Wasted Words: Salvaging a Thesis
In the past I refused students seeking a thesis editor — mainly for ethical reasons. The preamble to the Editors Canada “Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Theses / Dissertations” states: “In part, academia uses theses as a way of testing the ability of students, especially graduate students, to use written words for communicating ideas and arguments.”
The graduate school site at my local university links to these guidelines, which suggests professors don’t expect candidates to fly solo. Moreover, students lacking grammar smarts are told to engage outside editors. How do I know? A caller tells me, “My professor says I need an editor.”
Regrettably, the school’s professors have not taken the trouble to read the Editors Canada guidelines, which expressly limit what we can do. The guidelines most certainly do not promise that an editor will turn several hundred pages of drivel into a polished piece of scholarship. Even though many of us can, we don’t think it would be right.
Recently I got involved in one of these situations, and my encounter taught me a lot about today’s graduate schools — probably more than I wanted to know. A colleague asked if I could take on a doctoral thesis she’d been approached to edit. It was a rush job and other duties begged her attention. I was put in touch with the student, who told me both his supervisor and thesis committee in the humanities felt his thesis was defensible but needed editing.
In fact it was weak and repetitious and needed rewriting if not further research. Ironically, this foreign student’s command of English wasn’t all that bad. But the professors either hadn’t read his thesis or hoped its defects could be addressed by a miraculous editor. No need to further impose on the candidate.
After the student promised to pay “whatever is required,” I soldiered on for a couple dozen pages to gauge the time needed. Then after slashing my usual rate I sent him my estimate and the edited pages.
Several days later the student replied that his anonymous supervisor was not satisfied with my editing and that, in any event, my fee should be only $20 an hour, one third of what I had proposed. I wished the student good luck and signed off.
This fiasco only amplified my disquietude about today’s academia. And it confirmed its feudal attitude.
I’ve written in Active Voice that a rate of $20 an hour may bring a lot of work but will keep you below the poverty line. It costs more than a quarter of a million dollars a year to maintain a full professor at a Canadian university, and by my reckoning this yields an hourly rate about 10 times what I was offered.
As for the dissatisfaction with my work, universities should look for editors not constrained by ethical guidelines. Definitely they cannot belong to Editors Canada.
Previous post from Wilf Popoff: Wasted Words: On the PC Front
The Editors’ Weekly is the official blog of Editors Canada. Contact us.