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How-To: Write your doctoral thesis

By Joh3n in Culture
Wed May 12, 2004 at 12:27:37 PM EST
Tags: Humour (all tags)

In the event you accidentally find yourself a graduate student in an institution which grants the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, you will, at some point, be forced to write your doctoral thesis.

Here's how to do it.

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HOKAY, SO:  You've been a slave for untold years.  You want to enter the glamorous world where you can be pretentious and have people call you doctor.  You want to have a silly hat and a cape.  But to reach these goals, you need to produce a doctoral thesis.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'doctoral thesis' as:  A completely worthless document that will not be read, but which is apparently important to someone, because it requires nearly impossible tasks to complete.  This definition is spot on.  Not a single person, aside from possibly (but not likely) your committee will read this pile of tripe that you create.  But many, many things will happen to it.  And you.

Step Zero:  Pain.  The design, construction, and implementation of such a worthless document requires time.  Less time than you think, but more time than you have.  Unfortunately, this means you will have to give up some of the finer things in life.  Food, sleep, bathing, websurfing, and civility towards other humans are nice, but simply are not within the scope of a thesis writer.  You must give them up.  It will hurt, but you must.  Loved ones will forgive you, since they will be deluded into believing that after the process is complete, you will have a sense of achievement, and more earning potential.  They are wrong, but their misguided justifications for still loving you will last just long enough to get it done.

Step One:  Do Stuff.  In all likelihood, you have been a student for a long time.  Sometimes, on very rare occasions, you actually did research.  Think back.  Nestled in the years spent terrorizing your office-mate(s), drinking coffee, eating horrible food, playing video games, and surfing the internet, you must have done something which constituted research.  Find that stuff.  A good place to look is all the papers that were written, apparently by you (et al.).  Pilfer them for all that it's worth.  Make a note that if you change just a few things from those papers (try commas and semi-colons first, they're easy), you dont have to fill out nasty copyright forms.  Don't be tempted to do new stuff.  You simply do not have the time for that.

Step Two:  Do More Stuff.  Now that you have used the wonders of 'cut-n-paste', you may be forced to make them coherent.  Don't worry, this is simple.  Use chapters liberally.  Also throw in words like, 'a full treatment of $ISSUE was given by $AUTHOR et al.'  Take some of the tables you had, and split them into more tables.  See?  Now you have LOTS more pages than before.  Make sure to add lots of papers to your bibliography, since that looks like you have read stuff, even though you haven't.  If you are plotting data, make sure to 'visualize' the same data in at least 5 ways, since it's one plot per page.  After you take all these steps, you should have at least 100 pages worth, and you are ready to proceed.

Step Three:  Look Professional.  Nothing says quality like a table of contents, a table of figures, and a table of tables.  Even better, these things add bloat, and bloat is good.  Throw in a signature page, a copyright page, a vita, and some acknowledgements, and you are really hitting your stride.  The acknowledgements page is important, since this is the last time you will have to suck up to your advisor, unless of course you plan on ever going anywhere after the thesis is written.

Step Four:  Act Cool.  In the thesis, you can have a quote for the thesis, and oftentimes, quotes for each chapter.  Quotes give you a chance to look witty.  You aren't, but hey, delusions of grandeur are fun.  Believe for just one second that noone else ever thought that one quote by Einstein was really good, or that putting something in by Homer Simpson shows flair.  And remember, quotes take up real estate on the page, which is always good.  Moreover, you can use funky things like italics and indentation, which makes you look like a pro.

Step Five:  Add it Up.  You should now have everything in place.  Don't bother spell-checking, since it wont be read anyway.  Print out every page.  All told, the output should be about an inch thick.  If this is the case, you are well on your way to success in this quest.  If not, split up a few more tables, and add some more graphs.  Consider an appendix of worthless tables, as it adds girth.  Go ahead and print it out a second time.  There is no reason to do this, but it will make you feel better.

Step Six:  Send it out.  Find each member of your thesis committee (you did remember to get one of those, didn't you?), and go by their office with a copy of the draft.  Consider having it bound, since this makes it look better, and they will believe it must be good, and thus not worth even skimming (and requiring change).  In most cases, they will not be in their office, because the stench down the hall from your cubicle has informed them that you are writing the thesis, and will be finding them soon.  Remember, they had to do this too, and old wounds run deep.  Be like the ninja.  You will need your strength for the next step.

Step Seven:  Do the Impossible.  Once you have cornered your prey (committee member), float out the ideas you have had for a defense date.  Note:  whatever day you choose will be too early, since they will claim, falsely, that they have to read the thesis through.  Be strong.  Make up something about wanting to be at commencement.  Claim that your parents are visiting for the defense.  Lie through your teeth.  You will have to repeat this process for each of the committee members.  It is a well known fact that the three body problem of celestial mechanics has no solution.  For you, it is worse:  you must get five professors to be in the same room, at the same time, and with as little animosity towards you as possible.  Hint that free booze will be offered post-defense.

