Saturday, April 12, 2008

Just Dissert(ation)s

This post is an expanded version of a comment I left at Unbalanced Reaction’s blog this afternoon. She’s preparing her doctoral dissertation and hoping to turn it in on Monday.

I have just finished writing my dissertation. It’s been five months of dedicated reading, studying, writing, editing, wrestling with EndNote citation software, and coping with Microsoft Word crashes. That’s five months I would have rather been blogging, but, unfortunately, I still have not accumulated enough sponsors to turn the Land of Yajeev into a full-time gig. Until then, I’ll have to keep on keeping on with the science stuff.

So the way this works is essentially as follows. I spent the first two years of my graduate program completing my coursework requirements. For the next two and a half years, I engaged in full-time research in a biochemistry laboratory working on my dissertation project. I came up with a few hypotheses and set out to testing them. Funny, when I write it like that, it sounds so easy. Then came the write-up: my Ph.D. dissertation. Basically a 150-page lab (uber)report to be read and graded by my dissertation committee, a panel of professors with expertise in my field of study.

I have spent the past several weeks editing, revising, tweaking my dissertation. Printing, proofreading, re-printing, re-proofreading, re-re-printing, etc. Printing the final draft, making photocopies, collating, and, finally, preparing for distribution to the members of my committee.

My advisor has told me that there are some professors (perhaps, say, like my advisor?) who, as long as they have a “pretty good feeling” about the doctoral student, won't even read the stinking thing. I'm not sure which would be worse: to have put all this time (and caffeine) into my dissertation only to have the doctoral committee merely flip through the pages (even though some might argue that just turning every page would actually constitute a complete reading)... or having them scrupulously read every page, parsing each sentence, demanding that I re-think, re-edit, or re-write.

Yesterday, I visited the professors on my committee to personally hand each of them their very own copy of my opus. Two professors humored me and greeted me great enthusiasm. The other two were nowhere to be found, so I left their copies on their desks. Which is sort of anticlimactic. I mean, you exhaust so much blood, sweat, and tears on this thing, and you at least want the satisfaction of handing it to the committee members. Maybe a handshake. Or a high five.

I did receive the following email message, though, from a professor on whose desk I deposited my dissertation:

Your dissertation’s here; I just finished it. Couldn't put it down, better than a Grisham. Just kidding; looks impressive and I will read it eventually.

By "impressive", I'm assuming he means "bulky", and I hypothesize that "eventually" just may be a “maybe” euphemism. (though, I do appreciate his humor and recognition of the appearance of impressiveness, if only in heft.)

If my first round of critics (ie, the committee) appreciate it, I think I’ll adapt the dissertation into a screenplay: a science-fiction tragicomedy about an enzyme that finds her purpose in protecting the cell in which she lives from the stressful conditions that threaten its very existence, the proteins which provoke her to action, and the evil villain who would dampen her life-preserving impact on her cellular environs.


Andy said...

Wow, I can't believe you advisor said that. I imagine it is a suspicion most students have, but for him to just come out and say it is crazy.

You should have had a extra copy just to burn it in front of him like it was the only copy.

It is a good thing I didn't continue my education further or else I would be putting swear words in my dissertation.

And that note from the other guy seems like just more rattling of your cage.

Maybe one of the other committee members will give you this note:
"Thanks for spending months writing something I will not pay any attention to, sucker. It is going right into the recycle bin. Psyche! I AM GOING TO PUT IT IN THE REGULAR TRASH! Mwa ha ha ha! You fell right into our trap to make you pollute the earth more!"

sstc said...

Heh, all of our advisors say it. I think one professor has a scale, and he just weighs it. Some people have been known to use higher quality paper for his copy.

In other news, why didn't you use LaTeX?

yajeev said...

ok, here's the truth. i knew they wouldn't read my dissertation, so rather than write the entire thing, I just made a cover page and reference section and inserted the unabridged archives (your comments included) of the Land of Yajeev blog in between. They'll never know.

i didn't know you could print on latex. i've just been using it for lab gloves. (honest answer: inertia)

Geeka said...

I have told my committee that really they will just have to look at the pretty pictures.

I told my boss that he really only needs to read the second aim, because the rest of it we wrote together in the form of manuscripts.

So you're in Pittsburgh? Maybe I will come to your defense.

yajeev said...

so, geeka...

i must admit that since i first checked out your profile a week or so ago (maybe it was longer ago than that--time is sort of a blur these days) and noticed that you were in pittsburgh, i've been trying to figure out if i know you. i see that you defend on may 12, so if you are in my graduate program, i should get an announcement in my email in a week or so...

are we in the same program? do you know who i am? i'm not the best at maintaining anonymity on the blog, so i may have given major clues. do we know each other?