[Beowulf] Degree

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Thu Oct 25 15:40:22 PDT 2012


On Thu, 25 Oct 2012, Lux, Jim (337C) wrote:

> A colleague of mine narrowly escaped having to explain gravity to Kip
> Thorne by pleading a recent diagnosis of possible brain tumor.  That's
> in the nature of "tricking the snake", I suspect.

I like it, I like it.  Well played, sir.

I've thought that taking a massive amount of laxative and blowing it all
out into your shorts after a few minutes of questioning would probably
work as well -- or would have worked -- but we've replaced the good old
"today is the worst day of your entire life" oral prelims of my era with
written tests that, no matter how poorly you do on them, just don't have
the same personal humiliation possibilities as the good old oral prelims
did.  Unless your name is Feynman, of course.  I've heard that he spent
three minutes answering questions and the rest of the time grilling his
committee, but then, he was Feynman.

My favorite Feynman story.  Feynman was on the same hall with a bunch of
mathematicians, and one day a small group of them were working at a
board in an office, trying to do a really complicated integral.  Feynman
got up to walk past their office to get a drink of water, glanced in as
he passed by, and heard them arguing about the integral on the board.
On his way back from the water fountain, he stepped into the room and
without a word wrote the result on the board, then continued on to his
office.  A result that (much later, with lots of effort) proved
correct...

Sadly, I was no Feynman, possibly because I spent too much of my
undergraduate and graduate education attempting to demonstrate that it
was possible to do theoretical and mathematical physics at the graduate
level with a substantial level of THC in one's system at all times.
Which turned out to be true, as far as that goes, but probably -- in
retrospect -- was less than optimal on the "keeping it all organized and
in your brain during oral prelims" front...;-)

Hence the need to kill the snake... which in my case was a rather
substantial one, big AND poisonous, a king cobra of a snake, at prelims,
although it had shrunk to a worm snake out of my garden that I couldn't
bring myself to actually hurt by my dissertation.  Which was, if I do
say so even today, a damn good one.  Butt-kicking good.  Hence tiny,
harmless snake.

    rgb

> Jim Lux
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org [mailto:beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org] On Behalf Of Robert G. Brown
> Sent: Thursday, October 25, 2012 12:53 PM
> To: Jonathan Dursi
> Cc: beowulf at beowulf.org
> Subject: Re: [Beowulf] Degree
>
> On Thu, 25 Oct 2012, Jonathan Dursi wrote:
>
>> On 25 Oct 9:22AM, Andrew Holway wrote:
>>>> Well, there was the propeller-top beanie and hazing when I first
>>>> arrived at graduate school, the secret physics handshake, the
>>>> decoder ring, and the wierd robes they made us wear in quantum
>>>> mechanics "to keep us safe from virtual photons", but by in large,
>>>> no.  I mean, except for The Ritual.  But I can't talk about that.  They'd kick me out of the club.
>>>
>>> I'm sure its connected with a magic circle and league of mystics.
>>
>> ..and the snake fighting portion of every thesis defence,
>>
>> http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/faq-the-snake-fight-portion-of-your
>> -thesis-defense
>
> I actually had to fight my snake during prelims.  But this was back in the days when prelims were conducted in a room filled with tear gas, when you were forced to wear an electroshock collar to jolt you back to awareness in case you entered the "holy shit I'm at the blackboard explaining how to derive Clebsch-Gordan coefficients from scratch"
> trance state, from which few humans ever emerge at all.  To avoid the shock I grabbed the coffee thermos of my advisor and beat the snake to a pulp as a bit of distraction and then came back to the board and spoke of something safe, like the labelling of quantum levels in the hydrogen atom.
>
> Fortunately, nobody noticed, being too busy scraping fragments of snake off of their eyeglasses and bald spots. My advisor was pretty pissed, though.  He had to drink the rest of the coffee straining glass liner with his teeth (given that there was no question that he WAS going to drink the coffee, snake guts and glass or not).
>
> I barely passed.  Probably thanks to the snake.
>
>   rgb
>
>> .
>>
>> 	- Jonathan
>>
>> --
>> Jonathan Dursi | SciNet, Compute/Calcul Canada | www.SciNetHPC.ca
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>
> Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
> Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305 Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
> Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu
>
>
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Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu




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