Not To Be Trusted With Knives

{January 27, 2006}   Do I Dare?

After much blood, sweat and tears; after countless revisions, rewrites and edits; after FIVE LONG YEARS OF TOIL, I have a completed thesis. It may not be perfect, but as they say around these parts, “the best thesis is a done thesis.” Now mind you, this isn’t the absolutely final copy. This is the copy that goes out to my supervisory committee — they have to give it the OK to go out to the mysterious external examiner (and they may or may not suggest changes needed before it goes out). Then, after the defence, the whole examining committee (not to be confused with the supervisory committee) will make suggestions for revisions, and once those changes are made, that will be the final version. Nevertheless, this is still a major milestone in the process. Tomorrow morning I will go get the whole thing (all 164 pages, 36,248 words, 235,863 characters of it) printed out and distributed to ye ole’ supervisory committee. And I’m totally scared that they will read it and be like “oh my god! she thinks this is good enough for a Ph.D.?? is she on crack??” But I don’t have much choice — the wheels are in motion, the mysterious external is set to go and I have to get the committee’s OK in time to get the thesis in to Grad Studies by the end of Feb. Wish me luck!

Apparently January 23rd is the most depressing day of the year.

Yeah, tell me about it:

The words “Prime Minister” and the words “Stephen Harper” should not appear next to each other… unless the words “Martin punched” are in between.

{January 23, 2006}   External Examiner

I just received the following by email:

I am writing with the good news that an external examiner has been confirmed to review the Ph.D. dissertation of Beth Simpson when it is submitted in late February.

Scary! Now I have a real, honest-to-goodness deadline for getting my thesis to Grad Studies! Ack!!

The deal with the external examiner is that I had to submit three names of profs from outside UBC who would be qualified to judge my thesis. Grad Studies picks one and I’m not allowed to know who it is until after the defence is over (I guess they are afraid that students will try to bribe/blackmail/threaten the external?). They send my thesis to them and then (s)he decides if it is worth a pass and emails some questions for them to ask me at my defence. I think most universities actually bring the external to the defence, but UBC is too cheap. Anyway, I hope that whichever one they picked is nice!

In honour of our 6-2 thrashing of the Montreal Canadiens, I suggest everyone listen to this really excellent song: Making Love To The Vancouver Canucks.

This year we are undefeated while wearing our stick-in-a-box jerseys and we are 8-1 vs. teams from the East. Our record within our own division… let’s not go there.

Props also go out to the Ottawa Senators who humiliated Toronto with a 7-0 win. Gotta love anyone who shows T.O. what’s what.

{January 20, 2006}   I hate bureaucracy

A while back I mentioned the stupid timeline worksheet thingy from UBC Faculty of Grad Studies (FOGS) that I had incorrectly filled out. Well, it turns out that the incorrect way I originally filled it out would be more accurate than filling it out the correct way. Confused? I don’t blame you.

Basically, the worksheet says to subtract 6 weeks from the day you want to defend and that’s the day you need to give FOGS your thesis, which has been approved by your committee. But I just got an email saying that if you want to graduate in May, you need to defend by April 13 and you need to submit your thesis to FOGS by Feb. 10. I hear the calendrically advanced among you saying “wait a minute! that’s 9 weeks, not 6!” So I called up FOGS to get clarification and they claim that I must have “misunderstood” the timeline* and that FOGS needs to send out your thesis to the external examiner 6 weeks before the defence, but that they don’t send it out the day you submit it, so you need to submit it to FOGS at some (unspecified) time before that. So basically, if you want to defend on any day other than April 13, you have no idea when you are supposed to give your thesis to FOGS. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Anyhoo, the upshot of this whole thing is that now I’m not sure if I’ll be able to graduate in May (as my committee needs to approve the thesis, which I will be giving them next week, having got my final set of revisions from my supervisor, and I need to give them 3 weeks to read it because, apparently, one or more of the 5 profs on my committee may have something else to do in addition to reading my thesis…. I can’t see what could be more important than reading my thesis and why they wouldn’t just drop everything else, but what are you gonna do?). I talked to the woman at FOGS for a while (and she was actually very nice and very helpful — a rarity at UBC!) and she said that if I can manage to get my thesis to them by the end of Feb, we might be able to squeeze a defence in for around April 17 or 18 (which, although technically past the April 13 deadline could be OK if I can make any final revisions to the thesis in just 3-4 days). She couldn’t guarantee that this will work out, but as it’s not in their interest to keep people from graduating, she will do what she can. And while it’s not the end of the world if I have to graduate in November instead of May (I’ll still be done my defence and able to start my postdoc), you aren’t allowed to call yourself “Dr.” until the graduation ceremony has occurred. And that’s what I’m really in this for — so everyone will have to call me “Dr.”… well, that and the lovely pink gown and puffy hat** that I get to wear.

