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What to say at the holiday table
December 22, 2013 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Summing up years of work in one sentence "Moby Dick is the hero of 'Moby Dick'." - English, Northwestern. "Really, really thin semiconductors look different and act differently than really thin semiconductors because quantum mechanics." - Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University. "such pulsating stars. very cosmic distance scale. mid-infrared wow." - Astrophysics, Pomona College.
posted by goofyfoot (91 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Okay, here's mine: It turns out that people DO matter.

That was depressing.

More background: I got my PhD in economic sociology, looking at the impact of individuals on organizational performance. Most business scholars and economists think that companies are all about process and people are interchangeable parts. I showed that the difference between who was a middle manager accounted for 22% of the difference between firms in now they performed - more than any other organizational factor. I also did a bunch of boring theory and some stuff on entrepreneurship. So, yeah, that was my thesis. There was also math.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:46 PM on December 22, 2013 [23 favorites]


Some of these are great, and I'd really love to read the papers (or at least skim them). Like:

"19th century Americans were even more insufferable about food, dieting, and eating than modern Americans." I can heartily second that one.

"Your burial typology is bad, and you should feel bad." That would definitely be relevant to my interests.

"Phyllis Schlafly paved the way for Fox News: Misdirection, misinformation, and misogyny." That's really quite insightful.

"Not all musical instruments do the same thing. Musicians and other people aren’t sure if this matters." Would love to hear more!

Leaving aside the many that seem thin or just jokey, it's fun to see how people boil down these ideas. If nothing else, by the time you get the thing done, you're used to explaining it over beers so these sentences have time to get polished.
posted by Miko at 6:49 PM on December 22, 2013


All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much MUCH thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end.
posted by islander at 6:54 PM on December 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


Yo, Orwell, imma let you finish, but Zamyatin wrote the best dystopian novel of all time (and you stole his plot).

source

That was my 11th grade English Literature paper. I knocked out 40-some-odd pages on the topic.

If I'd only added another 460 pages, you'd be calling me Doctor Giant Squid.
posted by The Giant Squid at 6:55 PM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Vortex currents off a wing have weird effects on other wings AKA apparently helicopters shouldn’t work."

Okay I have heard this "we're not sure how helicopters work" thing a few times in a few different places and does anyone have like something simple that explains what's up?
posted by griphus at 6:57 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, here's a great one:
"American literature focuses on naming a lot, because names are important."
posted by Miko at 6:57 PM on December 22, 2013


The jokey ones that seem like insidery yearbook taglines are not fun and are missing the point, but some of these are really great.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:58 PM on December 22, 2013


This is the best thing ever.
posted by intermod at 6:59 PM on December 22, 2013


Reconstruction of the Svalbard-Barents Sea Ice Sheet’s collapse (i.e. hiking, looking at boulders and drinking beer) can be used to predict the future collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Or it can’t. Definitely one of the two.


Surprisingly, geology involves beer.
posted by arcticseal at 6:59 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I'd only added another 460 pages, you'd be calling me Doctor Giant Squid.

To be fair, since that seems to be widely known, the argument is probably not a proof that this happened but a quality argument where the writer is applying some sort of aesthetic metric to convince the reader that Zamyatin's was the better work.
posted by Miko at 7:00 PM on December 22, 2013


"I Know It Makes More Sense To Relate Contemporary Appropriation to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel but I’m Going to Make My Life Much Harder and Relate It to Nude Descending A Staircase"

I want to read this one.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:03 PM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


"The effects of Head Start on children do not seem to be outweighing the effects of poverty.
Economics, Harvard University"

Bummer.
posted by Miko at 7:06 PM on December 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


The world might exist; the world might not exist. Either option is terrifying.

