A story from way back in the mists of time…
A good friend of mine had an absolutely terrible time during her PhD, worse than anyone I know: her two co-supervisors had a fight and stopped talking to each other about a year in, and that was actually the least of her worries. But she struggled through all obstacles, focused on her very cool project, and produced a draft thesis that she proudly presented to both supervisors.
Predictably, the two PIs spent most of their time and energy correcting each others’ corrections to the draft. However, the more clueless PI also left some rather unnecessarily mean and spiteful comments scattered throughout the document. This PI was in over their head in an unfamiliar field, wasn’t exactly making much of an effort to catch up on the historical or current literature, and made several edits that were just plain wrong. However, one in particular stood out.
The sentence in question read something like this (I forget the details):
“Some evidence had already been found to support a correlation between X and Y [Smith et al., 1977; Smith and Jones, 1978], but the advent of new technique Z provided definitive evidence for this relationship [Page, 1984].”
The latter paper was apparently absolutely pivotal to this sub-field, and essential to the interpretation of my friend’s work, which the clueless PI had been co-supervising for just over three years. However, the PI saw fit to mark this passage, in angry red pen, with “the attention to detail in this thesis is atrocious. SEE ME”.
When my friend took the thesis into the PI’s office, she was told “your cross-referencing is completely unacceptable. There is no page 1,984 in this document”.
The moral of this story is:
- there are PIs out there who not only don’t know the seminal literature in their own fields, but who are incapable of recognising a standard citation format.
- it’s possible to survive such a lab and get your PhD, and even to laugh about it (many years) later. We’ve actually discussed making the whole saga into a Hollywood blockbuster, with the climax featuring my friend standing on a windy hill top in a bloodied lab coat shouting “you can take my life, but you can never take my THESIS!”
Right, back to double checking the intra- and inter-document cross-referencing in the four progress reports that triggered this memory. They should be ready to send out for feedback by the end of the day… thankfully, my colleagues are sensible people who can be relied upon to provide constructive and sensible edits!
(I will, of course, blog any exceptions).