Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Lord of the Rings is like getting a PhD

Okay, this post counts as utter procrastination. You see I’m working on my dissertation, and I’ve been working on my dissertation for way too long. People tell me that asking a grad student how long they have left is a lot like asking a woman how old she is: the answers are generally awkward and incorrect. So here it is, a slice of being a grad student, a la Tolkien. (and for the record, someone else told me this joke, but I've made it long and boring, as I'm wont to do).

So, Frodo is there in the Shire, getting his bachelor’s degree. His uncle, who has already studied abroad, introduces Frodo to his old advisor: Gandalf. Bilbo wisely leaves the party at this point, and Gandalf wrangles Frodo into a measly master’s program. “You can just tack it onto the end of your bachelor’s degree, it’ll be painless,” Gandalf says. Well, Frodo, not knowing any better, decides he might as well, so he starts off on his master’s thesis. 

Well, it’s harder than he thought it would be, going from the Shire to Rivendell, but he makes it through his thesis and the defense (the crossing of the ford), but it was much harder than advertised. He thinks it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done, I mean, shoot, it almost killed him. But he’s done. He’s finished. He got his Master’s degree. 

But then his committee start talking after his defense, and they come to the conclusion that really, what Frodo needs is a PhD. And, of course, there’s only one place to get that: Mount Doom (really? He named it Mt. Doom? Why not just call it Plot Mountain, or GM Caveat? Mt. Doom…).  Frodo doesn’t really want a PhD, it’s hard enough to get a job without being way overqualified, not to mention the sheer amount of work. But Elrond offers to be his co-advisor, and between Gandalf and Elrond, what could really go wrong, right?

So, like a fool, Frodo sets off to write his PhD. Along the way he does some research with some rather unsavory co-authors (smeagal, and that disastrous abstract with Boromir), and eventually he has to leave behind his whole committee and take a leap, writing his dissertation on his own (well, he has a beta reader, Sam, but Sam really doesn’t study the same subject, so it’s not as helpful as Gandalf’s feedback would be, but there you have it). Eventually he gets to the point where he’s certain he’ll never make it, but somehow, he manages. They schedule a defense, and his shady co-author tests him mercilessly in the defense, nearly destroying his whole dissertation, but he pulls through that too. In fact, his committee just hangs him out to dry right up until revisions. They heap the revisions on like lava flowing down a mountain, but just when it seems completely impossible, a lab tech (the great eagle) shows him a new technique to wrap up revisions in a flash.

Frodo finishes, but he’s not the same anymore. He’s a different person. But he got his PhD.

And if we followed this analogy, I’m throwing rocks at Mt. Doom, wondering how long it will take me to reach the top.

1 comment:

  1. Wow that's an epic struggle right there. Good luck with chucking rocks at Mt. Doom.


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