I was just skimming along until I hit this one. It actually really made me want to read their thesis. So...at least that English major has a bright future in marketing?
posted by C'est la D.C. at 7:06 PM on December 22, 2013


This would be much better with links to the papers, unless they're just isolated jokes and I'm not getting it.
posted by odinsdream at 7:07 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


"German books used to be really hard to read; they still are, but it isn’t because of the font anymore." Heh.
posted by Miko at 7:08 PM on December 22, 2013 [23 favorites]


Trying to make a reaction go using air and pee because I don’t want to die.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 7:13 PM on December 22, 2013


I also kind of wish they listed whether it was a master's, PHD, or BA/BS thesis, because I think this contains a mixed bag of all three. Some of the colleges mentioned have no graduate program.
posted by Miko at 7:14 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because I am a terrible person, I found these really, really annoying. I mean, for fuck's sake, you produced a work of scholarship. What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak? Is it that you feel contempt for your whole goddamn thesis? Is it that we really as a society believe that nothing is added once something goes beyond tweet-length? Is it just generalized contempt for the complex? I don't want to read an insouciant
"hook" for a thesis that makes it sound like it belongs on Buzzfeed.


(Also, I add - Orwell was pretty upfront about being influenced by We - he wrote several essays about it and indeed advocated for it to be brought back into print. If the thesis in question really boils down to "listen everybody, Orwell stole Zamyatin's plot!" then it's a crappy thesis and no degree should have been awarded. But I assume, actually, that the thesis was more complex than this and that "Orwell stole his plot from We" is actually just dumb internet bullshit that misrepresents what the person actually wrote.)
posted by Frowner at 7:16 PM on December 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


"If you stay physically active and keep moving your arse, you are less likely to go bonkers when facing stress" . Damn, I need to remember that.

What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak? Is it that you feel contempt for your whole goddamn thesis?

Heck no! Well, in some of these cases, yes, but that's beside the point. I think the funny part about this, as someone working toward a thesis now, is that there is a "powers of 10" aspect to the whole thing. You start with a fairly simple inquiry, you read a hundred things and get way down into the weeds, at a level of detail no one really wants to share with you at all, and then, at the end, you need to zoom the lens out again. People in other walks of life ask you "So, what's your thesis about?" and you have to try to describe it. And when you do, you want to be clear, and accurate, and avoid boring your audience with your detail - so what comes out is, invariably, so reductively simple as to be laughable. But at the same time, that's really what the exercise is - finding something you can say, definitively, with authority, and then using the paper to show what supports you in saying it. I have certainly been guilty of uttering similarly stupid-sounding capsule descriptions of my thesis, but it doesn't mean I have contempt. it means "this is really what it all boils down to, only with more evidence and analysis than 99% of people will ever want to know about."
posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on December 22, 2013 [19 favorites]


Mine (for an English BA) would have been something like: So teenage girls are important.

I think it's an attempt at humorous self-deprecation. Academics spend a lot of time immersing themselves in fairly obscure and impenetrable material, getting lost in the labyrinth of scholarship and complicated vocabulary. It can be a relief to get a little perspective and say "yeah, basically I've spent the bulk of my career on this tiny corner of human understanding." It's playful, not contemptuous. Plus it can be very illuminating to try to pare down a lot of thinking into a few words.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 7:22 PM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to do my masters thesis, this is fun ... "Contemporary liturgical celebrations of pregnancy are limited and mostly reflect Victorian mores rather than theologically coherent or Biblically-supported ideas of pregnancy. Let me fix that for you, Catholicism."

I suppose that's two sentences but it was a two-part thesis.

If I were trying to be snarky I'd probably go with "Women with obvious evidence of having had sex are marginalized by religious patriarchies; let's have unregulated communal lady-prayers at home away from clerical oversight, boo-ya!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:37 PM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Miko - two of my senior thesis advisees sent me this link when it had a grand total of 5 summaries up. It definitely started as undergrad work, though perhaps it has branched out by now. And therefore one of the reasons you can't read the papers is that most of them are about to be hammered out in a burst of activity over winter break.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:37 PM on December 22, 2013


Without links to peoples' work, this stuff is too frustrating to read.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:37 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would read the Moby Dick one. And the rocks in front of stars one.

The serious and not jokey ones are often compelling and probably this is a good exercise for thinking about your subject, kind of like up-goer 5.
posted by feckless at 7:44 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, for fuck's sake, you produced a work of scholarship. What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak?

