Six months ago, I completed my job at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC and moved 2200 km south to San Diego, CA. Make that 1400 miles.
Posting to this blog fell off the bottom of my list of tasks that included getting immigration papers, getting across the border, finding health care, buying a house, starting a new job, getting the kids in school,… I promised myself I’d start blogging again as soon as, well, you know, when things settled down. Yeah, like that’s going to happen anytime soon. So, over the Christmas break, I bit the bullet, set up this new website, and here I am, writing my first post from San Diego!
I’ve got to say, I really missed blogging. I can’t count how many times in the last few months I’ve thought to myself, “This would make a really good post. ” I have a stack of post-it notes of potential posts. It’s hard to go back through that stack, though: I need the adrenaline of that moment of discovery or realization to write a post.
A friend of mine is near the end of his Ph.D. He’s at the stage where he just wants to get the damn thing done. I asked if he’d written the opening line yet and he said no, he doesn’t care how it starts.
How sad, I thought.
My Ph.D. thesis is probably the most important document I’ve ever written. I’d love to write a book some day but for now, my thesis is the top of my list. When I wrote it, I cared that some parts of it were, well, beautiful, at least to me. The first lines of my thesis are among the best I’ve written:
A planet, a star, or a galaxy drifts through space like an ocean liner on calm seas. A ray of light, however, is tossed like a leaf floating amongst the ripples.
My research and thesis was about gravitational lensing, how rays of light from extremely distant objects are bent and deflected as they pass through galaxy clusters, and how we can use the distorted images we observe, plus some surprisingly simple physics, to reconstruct the mass distributions of those intermediate galaxy clusters. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a previous life.
This got me thinking: do other people sweat these kinds of details, like the first line of their thesis, its title, the placement of the figures, the orphaned words…like I did?
Would you help me out? Would you drop a comment sharing the part of your thesis you’re still recall proudly and fondly. Was it the first lines, the title, the acknowledgement to your supervisor, the caption of Figure 5.3? Who knows, maybe we can show today’s thesis-writers that it’s okay to spend some precious moments making their theses beautiful.