I've been reading a book by Veysey lately. Of Veysey, Jonathan Beecher, in a memorial piece in the History of Education Quarterly wrote, "Then in graduate school at Berkeley ... he embarked on the dissertation on the emergence of the American university that, when it appeared in book form in 1965, was to make his reputation. The Emergence of the American University has had an extraordinarily long life. After forty years it continues to be assigned regularly in courses on the history of American education, and it has attained the status of a classic."
Of course, historians are a little different from many folks in education; books are their currency, and a dissertation must become a book. That's not the case in much of education research, where a dissertation becomes a couple of articles. Even so in most disciplines a dissertation, no matter what its ultimate form, does not remain a classic masterwork for decades. The student is advised not to attempt to emulate Veysey, usually with the phrase, "The best dissertation is a done dissertation."
Of the eight people in my cohort, two are finishing coursework this spring and moving on to the dissertation phase. Technically, they can't start dissertating until they pass their comps, which are in August, but I'm sure both that they will pass and that they'll start on their proposals this summer anyway. That leaves six of us in coursework, several more of whom will finish up in the fall. Only a very few of us will trail into the spring.
Both of the students who are finishing up coursework have topics that were chosen in close conjunction with their advisors, who will become their dissertation advisors as well. While any dissertation seems like a mound of work at this end, I don't think their topics are Veyseyian in scale - in fact one hopes to defend before 2007 is over.
I, on the other hand, am nowhere near that yet. In addition to one year of coursework remaining, I need to find a dissertation chair. My advisor cannot serve as my chair, although he will be on my committee. My chair must be someone in our department, and it is preferable if he or she is higher education focused; unfortunately, there is no one that fits that criteria that works in the disciplinary frame I have in mind. I suppose I could pick any old advisor and adopt a topic of theirs, but I actually have a program of research - admittedly in my head; there's no CV trail - and I recall advice from someone to think of your dissertation not as the end of your PhD but as start of your career.
Well, there's still time. In the interim, I have plenty to do on the Turducken Research Grid to make myself the person my elevator speech says I am.