I think this is a good question. For me there are a few reasons. First, background: My field, management, has the problem of shared by a number of academic fields, which is that you need to talk to several audiences: other scholars, who read my work and ultimately give me tenure and/or jobs; students, who I teach; managers, who ultimately should apply our work; and policymakers, who we hopefully influence to do less dumb things. So, let me explain why this is worthwhile to do this for each of my audiences:

In speaking to academics, there is a sad truth, which is that almost nobody reads your paper, even if it is in a top journal. Thus, this sort of little exercise is a sort of fun way to think about broadcasting your work more widely - even academics need elevator pitches. It is also good, because, as someone in the thread said, academia is all about purposefully being lost in the weeds. My thesis had hundreds of citations, all of which represented books or articles that I thought about and synthesized and argued over. Ultimately, they informed my paper,but, if I can't even summarize what I do without invoking all of these arguments, I think I have lost the thread of doing research that matters in the world- no one will ever be interested in what I did. I don't think it diminishes the deeper thought at all, as long as it is clear this is just a teaser. Please feel free to read the whole paper!

For my students, the default is to not care about pure research, and to not understand why it matters. For every PhD researcher at a business school, we could hire two dozen charismatic entrepreneurs or successful CEOs who would happily share their wisdom with the class. Ultimately, I think the class would find this more impressive. The argument for having researchers as teachers is that our research allows us to draw on deeper patterns and hopefully new ways of understanding the world, rather than communicating through charisma and personal experience. (To see the difference, I think, in a great way, see this legendary talk at Harvard Business School between Jack Welsh and Rakesh Khurana, in which Prof. Khurana pushed Jack on inequality at GE and other issues, until Jack was so annoyed he ignored him.) But, in order to have the academic knowledge actually matter in class, we need to be able to translate it from "academic speak" to human, and this exercise is one approach to doing so, if a bit of a facile one.

For policymakers and managers, I think there is value in being able to intrigue people, and talk at all levels about ones work, including in tweetable form. There is a famous story about a Hillel, an ancient Jewish scholar. Someone asked him to explain all of the Torah while standing on one leg, something another wise scholar had been offended by. He stood on one leg and said "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it." Being able to describe your thesis in a funny and intriguing sentence can do the same, and hopefully get people interested in knowing more.

Besides, its pretty fun to do.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:56 PM on December 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak? Is it that you feel contempt for your whole goddamn thesis?

I'm gonna go out on a wild crazy speculative limb here and say that maybe, just maybe, this is for the lulz. If you are not familiar with the lulz please let me know and I will furnish you with some edifying links.
posted by elizardbits at 7:56 PM on December 22, 2013 [29 favorites]


Blahblahblah's comment also reminded me of perhaps the most popularly visible example of this kind of telescoping of ideas: the TED talks, where people with extremely deep knowledge are coached to distill it into a 20-word hook. It really is an excellent practice.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


"These guys really liked this rock so much they somehow managed to have it transported over thousands miles then made all sorts of pretty pieces with no functional value just so they could be buried with it."

That would be mine.
posted by linux at 8:10 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

Discuss.



Also, I once called an undergraduate paper "Galileo Galilei: The Philosopher So Nice, They Named Him Twice."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:12 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a bunch of friends who, I know what their job title is, but I have no idea what they actually DO. A surprising number of people are just terrible at explaining their work, and I think its a real handicap. People remember much better if they UNDERSTAND what you do.

My older son is 4 and he and his preschool classmates are starting to be interested in people's jobs. Explaining desk or management or research jobs to 4-year-olds in ways they can understand, in the 30 seconds of attention span allotted, is a similar challenge!

It's useful to be able to explain your work succinctly and interestingly to laymen. You'll have a hard time convincing people that the work you do is important if you can't tell them what it is and why it matters.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:19 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mine: Technology alone is not enough to fix the crazy broken American healthcare system. It turns out you need to pay attention to doctors and clinical process, too.

-Health Informatics, Northeastern University
posted by notpace at 8:21 PM on December 22, 2013


Mine: The hair-like fungi that live in the guts of aquatic insect larvae have odd genetics and probably don't form a single evolutionary lineage.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:30 PM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I mean, for fuck's sake, you produced a work of scholarship. What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak?

Oh, please.

