Sorry, I couldn’t resist. What I am actually here to speak about today is why you don’t need “extends.”
What is “extends”? “Extends” is what practically every single one of you says that your research does. You either say that it “extends” the work of so-and-so, or such-and-such a field, OR you say, later in the doc, that your anticipated next project “extends” your dissertation work on blah blah blah.
Seriously, what is it with all this extending? Was Freud right AGAIN?
What I am here to say today is that nobody wants it. We don’t want to hear that your research extends other work, and we certainly don’t want to hear that your next project extends your first project. Why would we, the hiring department, spend good money to get someone whose work is basically derivative or predictable?
Stop it! Just stop it! Stop using that word!
Let me be explicit, so that you understand. Do NOT EVER SAY that your work extends the work of some scholar, set of scholars, or field.
DO NOT EVER SAY that your second project extends your dissertation research.
Please do a universal search of your job docs and if you find this word, take out the entire sentence in which you find it. The sentence, and the thought behind it, is ill-conceived and self-sabotaging on the job market.
Your work may well have been influenced by other work—everyone’s is. This is not newsworthy! In a job doc your dissertation work must be depicted as original, distinctive, and above all, autonomous.
Your second project can of course grow organically out of the concerns of the dissertation project (as I explain in this really good post that I want everyone to click through to: “Why You Need a Second Project“). But again, it must be original, distinctive, and autonomous. Nobody wants a one-trick pony.
This is an easy problem to fix because it really comes down to this one word. Eradicate it, and eradicate the thinking behind it.* You are an autonomous thinker and scholar and your work stands on its own merits, and makes its own independent contribution to the field.
*No, I’m wrong. It’s just as bad when it’s in any form of the word “continue.” Ie, “the new project is a continuation of my dissertation research”; “this project continues my dissertation focus”; etc. Eradicate that as well.
What is the difference between “extension” and showing your line of research? There seems to be a fine line.
The first thing I did upon reading this post was review my cover letter, research and teaching statements to insure that I wasn’t using extends in reference to my scholarship. I have heard it a lot in seminars lately where candidates have introduced their work. However, it wasn’t until you stated it that I realized how overused it really has become. I aim to not add to the overuse.
I have a question as I prepare to send out applications for Fall job search season. There are 3 positions open in my field but in different departments and schools at the same university. One is a stretch so I won’t apply. However, the other 2 are both well within the scope of my work. Is it ok to apply to both departments in 2 different schools? Or should I try to decide between the two?
What about “builds”? I can’t decide if that makes the work sound just as derivative, or not… Does anyone else have an opinion?
I have the same question Julie, but more in the context of doing research. I’m working my way through the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks and there’s a whole (and quite reassuring) bit on the validity of taking a research angle that builds on prior research. Trouble is, there isn’t much advice on how to articulate this tack in rhetorically compelling ways. My own thinking is that it’s ok to say you’re building or elaborating on X or Y, but you also need to demonstrate that your addition is filling a significant lack in the scholarship–and to really prove that you’re not just building a replica of the prior research. This is just my sense as a reader. What do others think? Anyone have good verbs to use in this context?
I do think I would downplay any “building” language in job documents, as there’s just not the space there to demonstrate that what you’re doing is not derivative.
A Frank says
This is quite an astute post and I completely agree on the abuse of the word. ‘Extends’- the image of research as an ever-growing tail or gum! Your post reminded me of a remarkable poem by Ezra Pound on ‘dissertations’:
The Logical Conclusion
When earth’s last thesis is copied
From the theses that went before,
When idea from fact has departed
And bare-boned factlets shall bore,
When all joy shall have fled from study
And scholarship reign supreme;
When truth shall ‘baaa’ on the hill crests
And no one shall dare to dream;
When all the good poems have been buried
With comment annoted in full
And art shall bow down in homage
To scholarship’s zinc-plated bull,
When there shall be nothing to research
But the notes of annoted notes,
And Baalam’s ass shall inquire
The price of imported oats;
Then no one shall tell him the answer
For each shall know the one fact
That lies in the special ass-ignment
From which he is making his tract.
So the ass shall sigh uninstructed
While each in his separate book
Shall grind for the love of grinding
And only the devil shall look.
Against the ‘germanic’ system of graduate study and insane specialization in the Inanities.
Does this advice pertain to phd admission applications as well?