Step Eight:  Fear the Ruler.  It should come as no suprise that institutions like universities actually pay someone good money to sit down with a ruler and make sure that the strict and completely stupid rules of margins be obeyed with your document.  These people exist because univerisities take a copy of your thesis and stick it in the library, where it will rot, unread, until the heat death of the universe.  Nevertheless, you must obey the rules.  You will delude yourself into believing that silly things like margins can be fixed after everything else is done, but you are wrong, since when that time comes, you have no time left.  All that bloat you added in the form of tables and figures will make havoc with margins.  All those witty quotes will make things run just a few points too wide.  And they will find all of it.  On every page.  Budget at least 4 days for cursing, and a few more days to fix these problems.  Budget at least one more for sacrifice to the gods of 'maybe the librarian will just flick through it and not notice.'  Budget 5 more to realize that all the prayer in the world is meaningless in the face of hundreds of years of anal-retentive bureaucracy.

Step Nine:  Wait.  Arguably, this is the hardest part.  If you have done your job properly and deceived everyone involved, you will wait through the time until your defense firmly ensconced in the belief that no changes will be needed.  You are wrong, but it's a nice thought to have.  Make the changes without question.  It makes the committee feel important, and it breaks that last bit of will you have.  Suck it up, it's almost over.

Step Ten:  I have to do what?  You might think that the culmination of many years of pain, and many weeks of thesis writing would be a sense of accomplishment, and euphoria.  You are dead wrong.  What you have neglected is the paperwork.  Universities, by design, thrive on endless piles of paperwork to prove that you were, in fact, there.  They thrive even more on paperwork to let you leave.  Find the forms you will need.  Fill them out, and turn them in.  Think you are done.  Be wrong, and get the other forms they forgot to tell you about.  Fill them out too.  Entertain thoughts of killing the chancellor of the university when you find out that you need a few more forms.  Don't act on these thoughts, just fill out the forms.  Pay the university whatever it is it costs to process your PhD.  Then pay them the fees for the library. The people taking your money will laugh and say 'sure it costs a lot, but hey, you'll have a PhD, you can afford it soon!'.  Don't strangle them with the phone cord, it's the only joke they have.

If you follow these steps, you are sure to succeed.  Whether or not you succeed in writing a thesis is up to debate, but I'm sure you'll succeed at something.

Oh, and by the way, don't forget to write your dissertation defense presentation.....


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How-To: Write your doctoral thesis | 98 comments (94 topical, 4 editorial, 1 hidden)
step eleven: (2.35 / 14) (#2)
by circletimessquare on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:32:53 AM EST

stop procrastinating on kuro5hin

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Step twelve (2.42 / 7) (#3)
by kjb on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:33:50 AM EST


Now watch this drive.
[ Parent ]

Step 13 (2.60 / 10) (#4)
by Joh3n on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:35:13 AM EST

Don't profit.  It's not like the degree means anything anyway.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
I dout this (none / 0) (#18)
by Phil San on Wed May 12, 2004 at 12:58:00 PM EST

Don't profit. It's not like the degree means anything anyway.

Maybe to you it wouldn't I find that earning an education makes something worth doing.

Of course if you're one of those deluded science majors than, concievably this would work. Anything that requires brain power takes more work and means more.

[ Parent ]

Step thirteen (2.85 / 7) (#5)
by enterfornone on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:35:18 AM EST


efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
I always thought step 12 was NyQuil (n/t) (none / 2) (#23)
by RevLoveJoy on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:03:06 PM EST

no test?

Every political force in the U.S. that seeks to get past the Constitution by sophistry or technicality is little more than a wannabe king. -- pyro9
[ Parent ]

s/stop/start/ (2.57 / 7) (#12)
by pwhysall on Wed May 12, 2004 at 07:02:37 AM EST

K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
[ Parent ]
damn this is good! :) (1.12 / 8) (#7)
by dimaq on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:37:56 AM EST

Three things (2.83 / 12) (#8)
by GenerationY on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:45:11 AM EST

  1. Acknowldgements page. Everyone deserves a Gwyneth Paltrow moment every three or four years. Crafting this so as not to offend anyone is easily the hardest part (thank signficant other or Superviser first? mates down the pub vs. colleague who helped you but you don't honestly have much time for otherwise etc etc.)
  2. Read Piled High and Deeper .  
  3. Have nervous breakdown. Season with depression and mania to taste. Serious advice: Do not try to write 80k coherent words in 5 weeks. Its doable, but it will require illicit drugs, which in turn  will hurt your mind.
  4. [For USAians: spend years and years doing other stuff before hand. WTF is that about anyway? Consider coming to sunny Europe and just getting on with it already. Every year you are bleeding cash that you'll never make up afterward.]
NB. I didn't study mathematics.

Piled Higher And Deeper (2.83 / 6) (#9)
by Joh3n on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:49:33 AM EST

Should be mandatory reading for all.  As for the nervous breakdown, I reccommend at least 3.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
My version: (2.66 / 9) (#11)
by alby on Wed May 12, 2004 at 06:01:26 AM EST

  1. Spend ages researching.
  2. Realise data is utter cack.
  3. Have emminent tutor tell you to fabricate data.
  4. Profit!