I've been working on my thesis steadily even post-graduation. One of my professors saw my draft about, oh, a month before I was meant to turn it in, and left a comment on it along the lines of: this is the start of a graduate thesis, not an undergraduate paper. She was right. Following a brief nervous breakdown I had at the realization that there was no way in fuck I was going to have a finished, publishable work done at the end of my year-long writing process, I set about figuring out how to write a piece of considerably greater magnitude than I had expected to write when I first set out. It's been a year and a half since I graduated, and only last month did I have a working outline that successfully encapsulated all of the elements I want to contain within my project (which I now call a "book" because that's honestly what it's become).

The work I'm undertaking is of a very rigorous nature. The reason my outline took as long as it took to make is that it turns out to be something along the lines of five thesis-length papers at once, all related but not closely enough that they can be mushed together into a single essay. Believe me; I've tried. It is a very laborious project and it's complex enough that I find it hard to explain one of the five pieces, yet alone how all five fit together. If I could explain my ideas in fewer than hundreds of pages worth of words, believe me, I would. But I can't.

The only thing that keeps me remotely sane throughout this process, essentially, is humor. Humor and brevity. I joke about my ideas, I joke about my own creative process, I make every effort to say what I need to say as briefly and as trivially as I possibly can. Sometimes I even succeed. Whenever I can start joking about my thesis, I try to, because it allows me to test and revise and clarify my thoughts, without the pit of despair that usually accompanies that process once you've been in it for two years already.

I am inordinately proud of the fact that I figured out, last year, how to encapsulate every major theme of my various papers into a single four-word sentence. Am debating submitting it to this site, though I haven't technically finished my paper so I'm not sure if that would be allowed. My book now opens with those four words, and as I work out other, slightly less brief ways of describing my work, I'm pushing those to the front as well, in order to let my reader peruse my concepts to exactly the extent that they would find them useful. If most people don't need 700 pages of my extensive analysis, that's freaking swell; I'd rather give people what they need than force them into taking what I want to give. Ursula K. Le Guin gave a recent interview where she talked about how age has made her care less and less about style and more and more about just telling the story that she wants to tell. I'm not at all old, but this is an idea I've had concurrently and am attempting to take to heart: I will tell my story any way I possibly can, formality of research be damned.

Most of the time, I don't want to talk about my findings in an especially formal manner. So I don't. I don't think that devalues my work whatsoever; if anything, it makes it more likely that people will understand WHY my work exists, and that they'll be curious to peruse it themselves. I dislike that people on various fields of study find it so beneath themselves to discuss what's on their mind with laymen; for me, explaining my work to complete newbies is the most exciting kind of conversation, because it lets me reexamine my assumptions and the worldview which I assume most people have. I love people who'll explain math or biology or physics to me even though I lack formal training; some of my favorite conversations involve other people telling me about their life's work for hours on end, but letting me ask questions and clarify things so I learn about an entire field of study in the process.

Things like this are fun. They are worth a damn. They are a relief to the academics who've driven themselves to exhaustion writing about these things at length. Getting all crotchety about how informal and funny this is kind of strikes me as missing the point of academia, knowledge, creativity, and life itself, all at once. Not to be hyperbolic back at you or anything.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:34 PM on December 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


Rory, after that novel of a comment, you owe us the elevator summary!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:38 PM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


"You don't really have to do the things you think you have to do." Book that got cancelled after three years of work.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's sad that so many academics can't count to one.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:58 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire. Discuss.

No joke, this was the entire prompt for the final paper in my (community college!) western civ class.

My undergrad thesis: The men are worried she's the manliest of them all, and yet they want to bone her!
posted by apricot at 8:58 PM on December 22, 2013


I was an art major and my senior project was putting together a gallery show of my work. Since my primary medium is in collage, I describe my BA as being in "cutting things up and gluing them to other things."
posted by sonika at 9:03 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I'd only added another 460 pages, you'd be calling me Doctor Giant Squid.
posted by The Giant Squid


Dr. The Giant Squid, surely?
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:06 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The essential moral turning point of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is the one bit where they read the letter on the boat, what do you mean you don't even remember that part?
posted by kyrademon at 9:14 PM on December 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I didn't go to six years of Giant Squid Medical School to be called Mister Giant Squid!
posted by XMLicious at 9:14 PM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Gather round, everyone, and let me tell you about the syntactical mindfuck that is the Basque language."

