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UNM dean’s picture book is actually a dissertation aid

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The dedication is as straightforward as the book itself: “To Diego, Zavier and Paloma. For getting the monkey off my back.”

AGUIRRE: Calls his work "a self-help book"

AGUIRRE: Calls his work “a self-help book”

Those dozen words by Tomás Aguirre, Ph.D., dean of students at the University of New Mexico, open his newly published work, “The Dissertation Monkey.”

Diego, Zavier and Paloma are his children.

“The Dissertation Monkey” looks just like a children’s book – large, friendly type; colorful sketches on every page; a sock monkey in all but one of its 16 illustrations.

But, in Aguirre’s words, “It’s a book that can help other people going through the dissertation process, a self-help book, not really a kids’ book.”

He decided to write the book while he was laboring over his own dissertation at the University of Southern California. It wasn’t just him who was struggling, he explains. His entire family – wife Cara and their three children – all had to sacrifice.

The Aguirre children, holding sock monkeys, from left, Zavier, Paloma and Diego. Without their support, their dad might not be Tomás Aguirre, Ph.D., today. (Courtesy of TomÀS Aguirre)

The Aguirre children, holding sock monkeys, from left, Zavier, Paloma and Diego. Without their support, their dad might not be Tomás Aguirre, Ph.D., today. (Courtesy of Tomás Aguirre)

One day, his then-6-year-old son, Diego, saw Aguirre screaming at his computer screen, “I’ve gotta get this monkey off my back!” The next day, the boy gave his dad his sock monkey, with a simple message taped to its chest: “Dissertation.”

“The Dissertation Monkey” was illustrated by Ian Stewart, a student at Humboldt State University in Northern California where Aguirre worked as associate dean of students, the place where he “finally finished” his dissertation – and got the monkey off his back. The book about it was published by Amazon just this month.

During his post graduate education – he already had earned a master’s degree from USC – Aguirre took a short break for a stint in the Navy, “just to get it together,” he says. He was a first generation university student from a fairly large family in El Paso and decided to write his dissertation on “Equity Gaps in Higher Education.” It’s a problem that exists everywhere in the United States, he says.

The book opens with a drawing of his son’s sock monkey with “Dissertation” taped to its chest. A few pages later, it explains that “a doctoral student must take a lot of classes and pass a qualifying exam.” The words are accompanied by drawings of a doctoral student who bears an uncanny resemblance to Aguirre – except for the jet black head of hair. (Aguirre’s is snow white.)

The final page of the book is a delightful color photo of the Aguirre children, each holding a sock monkey.

Aguirre confides that, for him, “school was never easy.” He was even diagnosed with a slight case of ADD – attention deficit disorder – while working on his master’s degree.

“Some might find it amusing that, after completing my doctorate, my first publication would be a picture book,” he writes under “About the Author.”

“Too often in life, our dreams remain unfulfilled because we don’t have the time or support to make them happen. My dream to earn a doctorate was only made possible by my family’s love and support, and this book is their story.”