[ Parent ]

(3) is rather worrying <nt> (2.75 / 4) (#13)
by GenerationY on Wed May 12, 2004 at 07:34:15 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Studying physics ... (none / 3) (#25)
by alby on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:13:31 PM EST

... was easy with my tutor. He just wanted me to leave him alone so he could get on with his research. From what I hear that's what pretty much all the tutors were like.

[ Parent ]

PhD (none / 0) (#86)
by Filip on Fri May 14, 2004 at 09:41:35 AM EST

Thanks A Lot!

Now I have spent 3 days procrastinating, reading the entire PhD archive...
-- I'm just a figment of your imagination.
[ Parent ]

acknowledgements is easy (none / 0) (#98)
by livus on Fri Jun 04, 2004 at 05:40:20 AM EST

read the style guide definitions which explain the difference between acknowledgements and thanks, and it will all become crystal clear.

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
the pain! the pain! (2.42 / 7) (#10)
by polyglot on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:56:31 AM EST

"There is no God and Dirac is his prophet"
     -- Wolfgang Pauli
I like this +1 (not front page) (1.30 / 10) (#14)
by lukme on Wed May 12, 2004 at 09:19:17 AM EST

since it is not of general interest (most people here are not in graduate school). However it is very timely.

It's awfully hard to fly with eagles when you're a turkey.
Right On! (2.88 / 9) (#17)
by The Solitaire on Wed May 12, 2004 at 11:45:15 AM EST

Maybe now that I have this handy-dandy step-by-step guide I'll actually get my thesis done! I should get back to work... right after reading the rest of the fascinating articles in the queue.

Now... which step was I on again? Oh yeah.. step 2. Grr. Maybe I'll take a nap first.

I need a new sig.

Just a word of notice (2.07 / 14) (#19)
by Phil San on Wed May 12, 2004 at 01:08:19 PM EST

I know that most people are idiots, but let's be truthful here, if you think that badly about your education than just don't waste your time there.

Personally *I* read theses/dissertations and have a small collection of a few reproductions through a number of dissementation services.

Actually there's something quite liberating about something that doesn't have to be written to be profitable to be published.

If your degree isn't profitable than maybe you aren't profitable.

Just a different word of notice (2.81 / 11) (#21)
by Joh3n on Wed May 12, 2004 at 01:24:18 PM EST

The article was submitted as 'humor'.  I'm well aware of what my degree is worth, and that theses get read.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
Humor? (none / 3) (#39)
by grouse on Wed May 12, 2004 at 08:11:04 PM EST

The article was submitted as 'humor'. I'm well aware... that theses get read. Hahahaha. Good one.

You sad bastard!

"Grouse please don't take this the wrong way... To be quite frank, you are throwing my inner Chi out of its harmonious balance with nature." -- Tex Bigballs
[ Parent ]

when i get my undergraduate diploma (2.71 / 7) (#22)
by bloodnose on Wed May 12, 2004 at 01:36:10 PM EST

i will soak it in lighter fluid, gather a keg party congregation, start the video recorder, and burn the bastard child of my sweaty brain-meat loins. (i can always order another copy if i actually need it.)

ok. i'm ready to read the article now.

write it in LaTex (2.86 / 15) (#24)
by modmans2ndcoming on Wed May 12, 2004 at 02:08:37 PM EST

it makes formatting a non issue.

I did my Master's Thesis in LaTeX (3.00 / 3) (#26)
by rustv on Wed May 12, 2004 at 03:26:36 PM EST

and the hell it saved me in formatting the body of the paper was compensated by the hell I went through getting the "special pages" right, even though I used an existing template from my own University!!

Even then, I still had to reprint some pages because the printer grabbed them a little off center.... but that's life.

"Don't tase me, bro." --Andrew Meyer
[ Parent ]

oh yes (3.00 / 4) (#30)
by Joh3n on Wed May 12, 2004 at 04:35:29 PM EST

The university supplied style files are horrendous.  9 times out of 10, you will use some bastard son of frankenstein .sty file handed down in hushed tones through the ages by the poor sods who came before you.

And it still wont work.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]

see, to me, special pages are easier to do in Word (3.00 / 5) (#53)
by modmans2ndcoming on Thu May 13, 2004 at 11:42:27 AM EST

so I do them in word.

it is the main body that is a pain in the ass and can crash word.

[ Parent ]

Wow! Why didn't I think of that? (none / 3) (#55)
by rustv on Thu May 13, 2004 at 12:35:21 PM EST

That's a great solution that I unfortunately didn't think of... I guess the silver lining for me is that after I fixed the LaTeX template, I was able to share it with my friends, and they didn't have to do any of the extra work. Funny... it didn't occur to me to send the template back to the University.  Oh well.

