Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some Snippets of Snarkiness from my Doctoral Dissertation

I was telling some people on Saturday about one of the many snarky things I did in my doctoral dissertation. I was just looking at my copy of my dissertation and reminiscing about the many snarky things I did with that document.

For example, the version I kept and the version I left in the Center for Applied Mathematics has the title "Quantum Chaos in Vibrating Billiard Systems: Version 2". (The 'Version 2' part isn't in the title in the official copies, but I placed it there after I was asked for Version 2.0 instead of 1.1 after I showed 1.0 to my thesis committee. I had to rewrite the whole thing from scratch in about 5 weeks---I made it by one day---and I was feeling extremely bitter.)

My Biographical Sketch in the thesis started off with the following quote from Scott Adams: "Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs. This is the principle behind lotteries, dating, and religion." Of course, I wrote that thinking that science and perhaps even trying to get a Ph.D. also belonged there. I write this blog entry now with the knowledge that things have paid off for me quite well scientifically. I had forgotten that I used that quote, and I certainly didn't think I'd be where I am now when I wrote it. I had some other quotes at the top of that section as well, but I'll ignore them. Then I had a bunch of other stuff in the biographical sketch (some series, some not so serious), which I ended with the following words: "Mason has promised to continue his misadventures and remain someone who is distinctive and easily-remembered (even if not always fondly so). Meanwhile, he plans to go outside and frolic." I think I have mostly kept this promise, at least when it comes to the first sentence.

Then came my Dedication: "To my friends, who have always been able to figure out when to boot me in the head. Honorable mention goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers." This too remains rather accurate, though I think my precise phrasing would be slightly different now.

I have a couple of other quotes at the beginning of the Acknowledgements section (one serious and one snarky). I wrote a rather long section because that's the main thing that people looking at my dissertation will actually read. :) I was occasionally quite snarky, but I was sometimes serious as well and I mentioned many of my best friends by name. I separately mentioned friends and other people who helped me with various thesis-related things along the way.

Perhaps my favorite line comes from the one-sentence paragraph with which I ended my Acknowledgements. (This is the one I was conveying on Saturday.) I had looked at several dissertations while I was writing mine up and many of them thanked god. One of them had particularly irked me because it spent 1 sentence thanking wife and kids and then two pages thanking god. I was thus inspired (also with more than a little inspiration from the fact that Michael Berry would often write at the end of his papers that no money from military organizations contributed to the research) to end my Acknowledgements as follows: This dissertation was completed without assistance or inspiration from any deities, as no such beings exist.

Then of course we got to less interesting stuff like my table of contents, list of figures, and scientific chapters.

In the copy I left for Cornell's Center for Applied Mathematics, I left an additional easter egg that I wrote in handwriting. It basically said that I didn't mind how the thesis was used as long as it wasn't used for toilet paper. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact phrasing.


The Easter Bunny said...


Please don't use this as firewood or toilet paper. Otherwise, enjoy!

- Mason

Mason said...

EB: Thanks! I probably should have known that current people from CAM were occasionally looking here, but I didn't actually know that.