01
Sep
10

Department of amusing counterfactuals

Derek Lowe has a good one today:

Over at BoingBoing, they’re investigating the question: “How long would your PhD have taken if everything worked the first time?” I have to admit, it took me a few minutes to adjust my head to that idea, since God knows, nothing in my PhD ever looked like working the first time.

[…]

How long would it have taken if I’d chosen the right move each time, and each reaction worked on the first shot?

[…]

Then one could ask, how long would it take to run through the chemistry in your dissertation, straight through, knowing what there is to know about it?

For my part, if I hadn’t spent the first two years of grad school working on a dead-end problem*, I’d have defended by now.  On the other hand, if my last two papers had run into more clement reviewers and been accepted right away — rather than taking me through years of the reject-refine-resubmit-repeat cycle — they’d be much weaker pieces of research, and I’d probably be struggling to find more stuff to do in order to fill out The Fucking Dissertation.

Good comments on Derek’s post, too.

——

* Not that the problem wasn’t interesting, just that it was a favourite of a few large and well-funded labs and I was working all by my lonesome.  When a problem takes a lot of software engineering just to get to the point where you can start investigating it, the lab with ten grad students and a working implementation usually beats the first-year Master’s student with an empty buffer in vim.

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