"Don't tase me, bro." --Andrew Meyer
[ Parent ]
and the cycle continues (none / 3) (#76)
by modmans2ndcoming on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:10:15 AM EST

for another generation :-)

[ Parent ]
apparently ... (none / 2) (#27)
by wastl on Wed May 12, 2004 at 03:43:40 PM EST

... you are not writing a PhD thesis. Formatting is still a huge issue in Latex, but at least it is possible (compared to products of a certain big company).

I've just spent the last two days on squeezing a 19-page article to 15 pages in Latex. With every \vspace{-.5ex}, my heart bleeds, but I can't help it. Obviously, there are no page restrictions on a PhD thesis, but there are other constraints (like page margins, the form of citation, etc) that need to be taken into account.


[ Parent ]

I had considered (none / 2) (#28)
by Joh3n on Wed May 12, 2004 at 03:58:37 PM EST

an entire 'step' devoted to the joys of the 'overfull hbox' error in LaTex, but considered it to technical.  I did write it in LaTeX, and it can still be a horrible mess.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
Er... (none / 3) (#29)
by James A C Joyce on Wed May 12, 2004 at 04:22:16 PM EST

...for someone who's done a doctoral thesis in LaTeX, you seem ignorant. "Overfull hbox" isn't an error, it's just a warning that LaTeX did some potentially fucked up justification.

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

I have never contested (2.83 / 6) (#32)
by Joh3n on Wed May 12, 2004 at 04:47:10 PM EST

my ignorance.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
Unfortunately... (none / 3) (#43)
by The Solitaire on Wed May 12, 2004 at 11:01:53 PM EST

... screwed up formatting is a big no-no when you're writing up a thesis. The universities really are positively anal about everything being just so. If you have an overfull hbox, it's possible something is sticking out past the right margin. So, basically you gotta fix 'em.

I need a new sig.
[ Parent ]

You make the assumption... (2.75 / 4) (#45)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Thu May 13, 2004 at 09:56:10 AM EST

... that someone who has done their doctoral thesis in LaTeX is knowledgeable. Funny, I took you for a cynic.

Must have overestimated you.

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]

that is what you get (none / 2) (#51)
by modmans2ndcoming on Thu May 13, 2004 at 11:40:11 AM EST

for trying to fuck with LaTex's formating.

[ Parent ]
So who's gonna write ... (none / 3) (#85)
by alby on Fri May 14, 2004 at 08:48:39 AM EST

... "The LaTeX Story" then?

[ Parent ]

Real programmers (none / 3) (#31)
by Phillip Asheo on Wed May 12, 2004 at 04:39:30 PM EST

use [nt]roff.

"Never say what you can grunt. Never grunt what you can wink. Never wink what you can nod, never nod what you can shrug, and don't shrug when it ain't necessary"
-Earl Long
[ Parent ]

1977 called. (2.83 / 12) (#34)
by James A C Joyce on Wed May 12, 2004 at 05:01:36 PM EST

It wants its document preparation system back.

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

It wasn't broken (2.75 / 4) (#35)
by Phillip Asheo on Wed May 12, 2004 at 05:24:51 PM EST

And LaTex didn't fix it.

What's wrong with SGML anyway ?

"Never say what you can grunt. Never grunt what you can wink. Never wink what you can nod, never nod what you can shrug, and don't shrug when it ain't necessary"
-Earl Long
[ Parent ]

There's nothing wrong with SGML. (3.00 / 4) (#38)
by James A C Joyce on Wed May 12, 2004 at 06:11:58 PM EST

It's just that LaTeX is more flexible and nothing significant uses roff nowadays except man. And man sucks anyhow.

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

Would anyone suggest *not* writing in LaTeX? (none / 3) (#42)
by gmol on Wed May 12, 2004 at 09:02:04 PM EST

Honestly, did anyone try and decided that it was way easier to do it in MS Word?

I am on the LaTeX side myself, more for the fact that I spend most time in Unix doing things, its' just easier for me to write documents this way, and they look good at the end. But MS continues to improve Word, I wouldn't be surprised if it one day if it was better.

P.S. Using Sixpack and Lyx together makes life grand.

[ Parent ]

I just used Word (none / 1) (#49)
by GenerationY on Thu May 13, 2004 at 10:56:50 AM EST

Umm. Not sure if its appropriate to embarassed about this or not. Depends what you need I guess; I expect Latex is far better if your work is primarily mathematical(?).

[ Parent ]
No, you can use it for anything (2.80 / 5) (#50)
by modmans2ndcoming on Thu May 13, 2004 at 11:38:12 AM EST

in fact, the less complicated the document, the easier it is.

you took a risk with word since it chokes after about 50 pages in one file.

[ Parent ]

It was fine for me (none / 2) (#52)
by GenerationY on Thu May 13, 2004 at 11:41:51 AM EST

it was about 80K words. A little slow when I finally compiled the whole document (lots of graphs and so on though), but it never died on me. I wrote it a chapter to a file and then stitched it together for the Big Print.