I LOLed simply because one of my college roommates was doing his own Div III (Hampshire's version of a senior thesis) on exactly this and lo, how I have gathered. And heard.
posted by sonika at 9:18 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I believe it would be The Rev. Dr. Giant Squid.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:23 PM on December 22, 2013


Greg_Ace: "Dr. The Giant Squid, surely?"

Only in the German academic system.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:35 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


"None of the feasible solutions to the multitudes of problems facing American public education can be implemented unless we raze the entire system and rebuild it with oxymoronically named "progressive despots" at the helm, but we all know that isn't going to happen, so I urge you to be filthy rich, since at the moment that's the single greatest influence on how well your children will fare once they are tossed into the current clusterfuck (though even magnitudes of wealth is no guarantee)."

Hey, it's one sentence....
posted by tzikeh at 9:36 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Cocaine is bad for your immune system. Here are some cocaine-induced changes in human monocyte protein expression that probably have nothing to do with the phenomenon. In conclusion, more work needs to be done to blah blah blah-dee-dah blah [thirty pages of citations]."
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:56 PM on December 22, 2013


I once wrote a paper in undergrad called "Miss Thing, You're CRAY-ZEE: Psychological projection and the supernatural in Henry James' The Turn of The Screw."

Also, I have a quick and dirty explanation for Griphus about how helicopters work: Instead of going really fast down a runway for the air flowing underneath to lift the fixed wing (like a plane), why don't you just sit still and spin the wing really fast and create your own lift? (The only problem is that you have to constantly create oppositional forces to avoid the airframe spinning out of control under the rotors. Its not that we don't understand how helicopters work, its just that they're way more complex, expensive and inefficient than planes. BUT THEY DO HOVER).
posted by KingEdRa at 10:32 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, for fuck's sake, you produced a work of scholarship. What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak?

Because writing your thesis makes you go slowly insane, no matter what your engagement with the topic is. I loved much of what I wrote about, but by the end I was summarizing it as 'Cicero is important yo, and so is translation. So, therefore, things." That was also my summary for one of my books by the time I'd finished the proof-reading process. But there I added 'also there are some other Romans. And they too are important."
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:46 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's totally for the lulz.

Mine: It turns out that lower class rural people have complex relationships with their landscapes and might end up supporting your development project that they originally opposed, but still get pissed off when you go ahead without their permission and take their stuff to pay for it.
posted by jb at 10:47 PM on December 22, 2013


I mean, for fuck's sake, you produced a work of scholarship. What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak?

Um...cause it keeps you from being a humorless, pedantic shithead? Or maybe that keeping a concise eye on what you are actually doing and its potential value to society (beyond getting the f'n degree!) might possibly have value to you at some point? But mostly the pedantic shithead part. Make fun of everything; yourself especially. It makes you a better person. I swear.
posted by umberto at 11:49 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This 1 weird condition is necessary and sufficient for the product of two Toeplitz matrices to itself be a Toeplitz matrix.

That one doesn't work as well.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:28 AM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


the real trick is to be able to tell which synopsis actually boils down to: "my PhD advisor's good idea isn't so good after all."
posted by ennui.bz at 2:41 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


My final year paper on pulsars, 1980: "Goddammit, I wish the internet had been invented."
posted by Decani at 2:46 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mine was: "Fifty ways to use social networks to teach ESL students that will be hopelessly outdated by the time we submit it".
posted by Memo at 4:28 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


MA in 2008/9: People's expectations of Obama are too high and baseless. We are celebrating a return to Clinton era foreign policy, nothing special.

Unfinished PhD - The divide between rationality and emotion is historically contingent. International Relations Theory generally ignores this and there are many problematic consequences.
posted by knapah at 5:01 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because I am a terrible person, I found these really, really annoying. I mean, for fuck's sake, you produced a work of scholarship. What precisely is achieved by dumbing it down into internet-speak?

Catharsis, amusement, camaraderie, intrigue, etc. People working on projects develop a certain attitude towards their material.

Is it that you feel contempt for your whole goddamn thesis? Is it that we really as a society believe that nothing is added once something goes beyond tweet-length?

What a weird set of leading questions. Surely you realize that these people are not just handing in the one-sentence summary? There is no reason to conflate the one-liners with the work itself.

I don't want to read an insouciant
"hook" for a thesis that makes it sound like it belongs on Buzzfeed.


