Jeeves and the PhD

Since the topic of graduate schools and the choice thereof seems suddenly popular, discussions of the outcome of graduate school, the dreaded PhD thesis, should also start soon. So it seems a good time to link to an old text of mine, entitled Jeeves and the PhD, which describes fairly and realistically some universal aspects of thesis-writing.

Compared with the Adventures of Schlomo Cohen, this text has the advantage of being much shorter (and in English). It also contains no mathematics whatsoever (this blog is about mathematics, but only mostly).

From the literary point of view, just as in the Scholomo Cohen stories, one can not claim that I try to hide my influences. I was, and still am, a great fan of P.G. Wodehouse (indeed, a positive proportion of my English vocabulary derives directly from reading his books, from “flabbergasted” to “flummoxed”, with “tidly om pom pom” in between).

This story was written, over one night in 1996 or 1997, to cheer up a friend of mine (the author of a very nice book of Mathematics for physicists) when he was, like many a graduate student, pulling all-nighters in order to finish typing his thesis (which he did defend brilliantly not long afterwards). It may still be considered as funny by similarly shackled graduate students (in any field), and can be read as cautionary tale by those hesitating to pursue graduate studies…

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

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