What is “the album?”

Earlier this week I had a meeting with my chair to discuss dissertation progress, job materials, and a grant application.

At the end of the meeting, she asked, “Do you know how Kanye says, ‘It’s all about the album?'” and I said, “yes” because I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I didn’t want my chair to know I was the type of person that is more familiar with Kanye West as a fashion designer than as a musician.

To which she said, “The dissertation is your album. These other things are great but if it’s not about the album don’t give it your time.”

Here’s the thing: I think my committee and I have very different conceptions of what “the album” is.

Over the years I’ve learned that my committee thinks of as the album is my dissertation. It’s got seven main tracks from Intro to Conclusion and my footnotes are the intro, intermezzo, and outro.

To me, the album is titled “Assistant Professor” and “Dissertation” is the first single. I’ve put a lot of work into that track and it may be the one that gets the most airtime but there’s a whole album backing it up made up of conference presentations, steering committee meetings, and even grant applications.

Like Janelle Monae, I have a multi-album plan already in place. After “Assistant Professor,” comes “Asssociate,” followed by, “Full.” I’ve even got plans for possible albums after that with titles like maybe, “Graduate Student Director,” or even, someday, “Dean.”

To be very clear, my committee is made up of excellent scholars who also happen to be great humans and exceptional committee members. I genuinely like these people and, perhaps more importantly, I trust them. I know they have my long-term success as their number one goal. I know when my chair tells me to focus on the album she is doing the best she knows how to help me.

What I’m wondering is if this difference in opinion over what constitutes “the album” has been noticed by other people, advisors and advisees alike? If so, where does this tension, this difference in view come from? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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