Dissertations & Theses Year-In-Review, 2015-16

As the Graduate Center prepares to celebrate its graduating students at the 2016 Commencement ceremony, the library thought it would be appropriate to take a closer look at the culminating works that brought them there.

In January of this year I began working closely with graduating students as the Dissertation Research Librarian, taking over the duties formerly held by Judy Waldman, who retired after 28 years of service. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the unique view that the position affords as I interact with research across a huge variety of disciplines. As I tell our students, the library is concerned with preparing the work for an audience outside of your committee members–we’re thinking ahead to researchers 20 years from now and the unintended uses they’ll make of the work. No, I don’t read the dissertations. But I do look closely enough to get a sense of the topic and the approach, and often I get a personal explanation from the author as we discuss the formalities of the work: the organization of the manuscript and the navigational structures we impose on it; attribution and citation styles; and, yes, copyright and publisher’s contracts.

These conversations not only attend to the work at hand, but they also give me an interesting view of the graduate work being done here at the GC (as well as some of our other CUNY campuses through joint degree programs at Baruch, City College, and John Jay). So, in the spirit of not keeping all of this to myself, I’d like to share some of the impressions I’ve gleaned from the dissertations and theses submitted between September 2015 and May 2016. Most of this will reflect my background in the humanities, but I hope it is worthwhile reading nonetheless. And for those of you interested in performing your own analysis, we’re working on making historical dissertation data from the GC more readily available for just this sort of thing (more soon!).

First, some numbers: in the 2015-16 academic year, the library accepted a total of 524 graduate works, including 444 doctoral dissertations, 58 master’s theses, and 22 capstone projects. Thirty-five programs were represented, with Psychology producing the most doctoral graduates this year (70) and Liberal Studies leading the master’s programs (47).

word cloud of dissertation titles, academic year 2015-16

To scratch the surface of what was deposited, I passed the dissertation titles through some rudimentary text analysis to generate the word cloud above (I know, sorry, it just seemed like the thing to do here). Clearly, New York City was a common topic, with dissertations on everything from classical architecture in Rockefeller Center to Hurricane Sandy’s effects on Rockaway Beach. From archaeological anthropology in Brooklyn to post-war racial segregation in Long Island’s suburbs, it’s no surprise that students at the GC flock to NYC as subject. One MALS student even dug into ethics and fashion through a history of B. Altman & Co., the former occupant of our landmark building here on 34th St.

This year saw ethnographic research on a Christian embryo adoption program in California and biodiversity in Uttarakhand India; an examination of Vilém Flusser’s theories on photography; narrative theory in digital media; a study on conservation and “carnivore management” in Yellowstone; a re-coloring algorithm for maps; and a study on eating disorders in Orthodox Jewish families.

Several dissertations touched on bilingual education, including Sarah Hesson’s “Bilingual Latino Middle Schoolers on Languaging and Racialization in the US” and Kathryn Louise Carpenter’s work on dual language programs.

Asian American studies had a strong showing this year, with works like “Boundaries and Belonging: Asian America, Psychology, and Psychoanalysis” (Natalie C. Hung), “Animate Impossibilities: On Asian Americanist Critique, Racialization, and the Humanities” (Frances H. Tran), and “Dislocating Camps: On State Power, Queer Aesthetics & Asian/Americanist Critique” (Christopher Alan Eng). I’m afraid most people will have to wait until 2018 (at least!) to read these, but I’m sure they will make fantastic first books for these young scholars. For the record, 56% of this year’s works were made publicly available immediately, while 44% are under an embargo (delayed release of the full text).

There is so much I’ve left out–I want to talk about them all! But it’s time to close out this celebration of the hard work behind these newly minted Ph.D.s. Before we go, let me share a few playful milestones I’ve kept track of along the way:

Longest dissertation:

At 834 pages, this distinction goes to Susan Barile (English, Jun ’16), “Brought Up for Each Other: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Bernard Berenson.

Shortest dissertation:

At just 69 pages, but loaded with data, this designation goes to Devon Rolleri (Business, Feb ’16), “An Evaluation of the Standard Setting Performance of the FASB.

Titles can be tricky, but my personal favorite (for its sheer surprise factor) comes from Julie S. Viollaz (Criminal Justice, Feb ’16): “When Human-Leopard Conflict Turns Deadly: A Cross-Country Situational Analysis.” For those concerned with length:

Longest title:

It took 283 characters to capture the topic for Mélida Sánchez (Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures & Languages, Feb ’16) in “Josefa Acevedo de Gómez: Estudio y edición anotada de Cuadros de la vida privada de algunos granadinos copiados al natural para instrucción y divertimiento de los curiosos, Biografía del doctor Diego Fernando Gómez y Ensayo sobre los deberes de los casados.

Shortest title:

Coming in at just 14 characters, Frank M. Boardman (Philosophy, Jun ’16) wins this contest with “Art as Display.

And just so I can get a STEM title in, I’ll highlight this, from Haojie Ji (Physics, Feb ’16): “Properties of Type-II ZnTe/ZnSe Submonolayer Quantum Dots Studied via Excitonic Aharonov-Bohm Effect and Polarized Optical Spectroscopy.” Now that’s a mouthful.

Congratulations to all of our 2016 graduates, and ever onward with the next round of deposits!

About the Author

Roxanne Shirazi is Dissertation Research Librarian and Assistant Professor at the Graduate Center's Mina Rees Library, where she also serves as Project Director for the CUNY Digital History Archive.