So, don't read them.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:18 AM on December 23, 2013


My undergrad thesis: women's humorous short stories are different than men's humorous short stories, aka a sneaky loophole to be able to write fiction for my thesis, and did you know that dot matrix printers are really QUITE LOUD when you have to print a 75 page paper at 4am on the morning that it's due, and why did I agree to assemble the senior class's yearbook photos in the same time frame oh that's right because you wanted to vandalize your ex-boyfriend's picture but you're too chicken to do it and is this stupid thesis DONE PRINTING YET WHEN WILL THEY INVENT A FASTER, QUIETER PRINTER
posted by Lucinda at 5:32 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's my master's thesis boiled down: "You still have to think about race even when there are only white people in the room. Actually, it's BECAUSE there are only white people in the room that you have to think about race."

Actual title? "Rednecks, Revivalists, and Roadkill: The Construction of Race in an Appalachian Town." It was a great day when I came up with that one.
posted by Polyhymnia at 5:53 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mine would be:

I made a novel supramolecular tweezer-like structure that is able to bind nucleutides in aqueous solutions, and I'll even give you a list of how well it binds various similar things, which I found out using a dye displacement assay.

Hmmm still not comprehensible to a layman, but then again whenever people ask what I do and I say I am an organic chemist they either say:

1) Oh I was so bad in chemistry in Highschool
2) I hated Ochem how could you possibly understand it
3) Ochem made me not become a doctor

If they stare at me dumfounded I say it is really just very precise cooking with smelly chemicals to make things that haven't ever existed before in the universe.
posted by koolkat at 6:06 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Actual title? "Rednecks, Revivalists, and Roadkill: The Construction of Race in an Appalachian Town." It was a great day when I came up with that one.

That's awesome!

Reminds me if the Fake Div III Title game we played at Hampshire. Take a statement, question, or string of words. Add a colon, a formal sounding description of what you just said, and the words "for social change." This provided endless amusement. The all time best winner that just could not be topped: "Why do women keep throwing chicken at me? : Poultry and Feminism For Social Change."
posted by sonika at 6:08 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


we should all spend ages investigating a phenomenon in a non ecologically valid manner and then conclude that we found out nothing about it is the reason I didn't bother writing a thesis for my BA in psychology and instead spent fall quarter of senior year studying abroad in Germany.
posted by coppermoss at 6:09 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


So my undergrad university had a required senior thesis and at the end of the year, the seniors would submit one of these to a magazine that was handed out right before graduation. They sometimes were about the topic at hand: "One Plant, One Pollinator, Morphology Makes a Marriage." Other times, the person in question would come up with something that had nothing to do with their thesis, but fit the overall structure: "Blue Balls and Black Toes: The Effects of Strip Poker on Antarctic Research Personnel."

In fact, running a search for my school, I'm pretty sure I saw at least one of those titles show up in that magazine. I wish I had my copies of it on hand, but right now I am unable to get my hands on them.

Oh yes, one more, the one that the guy who wrote it said was essentially the topic of all theses:
"I am terribly clever, may I please go now?"

(Mine was me trying to excuse a rather short thesis because it was in mathematics: "You should see the size of my .tex file." It still feels a little flat to me, but I was unable to come up with another one in time, my creativity had been drained.)
posted by Hactar at 6:10 AM on December 23, 2013


Found a computationally simple but reasonably realistic way to model inhibition in neural networks, but bio people have more realistic models and computer people want simpler models.
posted by Jpfed at 6:34 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mine: Black newspapers try to integrate the U.S. military; the North Korean People's Army beats them to it.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:40 AM on December 23, 2013


I would like the exact opposite of this done and have LolCracked or LolBuzzfeed, where a typical listicle is blown out until every list item is accompanied by 3 pages of explanatory text to understand the .gif, reference, mashup, etc. With footnotes and MLA citations.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:30 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I believe that is here.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:32 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reminds me if the Fake Div III Title game we played at Hampshire.

This game can also be played with the course catalog at the Evergreen State College.
posted by KathrynT at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


My PhD thesis: "You can use huge amounts of data to try to discover things about how metabolism is regulated, and it kind of works!"
posted by en forme de poire at 8:41 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I have no clue what to write about but one of the bad ideas I pulled out of my butt has been deemed acceptable in order to get me out of here so here we go..."
posted by bleep at 8:58 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Faeces? In MY shellfish? It's less dangerous than you think! (assuming your detection method only picks up short genetic sequences)".
posted by rollick at 9:00 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rory, after that novel of a comment, you owe us the elevator summary!

