunt’s research from 20 years ago, which he continues to observe and build upon, showed that people of different ethnicities perceived media depictions differently.

Thursday, he spoke at a UCLA event that explored the role played by the media during the L.A. riots.

Hunt recalled the riots still being fresh in the minds of many when he started out as a professor, but now only a couple of hands go up when he asks who remembers them in his lectures, he said.

But the issues that contributed to the riots are still relevant, he said. Unemployment and economic disparity have not necessarily improved in the city, he said.

“It’s been a couple steps forward, a couple steps back,” Hunt said. “One positive development is that we do have more communication across racial and ethnic lines.”

Several quick thoughts:

1. This seems to be a good example of taking advantage of a research opportunity. Does this illustrate the advantages of being at a school in a big urban center where a lot of things are going on?

2. Though the remarks above are brief, it sounds like Hunt is suggesting that not much has changed in regards to race in Los Angeles?

3. I’m amused that Hunt says that students don’t remember these events. Of course, traditional students in college today would have been born between 1990 and 1995 so it would be difficult to remember events from 1992. At the same time, this illustrates the need for faculty to keep up with research: if the careers of faculty are mainly based on their dissertation, this could become outdated or uninteresting to new generations rather quickly. That doesn’t mean students shouldn’t know about what a professor researched but the passage of time can make it harder to make a case for its relevance.