In a recent post, I outlined some radical changes in the way that we should teach students and structure higher education. My propositions centered on privatizing everything university related -- including outsourcing student writing -- and I held up PhD-Dissertations.com as a shining example of how to do this.
Some people who responded to me didn't quite get the gag, so I'll make it clear: Just kidding. However, I'm not yet ready to let the joke die, so I wanted to see what would happen if I hired a "research assistance company" to write my modest proposal for me.
Because the site is densely packed with caps-laden, far-fetched, and unintentionally ironic claims, at first I thought it was an elaborate hoax, not a real service. "Our staff of over 150 contracted professionals can research ANY doctoral-level topic, of ANY length, for almost ANY delivery date," claims PhD-Dissertations.com.
"For urgent research orders, we assign writers who have perfected the art of 'speed reading.' These professionals can read, and fully comprehend, a lengthy text in a matter of hours." This is my absolute favorite, coming from a company that specializes in doing other people's work: "The key to research is ORIGINALITY."
As a cautious consumer, I wanted to evaluate other research assistance companies, so I naturally checked what PhD-Dissertations.com said about its competition. Here's a partial list of reasons why we "MUST AVOID all foreign sites, subscription sites, membership sites, free sites, and database sites":
1. AVOID any site that provides you with a FAX number beginning with "775" (775-242-6880, 775-599-4716, 775-667-6755, 775-720-0593, etc.; a notoriously fraudulent, Pakistani operation owns dozens of different sites and dozens of different FAX numbers that begin with the digits "775.")
2. Suspiciously low prices - (Obvious sign of a foreign company!)
10. Fake customer testimonials or pictures - (They must think you are a fool.)
12. Fake awards - (Again, completely fraudulent!)
20. "Register" - (They see you as a walking "cash register"--don't fall for it.)
PhD-Dissertations.com offers heavy helping of paranoia peppered with xenophobia. "Sites that charge less than $17.00/page are more than likely NOT based in the United States, and blatantly LIE about their writers' skills, capabilities, and experience," the site claims.
PhD-Dissertations.com -- which clearly stands on the highest of moral grounds -- concludes by asking us, "you don't want a Pakistani teenager attempting to complete YOUR order, do you?"
Their foreign writers are nowhere near master- or doctoral-level in American standards, and often have absolutely no grasp of proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, or any other standard writing guidelines in the English language.
I discovered that foreigners are a hot topic in the small, bizarre world that is the American research assistance industry. Plenty of other U.S.-based companies believe that barbarians are charging the gates of our ivory towers, lowering standards. SparrowPapers.com asks,
How can any business produce, say, 240 hours of research for $15 per page? ... This would mean they pay their researchers $3 per hour. Nowhere in America are those wages acceptable. If a service seems too inexpensive to be real, it means the work is being performed in Pakistan, India, or the Philippines.
Ultimately, I decided to go with PhD-Dissertations.com because they claimed to be the most trustworthy -- going so far as providing random statistics to prove it. "Since 1998, PhD-Dissertations.com's affiliated corporation has maintained a 98% positive satisfaction ratio"; "It is a known FACT that over 94% of 'dissertation' and 'thesis' services steal sources and plagiarize text... However, PhD-Dissertations.com is part of the legitimate 6%"; and, last but not least: "Unlike our deceptive competitors who claim to write 'unique' dissertations, we never resell or publish dissertations."
After thirty days, and $17 per page, the company sent me a research proposal authored by "Username: prof_voland," who used the title I suggested: A White Paper on the Benefits of "Research Assistance" Companies: Toward the Privatization of Learning, the Creation of New Education Markets, and the Streamlining of Research Methods.
Given the company's vigorous, pro-American defense of proper English writing skills, I had high hopes for the written product. So I was amused to find that prof_voland's lead sentence for the white paper was -- wait for it -- "In the current economic development of the world has very varying signs as to the possible future trends of its development."
Whaaa??? Here are some other logically- and grammatically-challenged quotes from prof_voland's paper:
1. The growth of the quality of such services is the social benefit from privatization of the establishments, while net financial gain by each graduate as sum of higher salary achievable after better education, is the net financial gain to each customer of privatized educational establishment.
2. Economic and social affect of neo-liberalism approach to educational system development must be studied in order to draw conclusions as to the nature of this affect.
3. Example of such supply is appearance of numerous research assistance companies often outsourcing researchers from developing countries who can not actively participate in the world labour division process.
In light of prof_voland's prose, it's hard to buy Phd-Dissertations.com's claim that they only employ native English speakers with advanced degrees and other professional experience. (The company's contracted labor pool supposedly includes active magazine editors, retired professors, and, shockingly, doctoral candidates who have already earned M.A. degrees.)
I personally couldn't imagine a worse hell than being in grad school and having to write someone else's thesis or dissertation. But given that the academic job market has been collapsing in recent years, this may be the only realistic career option available for today's Ph.D. students.