*the timeline worksheet says, and I quote, “Date A” = “Approximate date for your final exam”; “Date C” = “Date A – 6 weeks”; “Date C = submit 2 copies of the Thesis to Graduate Studies”… if anyone can explain to me any other possible interpretation of this, I’d love to hear it

**they may call it maroon and they may have doctored that photo to make it look maroon, but when you see it in person, it’s freakin’ pink.

{January 14, 2006}  

This sign is posted on the door to the walk-in freezer across the hall from my lab:

I appreciate the light hearted way that they warn you about the possibility of your imminent death by freezing. I also like how it says “This should be fixed in a few days…” That sign has been up for months!

{January 12, 2006}   Best.Birthday Present.Ever

An offer for a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford.

That sure beats a kick in the pants. (Although finding out that Gordon Campbell* was arrested for drunk driving in Maui on my bday in 2003 wasn’t too bad of a gift — for his mug shot, click here). On the whole though, I have to say that the postdoc trumps even that.

The offer is to start “as soon as you possibly can after finishing your Ph.D.” Yes, I’m that hot of a commodity. Or I’ve gotten myself into a high stakes, winner take all, must-produce-more-more-MORE-than-any-other-lab-lest-you-get-scooped-and-your-whole-career-comes-crashing-down-around-you situation. Either way, it’s warm there. And well they don’t have “free espresso” as a benefit like at Genentech (I’m not making that up. Click the link. Seriously.), I still think the deal is pretty sweet.

All kidding aside, I’m totally ecstatic! I really, really, really liked the lab there when I visited. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming. Just watching their interactions in the lab and during their lab meeting really gave you the sense that this is a good place to work. It will be a lot of hard work, no doubt about it, but the research they are doing is fascinating and if you can work in an environment where everyone is interested in collaborating rather than competing, all the better. Plus, everyone in the lab drinks diet Coke. So you know that they are good peeps.

Anyway, speaking of my bday, Birthday (which so generously reminds me when it’s your birthday, because otherwise I’d probably forget!) sent me a partial horoscope assessment (in an attempt to get me to pay to join some astrology website thing), and I was surprized at how very much this description sounds like me:

Section 1: The Inner You: Your Real Motivation
Serious, disciplined, and quietly ambitious, you are driven to prove yourself and to achieve material accomplishments and success. Your work, your position in the world, and your contributions to society are very important to you. You will persevere through enormous hardship and frustration in order to reach a goal you have set for yourself, and you often sacrifice much in the area of personal relationships and home life in order to do so.

Section 2: Mental Interests and Abilities
Clear, objective, and realistic, you are unimpressed by exaggerated claims or promises. You insist upon being shown facts to back up any statement you hear [this is sooo me], and your natural skepticism often borders on cynicism**. You approach problems clearly and rationally and maintain your poise and objectivity even in the midst of critical situations. Anyone seeking your advice is certain to get an unemotional and unbiased assessment of their situation, and you therefore make a good arbitrator or judge. You are thorough, conscientious, and disciplined in your thinking, and have an aptitude for business, organization, and administration. You are also a good strategist, and will plan and patiently follow a realistic course which will lead to your eventual success. Serious-minded and studious, you enjoy quiet time alone for thinking or reading.

I usually fit the description of Capricorn quite well, but this one was uncanny.