[ Parent ]
right, that is the work around (none / 2) (#78)
by modmans2ndcoming on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:12:38 AM EST

people that write their papers in word have to take that tactic.

there is a slashdot story on LaTex, they talk about word in great length.

[ Parent ]

Used to be like that...but not anymore (none / 2) (#64)
by gmol on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:40:56 PM EST

I recall Word completely sucking ass is HS, corrupted files, messed up formatting you couldn't fix etc. etc.

But I think it is a lot like the old windows, MSVC++ myths. Both of those products are debatably superior to the open source alternative. My windows box hasn't crashed on me since I can remember, and certain things are just plain easier.

[ Parent ]

it still will crash at a certain point (none / 1) (#77)
by modmans2ndcoming on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:11:21 AM EST

word is not as robust as plain text.

[ Parent ]
In my case (none / 1) (#57)
by Joh3n on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:02:23 PM EST

There word many tables, figures, and equations.  All of which Word makes look like ass.  
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
eep (none / 0) (#58)
by Joh3n on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:02:48 PM EST

that should read 'there were'
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
Equations (none / 2) (#84)
by alby on Fri May 14, 2004 at 08:47:04 AM EST

No doubt equations are easier (and "better") in LaTeX (once you've understood the language).

[ Parent ]

Yep. (none / 2) (#83)
by alby on Fri May 14, 2004 at 08:39:52 AM EST

I wrote my entire second year project ("Quantum Computing and Cryptanalysis") in Word. I don't know about the content but the presentation was SHIT HOT! LaTeX makes everything look more "professional" though, but you could easily get away with importing LaTeX's fonts into Word.

[ Parent ]

have you used LaTeX? (none / 2) (#66)
by Delirium on Thu May 13, 2004 at 04:51:26 PM EST

Formatting in LaTeX is a huge, annoying issue. Everything always comes out vaguely close to right, but never quite right. Whether it's refusing to linebreak properly so you get words in the margin, or all the figures floating towards the end of chapters (a well-known inadequacy in the float-placement algorithm), or any number of other issues, formatting any significant document in LaTeX always seems to require as much time spent on \vspace{}s and minipages and mboxes as it does on actually writing the damn thing.

[ Parent ]
you are not doing something right (none / 3) (#80)
by modmans2ndcoming on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:21:39 AM EST

because it should not be doing that. the commands you are passing are probably in appropriate for the situation.

[ Parent ]
Didn't use LaTeX (none / 2) (#67)
by digitalmedievalist on Thu May 13, 2004 at 05:10:33 PM EST

I'm a humanist, so my dissertation issues, aside from the usual (pleading with the committee, and formatting requirements from the school), were that I needed to include some non English characters (Classical Greek, Middle English, Old Irish, Medieval Welsh). Since all of them are in Unicode, I thought it made sense to use Unicode, and I found Junicode, a free Unicode font designed for medievalists. I had a hard time finding a Mac OS X word processor that supported Unicode fonts, MSWord didn't (though I hear the just released version does) so I looked at LaTeX. It's definitely something I'll come back to, especially the bibliographic stuff, but I'm using Mellel. It has a fairly short learning curve, I can afford it, and it seems to do all I need.

[ Parent ]
shudder (none / 2) (#68)
by horny smurf on Thu May 13, 2004 at 05:27:51 PM EST

I love the idea of LaTeX/Tex. Reality is, you'll just spend hours dicking around trying to get things to work (and look) like you want them to.

I do prefer TeX's typesetting (and CMR fonts) to most everything else though. It's a shame there isn't a better front end (and better programming language) for it.

[ Parent ]

it's called LyX (none / 3) (#73)
by polyglot on Thu May 13, 2004 at 10:47:23 PM EST

and it rocks. so says this grad student, anyway. Not that anyone else here seems to believe me.
"There is no God and Dirac is his prophet"
     -- Wolfgang Pauli
[ Parent ]
huh? (3.00 / 4) (#79)
by modmans2ndcoming on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:17:32 AM EST

umm, you tell it the document class and it knows how to format it for you.

if you are spending time tweaking and over riding the formating, then you need to write a class file for that document type to make the formating automatic, either that or you are trying to apply the Word Processing paradigm to LaTex which is bad.

[ Parent ]

Why latex is horribly broken (none / 2) (#87)
by iwnbap on Fri May 14, 2004 at 09:45:39 AM EST

begin{float} ...

Is the float here?  Is it there?  Is it really anywhere?  (No, it down the end of the stinking document because that's where the fucking fucking broken optimization algorithm stuck it.)

I want to write text like "as we see in Figure x above" and have some guarantee that Figure x is actually above where I typed it in.

And tell me why:

  • I can't stick verbatim text inside a float
  • When I load up xypic an prosper together I have to spend hours fart-arsing around to work out I need to type "pool_size=199082098 latex file.tex" rather than "latex file.tex"
  • Why the whole postscript thing feels like an ugly hack on the back, rather than the elegant mathod for typesetting that it is
  • etc.
(Back to the grind of vspacing a document to make the text and the inline figure it refers to appear on the same page ...)

