Thursday, April 17, 2008

You don't need to be a lead guitarist to finish a science PhD

This post should inspire ABD's (all but dissertation) and other PhD candidates losing steam!

Queen's lead guitarist Brian May was very recently installed Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University. The largely honorary university post is usually given as a recognition of great achievement. What then is Brian May's great achievement aside from Queen rock gigastardom?

May was once enrolled as a PhD student in astrophysics in the 1970's having earlier graduated with an honours degree in physics. But when Queen became a global hit, he abandoned his PhD studies. Thirty years later,in October 2007 he completed his PhD thesis on "A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud" passed his viva voce, made revisions and was granted the degree.

(Brian May didn't get any special treatment in the PhD exam. Almost all candidates revise their thesis.)

I agree with the university. Finishing a PhD is an achievement in itself. Finishing a PhD after 30 years despite other concerns (money,fame, family, artistic etc) is even more so.

ABDs often cite a zillion reasons for not completing the dissertation (BTW in Commonwealth universities, the PhD dissertation is actually the Thesis while the dissertation is awarded for a professional Masters. The Americans have it the other way around!).

Of course we can understand the ABDs. A PhD is unique in formal education since it demands an almost religious vow. This is the vow of focus (for at least three years) that allows the candidate to finish the thesis or dissertation. (The problem is nobody will read the thesis. You have to publish the results in a journal!). For many this is too much.

But as Brian May's example shows them their zillion reasons is no reason!

Rock music and science do mix well!

PS: Look at the funny academic gowns and bonnets in May's investiture as Chancellor. I myself will wear something like that for the UP Centennial graduation!

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