*P.S. Gordon Campbell also drank a drink with a human toe in it. It was on the internet, so it has to be true.

**”The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”-George Bernard Shaw

{January 11, 2006}   28

…for 19 more minutes! Oh glorious, glorious 28!

{January 6, 2006}   195

That’s how many references I have in my lit review chapter. I’m tempted to throw in 5 gratuitous references, just to make it a nice round 200. What do you think? Should I?

So far, my chapter two has 69 references (tee hee! 69), chapter three has 61, and chapter four has 20 (there is some overlap in references between chapters, so I’m not sure what the grand total is). And my references range in publication date from 1925 to 2006. It’s only Jan 6 and I have two 2006 references! Hooray for pre-publication e-articles!

Into totally unrelated news, the Canada won gold in a 5-0* victory over the Russians at the World Juniors here in Vancouver tonight — go Canada!! I was especially pleased to see Luc Bourdon (a Canucks prospect) playing well and I’m wishing the Canucks had that Pogge kid!

With the Juniors, the Olympics coming up, the Canucks finally winning a freaking game, and my own term two hockey season starting up soon, I may have to change my blog title to “Thesis Writing is Hell, but HOCKEY RULES”

*I had to put in this asterisk because it really should have been 5-1, as the Russians scored a goal that was missed. Even the Russian players didn’t know they’d scored, but when the video guys looked at it, they saw the puck clearly went it, but it was too late to call it as they had already dropped the puck and resumed play. It always sucks when stuff like that happens

{January 6, 2006}   UBC, yeah you know me

Would you believe that UBC actually has these clocks up in the administrative building?

To give you the backstory, last year UBC completed a hostile takeover of the Okanagan University College (or, as I’ve heard people from OUC call it “the occupation”)… one day, out of the blue, UBC & the BC government announced that OUC was going to be a satellite campus of UBC, much to the surprise of students at both schools. So now we are called “UBC Vancouver” and they are called “UBC Okanagan.”

So, UBC doubles my tuition on a daily basis and can’t complete any of their construction projects on time or on budget (unless it’s a private condo that’s going up), but they’ve managed to waste time & money putting up separate clocks for two locations in the same time zone. Excellent.

{January 3, 2006}   Acknowledgements

So, as I wait for my supervisor to read through my latest draft, I’m putting together the little odds & ends that need to go into the thesis, one of which is the acknowledgements section. You know, the part where you thank everyone you’ve ever met and suck up to your committee in the hopes that they won’t ask you too many hard questions during the defence. I want to have a nice quotation at the start of my acknowledgements — something to catch people’s attention and that will make me look well read, lest anyone think I’ve spent 5+ years buried in my lab (which I pretty much have) and have no culture (which I don’t). But after hours of Googling, I couldn’t find any good quotations. I found a whole bunch of totally inappropriate quotations that I’d love to put in there but don’t have the balls to.

Some quotations I think it would be most inappropriate to use at the start of my thesis include:

A theory is something nobody believes, except the person who made it. An experiment is something everybody believes, except the person who made it-Albert Einstein (that’s right, I don’t believe a thing I’ve written in this thesis — but I hope you do!)

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.
— Niels Bohr (
I hope you enjoy this thesis — it’s a compliation of all the mistake that I’ve made.)

Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.-Albert Einstein (dear god, what have I gotten myself into?)

Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds-Albert Einstein (go ahead, I dare you to violently oppose my thesis)

As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life – so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls. -M. Cartmill

The advantage of a classical education is that it enables you to despise the wealth that it prevents you from achieving. -Russell Green (Umm, why do I have a feeling that I’m always going to be poor?)

I feel bad for the man that can’t spell a word more than one way. -Mark Twain (please ignore any typos in this thesis!)

If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts. — Albert Einstein (all facts in this thesis are Einstein-approved)

When you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research. — Wilson Mizner (I hope you enjoy my “research”)

Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” (Dr. Richard P. Feynman, American physicist) (if only I was getting a degree in physics!)

So, does anyone out there have a suggestion of a good quotation I could use?

et cetera