[ Parent ]
Here's two tricks: (none / 1) (#91)
by glor on Fri May 14, 2004 at 07:48:30 PM EST

You don't have to use the float.  If you don't want LaTeX to place your figure for you, don't put it inside of a figure environment.  Just do your \includegraphics or whatever, followed by something like

Figure~\thefigure:  {caption}

if you want a caption.  When you get the caption to look right put it in a \newcommand and never think about it again.  If you don't want your object to float, don't put it  in the floating environment.

As far as the postscript being a hack goes, I've started using make, with this makefile:

%.ps : %.dvi
        dvips -t letter -P pdf $^
%.dvi : %.tex
        latex $^

which makes the ad-hockery of the second step less galling.

I've never encountered the other problems, sorry.

Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

The whole idea of LaTeX ... (none / 2) (#82)
by alby on Fri May 14, 2004 at 08:36:27 AM EST

... is that none of this is required. Just type, let LaTeX format for you. If you're looking for a front end LyX and MikTeX are alright.

[ Parent ]

"Hokay, so" (2.33 / 6) (#33)
by James A C Joyce on Wed May 12, 2004 at 05:01:00 PM EST

Did you steal that intro from The End of the World?

I bought this account on eBay

yes (3.00 / 5) (#36)
by Joh3n on Wed May 12, 2004 at 06:01:24 PM EST

Unfortunately, that little phrase has infested my brain at a basal level, and tends to propogate far too much of my discourse.

Fucking kangaroos.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]

Though so. [nt] (none / 2) (#37)
by James A C Joyce on Wed May 12, 2004 at 06:11:14 PM EST

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

Get 'friends' on your commitee (3.00 / 10) (#40)
by gmol on Wed May 12, 2004 at 08:46:25 PM EST

I think I can classify departments into two types, with relevance to doctoral comitees:

1)Departments which don't require a lot of funding(like math and some humanities) and/or departments which are smaller and not very famous.

These types of departments tend to be more "hardcore". They fail their own students and give them comps from hell. The graduate courses are extremely difficult (not because they should be, rather because they are not being taught well), and often invovle a lot of furious note-taking. The work they do is usually pretty good though, although generally never 'hyped' into big journals.

2)Departments which need a lot of funding (like say chemistry) and big instruments. The faculty members in these departments form little clubs and generally get into big ciricle jerks over each other's work. It is generally in all faculty members interest to praise students, as long as the work is technically competant, and generally never question the underlying importance of the work. These kinds of departments spend a lot of time putting up a lot of smoke and mirrors to justify their existance. IMHO the most well known instance might be the MIT media lab.

If you are from a department like 2), picking your commitee so it would not be in any of the members' interest to give you a terribly hard time is a good idea. Yes in a perfect world, your comittee members would only have purely academic interests at heart, but their interests are not always so virtuous and yours probably aren't either.

This is not to say that extraordinary work does not come out of either of these types of institutes (indeed, it generally does) but I am referring to their respective modes of operation.

I liken the dichotomy to Indian children learning their multiplaction tables to 10000343, and the American children have a much 'softer' education.  In the end the Americans are the ones without severe poverty, clean water, and decent living conditions (although there are smart children from both countries).

Some people say that bigger better institutes get better students (thus they get failed less), but I don't buy it.

errata (none / 2) (#41)
by gmol on Wed May 12, 2004 at 08:49:29 PM EST

I meant to say

 Americans are the ones without severe poverty, and with clean water, military power and decent living conditions (although there are smart children from both countries).

[ Parent ]
I used to think (2.75 / 4) (#48)
by demi on Thu May 13, 2004 at 10:55:24 AM EST

...that it had more to do with demand for grad students, i.e., the cheap labor required to teach basic courses. But the I realized that math and english T.A.'s are usually needed just as much as chemistry T.A.'s, or more, yet their stipends, level of respect and self-confidence, and overall quality of life are horribly mismatched.

While you're correct that a grad student from a small department that gets most of its modest amount of funding from the university and misc. benefactors will often have to endure a hellish and unfair committee experience, it can just as often be the exact opposite. In chemistry and some of the other sciences the "requirements" for a PhD are a bit more standardized from place to place than in the humanities (probably due to the fact that science faculties are so utterly monolithic in their academic backgrounds). Some small departments will pass their favorite students no matter what kind of shenanigans get pulled, because the departments are less formal and less reliant on tradition.

[ Parent ]

cheap labor indeed (none / 3) (#65)
by Gumpzilla on Thu May 13, 2004 at 02:01:18 PM EST

I think that if the main purpose of hard science grad students was teaching, they, too, would get paid about the same amount as everybody else. However, in a lot of labs - experimental ones, in particular - the grad students again serve as cheap labor, and this labor is the REAL point of bringing in the grad students. The faculty need their time to write grant proposals, so you get to go spend several hours aligning the cavity for your laser, for example. While it's nice to have students doing research under you in, say, English, I don't think there's anywhere near the same need for them.