"You're going to lose."
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:30 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're going to lose: the use of iocaine powder as a battle of wits
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:34 AM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


"You're going to lose: what game theory can tell us about meta-game, The Game.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:59 AM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


they will never find your corpse, mouse
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:02 AM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


"You're going to lose: the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a harsh mistress."
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:07 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've inserted a sentence into a part of my thesis that's about Elizabethan punctuation. It reads, in part:

"...this fluid use of the colon..."

No one's caught on so far.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:13 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


"You're going to spouse: the Moon is a Harsh Mistress"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:13 AM on December 23, 2013


All the lamenting about p-values makes me wish more laypeople used Bayesian stats, though.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:32 AM on December 23, 2013


Elementary Penguin: All the lamenting about p-values makes me wish more laypeople used Bayesian stats, though.

I used them, if that helps. As is the general trend in phylogenetics, I ran three separate kinds of analysis of my data, and then ran a couple of additional analyses to verify the findings, because nobody in my field trusts our analysis methods apparently.

Although, I will say that Bayesian phylogenetics software throws out a value that is frequently interpreted and discussed like a p-value, even though it isn't exactly the same (it's actually the proportion of trees in the MCMC that have the branch in question). So maybe some of them did, but either don't understand or simplified down the difference in result.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:53 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


too laconic; didn't read
posted by thelonius at 12:57 PM on December 23, 2013


My master's thesis: Although people who do stream restoration are very well intentioned, it usually does nothing and sometimes makes the streams worse, all while costing millions of dollars a year.

My dissertation: Carbon cycling in urban streams is messed up, but in different ways from how we thought it was messed up--having too many leaves is just as bad as having too few.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:31 PM on December 23, 2013


My in-progress master's thesis does not really lend itself well to this. "Oh hey here's some pomes I wrote, guys" just doesn't have the same punch to it.

Which is fine, I guess, since it's not like I'm going to get any practical use out of the degree anyway...
posted by dersins at 5:21 PM on December 23, 2013


This is literally the best thing.

Also, mine would be, "You can turn Mill into an anarchist if you try really, really hard." Philosophy, University of Minnesota
posted by cthuljew at 12:10 PM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Amphorae from shipwrecks: awesome, or so awesome?!

I am definitely fun at parties with humans (I am not) but I also legitimately summarize this paper in fifty seconds for an audience of children on a regular basis. I don't regret it at all and I think it's actually kind of nice that I can make something arcane relevant to eleven year olds who might otherwise never be exposed to those ideas.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:13 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Oh hey here's some pomes I wrote, guys" just doesn't have the same punch to it.

I saw at least three or four of those on the list, though.
posted by Miko at 7:48 AM on December 27, 2013


My degree is in Urban Communities and Environment, with a minor in Fine Arts, so mine would be: Graffiti!
posted by goofyfoot at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2013


There are a number I wanted to know more about, specifically this one:
Taught a computer to paint portraits by understanding cognitively (vision, perception, process) how human artist’s paint and used that system to scientifically prove Rembrandt was a cognitive genius at controlling your eye path to tell his narrative.

Interdisciplanary Studies ( Computer Science, Cognition), UBC
After a bit of searching, I think I found more information: A Cognitive Approach to Modeling Portrait Painting Methodology.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:26 PM on December 28, 2013


Wow. Maybe portrait painters are going to be replaced with robots as quickly as baristas are. Just get them writing poetry and there will soon be Parisian sidewalk cafés without any humans in them.
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looks like the cafés could have off-duty gendarmes in them too. (Robot guards at about 2:30)
posted by XMLicious at 9:47 PM on December 28, 2013


robots will never replace baristas. they aren't subservient enough.
posted by jb at 8:43 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I play with dinosaur bones all day. Your thesis topic is irrelevant."
"Show me your sourcecode and I tell you how much it sucks."
"Kissing girls generally causes problems."
"Two molecules, one molecular cup"   etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:07 AM on January 8


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