by Dave Kellam

Dissertation Haiku

Take years of research, countless hours of work, distill it down seventeen syllables, and you get Dissertation Haiku. Here’s an example:

light and matter flirt
years pass in femtoseconds
a bond is broken

By Adi Natan, the haiku interpretation of his dissertation about “quantum control of atoms and small molecule using intense femtosecond laser pulses”.

February 16, 2011 ·

Superficial scholars

Heather Wilson, who has served on Rhodes Scholarship selection committees, examines the lack of broader education from America’s top universities in Our superficial scholars.

I wish I could say that this is a single, anomalous group of students, but the trend is unmistakable. Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.

Remember the lament for polymaths earlier this month?

January 24, 2011 ·

The Disposable Academic

The Disposable Academic is a somewhat cynical look at the world of high-level academia. I’ll take the article with a grain of salt, considering the secondary headline reads, “Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time”.

One thing many PhD students have in common is dissatisfaction. Some describe their work as “slave labour”. Seven-day weeks, ten-hour days, low pay and uncertain prospects are widespread. You know you are a graduate student, goes one quip, when your office is better decorated than your home and you have a favourite flavour of instant noodle.

Yeah, it can be a bit crap, but it’s on par with a lot of other professions. Talk to the struggling artists, apprentices and interns that toil away in indentured servitude for the betterment of their craft. Some make it big, some never will, most end up in the middle of life’s bell curve and do just fine.

January 17, 2011 ·

The lie guy

Clancy Martin is chair of the philosophy department at the University of Missouri and is known as the lie guy. He left his studies to pursue a career in luxury jewelry.

As I would tell my salespeople: If you want to be an expert deceiver, master the art of self-deception. People will believe you when they see that you yourself are deeply convinced. It sounds difficult to do, but in fact it’s easy—we are already experts at lying to ourselves. We believe just what we want to believe.

Eventually, the business and lifestyle got to him and he returned to academia to study lying.

I went to work on deception not because I wanted to learn how to lie better—I had mastered the art, as far as I was concerned—but because I wanted to cure myself of being a liar. What had started out as a morally pernicious technique had become a character-defining vice. I had to save myself. I needed to understand the knots I had tied myself into before I could begin to untangle them.

January 4, 2011 ·

Shadow Scholar

The story of someone who makes his living writing papers for students. He has worked on everything from admissions essays and undergraduate assignments to large graduate theses. In his words, “I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary.”

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen the word “desperate” misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn’t write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?

Can’t say that I’m surprised by the article, but it is disheartening — I don’t see how any self-respecting graduate student could have someone else write their papers. It’s frustrating when you know people that work their asses off to produce solid work, while some idiot that they’re up against just dips into the bank. That said, I have to admit being amused by the thought of people paying to have ethics papers written for them.

November 15, 2010 ·

An article about a scientific paper

A brilliant sendup of half-assed newspaper articles about scientific papers.

In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of “scare quotes” to ensure that it’s clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.

In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research “challenges”.

September 28, 2010 ·