(The following I owe to Steve Walton of Cambridge, forwarded on to me by alert reader and my T.A. Jason Myers).
HOW TO GET A PHD – NO SWEAT!
(for my research students and my friends doing PhDs and their supervisors)
Picture a small clearing in the forest. The morning sun is clearing away the remaining traces of mist. Rabbit sits in deep concentration typing on his laptop. Into the clearing lopes a fox.
“Morning Rabbit!” “Hiya Fox!”
“What are you doing Rabbit?”
“I’m typing up my dissertation for my PhD.”
“Really, what’s your topic?”
“I’m researching how rabbits eat foxes.”
Fox gives a guffaw and says, “Are you out of your mind Rabbit?”
“No!” says Rabbit, “Come down to my lair and see.”
They go below and the sound of a furious battle ensues, ending with a
cry of pain and then silence. Shortly after Rabbit reappears gnawing on a fox
bone and resumes typing. Half an hour later a grizzled old wolf shows up.
“Morning Rabbit!” “Morning Wolf!”
“What are you doing with that laptop Rabbit?”
“Typing up my dissertation so I can graduate from University!”
“Upon my word! What’s your topic Rabbit?”
“I’m looking at how rabbits eat wolves.”
There’s an incredulous pause. Finally Wolf growls, “What sort of weed
have you been smoking Rabbit?”
“Nothing, my mind’s perfectly lucid. Come down below and learn for yourself.”
They go and sounds of battle emanate from the ground, growls, and yelps, and finally silence. Shortly, Rabbit appears, pats his tummy, burps and then goes back to his laptop.
An hour later a bear shuffles into the clearing.
“Lovely morning Rabbit!” “A wonderful day Herr Bear!”
“What are you doing on that laptop Rabbit?”
“I working on my PhD dissertation!”
“Excellent! What’s your topic?”
“I’m looking at how rabbits eat bears.”
“You expect to get this garbage published Rabbit?”
“No problem, come below and see for yourself.”
They go below, and as bear’s eyes get use to the dark he sees in one corner a pile of fox bones, in another a pile of wolf bones, and on the far side a huge lion picking his teeth.
And the moral of the story.
It doesn’t really matter whether you have a genuine topic for a thesis.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t manage to do ground-breaking research.
It doesn’t even matter if it’s basically garbage.
Just as long as you have the right person as supervisor!