As a separate issue, one could discuss the overall economic viability of different degrees. There are more roads for a physics Ph.D. to take, in my opinion, than an English Ph.D. I haven't quite worked up the nerve to go down this road with one of the types who pushes for grad student unionization, but maybe I should some time.

[ Parent ]
hmm (none / 3) (#69)
by Battle Troll on Thu May 13, 2004 at 07:54:20 PM EST

There are more roads for a physics Ph.D. to take, in my opinion, than an English Ph.D.

Mostly because the main skills acquired by many English PhDs are mainly useful for being an English PhD (or faculty member.) I was shocked, shocked, when I realized that English Lit. PhDs often don't read outside their research area.
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

Can you elaborate a little (3.00 / 6) (#54)
by GenerationY on Thu May 13, 2004 at 12:27:40 PM EST

on the 'commitee' system?

In the UK we have a different approach; basically a viva (verbal examination, typically lasting a few hours) with an internal examiner (not your supervier or a close colleague) and a chosen external examiner (an expert in your field). A senior member of staff will be on hand to chair the viva, but typically won't do much more than bring you tea and biscuits at half time. They are only there in case it gets a little rough. Your superviser won't be in the room, thats for sure. Technically, the viva can be silently witnessed by other interested parties, but I've never heard of it actually happening.

In Australia I understand they don't even have the face-to-face aspect, but communicate by mail (a bit like a journal paper and referees).

[ Parent ]

In the U.S. (3.00 / 5) (#59)
by Joh3n on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:07:00 PM EST

There is typically a 5 person committee, with your advisor as the chair.  Typically, 2 members of the committee must be from outside your department.  The thesis is given to them some time before the exam.  In principle, they read it (ha!), and request changes, which (ha!) you make.

On the defense date (defense==viva), you give a presentation of your thesis to the committee and anyone else who wants to show up.  After its done (typically an hour), everyone must leave except you and the committee.  I assume magic happens here, since noone ever says what occurs in this time period (actually, it's for more questions from the committee).  Then the poor sod of a student leaves, and the committee deliberates.  I assume they do so via runes and sacrifice.  When they are done (if you pass), they sign off on the thesis, and you get drunk.  If you do not pass, you still get drunk.  Even more so then had you passed.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]

Sounds very similar then (none / 3) (#62)
by GenerationY on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:22:07 PM EST

only with more people but with the superviser in the room (I guess it balances things out?). In a UK one it is the rule that if you are listed as an employee of the university (as opposed to normal grant supported post-grad) you have two internal examiners as well as the external. I think the idea is that if you've worked there for years (decades even) you might know everyone quite well, so having two people there mitigates slightly the familiarity aspect. My friend had one of these and it just seemed that they just each spoke half as much as a typical internal would.

In the UK viva its not expected that you give a presentation (esp. not of the Powerpoint/OHP kind) but theres not a chance in the world that the first question won't be to describe your research in general terms (or they may make you do it chapter by chapter; it depends). Then the nit-picking commences!

And absolutely on inevitable alcholic aftermath!

[ Parent ]

the aftermath (2.75 / 4) (#63)
by Joh3n on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:38:32 PM EST

is what I look forward to the most.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
thesis defense (none / 2) (#74)
by lamarck on Thu May 13, 2004 at 11:11:38 PM EST

In my experience, in the US, in any department worth anything, the public thesis defense and the closed session that follows are largely formalities. You will be expected to give a coherent presentation and answer some tough questions, but you'll have presented your work in other forums so that won't be anything new. I supposed you could screw up so monumentally that the committee fails you, but in general if you are giving a public defense that advance degree is pretty much yours. The hard work is getting your committee to approve the written thesis, and they will not approve it until they think it is defensible. Getting committee approval can be extended rewrite hell, but once they have signed off on the version you'll defend, you are largely home free. If your committee believes your work is insufficient for an advanced degree, or that you are simply not qualified, they should never let you defend publicly.

I've heard of a few true creeping horrors where qualified candidates got used as proxies in some arcane department feud. In this case you either replace committee members, or just give up.

[ Parent ]

That is slightly different (none / 3) (#88)
by GenerationY on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:27:50 PM EST

Its quite possible to fail a viva in the UK. Now, obviously the superviser should never put a student through if they think they will fail. But it does happen sometimes, for disparate reasons like the student has falled out with the superviser and insists on going it alone, or whatever. I think its fair to say the viva is not seen as a formality; a bad performance can blow the whole thing even if the writing is good (suspicions you didn't do all the work as independently as you should have may arise) and a good performance can sometimes save a borderline thesis. I personally know someone who failed as in (5) in the below list:

It kind of works out thus (from great to awful):

  1. Pass without corrections
  2. Pass with minor corrections (This is what the majority of people get, typos and the odd sentence adding/removing usually)
  3. Fail with major corrections (probably you need to completely rewrite/add chapters, possibly even do some more experiments for control/validity purposes)
  4. Fail (MPhil is sometimes awarded here, no opportunity for resubmission)
  5. Fail (not even up to MPhil standard, no opportunity for resubmission)

[ Parent ]
Actually, having thought about it (none / 1) (#89)
by GenerationY on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:34:41 PM EST

In one year I saw people from the same department get all those results. Pass with minor corrections was by far the most common though.

[ Parent ]
In Australia... (none / 3) (#95)
by Aemeth on Mon May 17, 2004 at 09:41:43 PM EST

... we indeed have no thesis defense. We simply write the thesis, and it is marked by a panel of (usually) at least three academics with knowledge of the field. It can then be passed, recommended for passing after some changes, or outright failed. The markers all work independently (in theory), and your supervisor is not allowed to mark it, though you do get to nominate at least one of the markers usually. Of course the rules change mildly depending on what exact university you're at (especially for private ones).

...mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.
Bertrand Russell

[ Parent ]
private university? (2.50 / 4) (#96)
by pde on Tue May 18, 2004 at 03:04:00 AM EST

especially for private ones

I don't understand how you have a plural for Australia's single private university. There are other things which call themselves private "universities", but they don't hand out PhDs :).

Visit Computerbank, a GNU/Linux based charity
[ Parent ]

Apologies (none / 1) (#97)
by Aemeth on Tue May 25, 2004 at 10:30:23 PM EST

I was under the impression that some of the others did have research programs (perhaps not PhDs) that used similar assessment rules.

...mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.
Bertrand Russell

[ Parent ]
Reenactment of the preparation you forgot (2.95 / 24) (#46)
by K5 ASCII reenactment players on Thu May 13, 2004 at 10:21:11 AM EST

      /\     And would you like
     |  \_   fries with that,
     |____|  bourgeoise pig?
      O-O-) /
     /_   |
       =  |
      \#_/ \
     /      \
    /  KFC   \

Love the goatee <nt> (none / 3) (#47)
by GenerationY on Thu May 13, 2004 at 10:53:36 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Since I have one (2.75 / 4) (#56)
by Joh3n on Thu May 13, 2004 at 12:59:52 PM EST

It's all the better a reenactment.
You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
you fucking limey. (2.75 / 4) (#60)
by rmg on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:11:43 PM EST

they don't serve fries at kfc.

or if they do, they sure don't ask if you want any.


i ♥ legitimate users.

dave dean
[ Parent ]

the best thing about graduate school: (2.60 / 5) (#61)
by rmg on Thu May 13, 2004 at 01:14:44 PM EST

lots of asian women.


i ♥ legitimate users.

dave dean

Jeez, ever think about law school? (none / 2) (#70)
by kmcrober on Thu May 13, 2004 at 09:47:36 PM EST

It's a much more painless way to get a doctorate.  I mean, a J.D. is technically a doctorate, so it's just as good, right?  Right?

Or an M.D. (none / 2) (#71)
by gmol on Thu May 13, 2004 at 10:02:53 PM EST

Which is technically an undergrad degree, but a much higher price (not just monetary) performance (not just monetary) ratio....

[ Parent ]
painless, perhaps . . . (none / 2) (#90)
by Gumpzilla on Fri May 14, 2004 at 12:54:57 PM EST

. . . but in the short term, also far more expensive. True, you can recoup the money pretty fast afterwards, so perhaps that's not that big a deal.

[ Parent ]
Honorary Doctorate (2.75 / 4) (#94)
by Katt on Mon May 17, 2004 at 05:55:22 PM EST

Or just do something to make you famous, and hit up your alma matter for some kind of honorary degree.

[ Parent ]
If you're at all serious (2.60 / 5) (#72)
by Lode Runner on Thu May 13, 2004 at 10:17:36 PM EST

about getting that degree, then ignore this whole discussion and read Ralph Peters's extremely helpful book, Getting What You Came For : The Smart Student's Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D.. I got my doctorate in 2000 and wish I'd had this book when I started. Peters really tells it the way it is.

NB: this book covers only US-based graduate programs, but has sections designed for international students coming to the US.

best... story... evar. (none / 3) (#75)
by fink on Thu May 13, 2004 at 11:47:38 PM EST

Of course, a Ph.D. can be easier than joh3n had it.   It's simple: use vi, not emacs.

Either way, well done, joh3n.  Have a PBR on my behalf.

only one? [ou - 1] (none / 1) (#81)
by Joh3n on Fri May 14, 2004 at 02:09:10 AM EST

You can learn a lot about someone by popping in their un-rewound pr0n tape and seeing where exactly they came. [ Parent ]
yeah... (none / 0) (#92)
by fink on Fri May 14, 2004 at 07:53:36 PM EST

... carton/slab/keg...

[ Parent ]

Better advice (2.50 / 4) (#93)
by webchick on Fri May 14, 2004 at 09:44:12 PM EST

Far more concise and hard-hitting is Olin Shiver's dissertation advice. A true classic.

How-To: Write your doctoral thesis | 98 comments (94 topical, 4 editorial, 1 hidden)
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