Reply
Thread Tools Display Modes
#1
Old 01-21-2010, 06:40 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
What’s the most famous PhD dissertation paper? Is there such a thing?

Wiki says the PhD in its modern form has been around since the 1800s.

Maybe I’m ignorant but it seems like no PhD paper has become famous enough to enter public awareness. Why is that?

For example, many people know Einstein got his Nobel Prize for the photoelectric effect. But neither photoelectric effect nor relativity was the subject of his PhD paper. Einstein’s PhD dissertation was, "A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions"

Has any major invention, breakthrough, or quotable soundbite come from anybody’s PhD paper in the last 200 years?

It seems strange since graduate students spend several years of blood, sweat & tears to write it. You’d think by now, after tens of thousands submitted papers, there would be several printed gems to point to.

Or is the constraint of “PhD paper” too restrictive? For example, maybe there was a very famous book but that book was 95% recycled from the author’s PhD paper? Therefore the dissertation was really just a "rough draft." In this case, the PhD paper did have the landmark ideas. However, I can't even think of one example of this scenario.

I didn’t find any obvious answers on this topic with google search.
#2
Old 01-21-2010, 06:45 PM
Charter Member
Moderator
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 72,722
The first example to come to mind is de Broglie, whose thesis outlined the revolutionary idea of wave-particle duality as applied to electrons, one of the founding ideas of quantum mechanics. It's also remarkable for being extremely short (I've heard something in the vicinity of three pages), that being all the space he needed to demonstrate the utility of his idea. All theorists aspire to be able to get off that easily, but of course, opportunities for such a simple yet revolutionary idea don't come up very often.
#3
Old 01-21-2010, 06:46 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,544
I don't know if it's the "most famous" (or how you'd determine that), but Louis De Broglie's PhD dissertation formed the basis for his Nobel Prize in physics a mere five years later.

ETA: One minute!

Last edited by KarlGauss; 01-21-2010 at 06:46 PM.
#4
Old 01-21-2010, 06:54 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,544
The now rather popular "Many Worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics was first developed in Hugh Everett's PhD thesis.

Last edited by KarlGauss; 01-21-2010 at 06:54 PM.
#5
Old 01-21-2010, 06:59 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Thank you both for mentioning de Broglie. However, I was hoping for something more well known (if that's possible). I'm sure you'll agree that virtually nobody outside of academia would know who de Broglie is.

If de Broglie's paper truly is the most well-known, it seems like everybody's PhD paper has been going into a black hole!

Karl Marx is known for his writings after his PhD paper. Same can be said for many other scientists, philosophers, etc.

Nobody seems to be doing their best life's work in their PhD dissertation. Amazing. You'd think somebody somewhere would have had a untimely car accident and the last thing they wrote (their PhD paper) was the most brilliant thing the world had ever seen.
#6
Old 01-21-2010, 07:06 PM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 2,564
It's called a dissertation, not a 'PhD paper' or some such. Also, I suspect that most dissertations don't exactly become 'famous' because virtually all academic writing remains well under the radar of public interest. However, within every academic discipline I'm certain there are seminal works that were (parts of a) dissertations (and were maybe re-published in a different form later on or as articles earlier on).
#7
Old 01-21-2010, 07:15 PM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: California
Posts: 930
How about Jane Goodall, whose work on Chimpanzees started in 1960 and was the basis for her Ph.D. thesis in 1965, by which time she had already been featured in National Geographic?

Have pulsars entered the public consciousness, or buckyballs? Both were discovered by graduate students, although the Nobel Prize went to their thesis advisors.
#8
Old 01-21-2010, 07:20 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 40,652
Remember, dissertations are written by students, who probably still aren't well enough trained to come up with scientific breakthroughs.

However, if we consider non-science, there was John F. Kennedy's senior thesis, While England Slept, which was later published and helped him make his reputation. Not a Ph.D. thesis, of course, but still student work.
__________________
"East is East and West is West and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does."
Purveyor of fine science fiction since 1982.
#9
Old 01-21-2010, 07:24 PM
Voodoo Adult (Slight Return)
Charter Member
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Charlotte, NC, USA
Posts: 24,869
It's not famous (probably not even among his fans), but I read Robert B. Parker's Ph.D. thesis, The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality, and it gave great insight into his work.
#10
Old 01-21-2010, 07:26 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Austin, but NC at heart
Posts: 1,461
I would go with John Nash. His 28 (!) page dissertation laid the foundation for Nash Equlibiria, and his subsequent Nobel Prize. He's also famous in a way that de Broglie isn't.
#11
Old 01-21-2010, 07:27 PM
Guest
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 5,441
I think Svante Arrhenius was initially given a very low level for his dissertation on ionic solutions. That's the theory he received the Nobel prize for in 1903. It is only famous among chemists though.

It's strange that Arrhenius work is so often used, but almost no one knows who he is. If only his equation boiled down to something simple like E=MC^2.
#12
Old 01-21-2010, 07:28 PM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 10,519
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruminator View Post
Has any major invention, breakthrough, or quotable soundbite come from anybody’s PhD paper in the last 200 years?
This is a different question from whether any "PhD paper" (aka, doctoral dissertation) is famous outside the consciousness of academia. I think it's still rarely the case that doctoral dissertations achieve the level of importance of later work, but I don't really know anything. I can think of a few notable results from doctoral dissertations, but they're only notable within the fields which produced them (e.g., Goedel's completeness theorem, far overshadowed in public consciousness by his later incompleteness theorems, or Lawvere's creation of functorial semantics, which no one knows anything about except those few who care about categorical logic.) [I've also heard it put that the most famous master's thesis of all time, indeed the only one I've ever heard anyone talk about, is Claude Shannon's on the applications of Boolean algebra to circuit design. But who knows? Maybe in some other field they talk about another one. Either way, clearly, these aren't things with general cultural cachet] [Also, it's interesting to note that Turing's great breakthrough and most famous work (on plain-vanilla Turing machines) was two years before his dissertation, his dissertation being a further development of new ideas on top of that]

I venture right now that the most famous work ever used as a doctoral dissertation is Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which is probably his most famous work and actually does have, I believe, a fair level of cultural recognition outside the ivory tower. Can anyone beat that?

Last edited by Indistinguishable; 01-21-2010 at 07:32 PM.
#13
Old 01-21-2010, 07:32 PM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 938
Maybe Ed Catmull, who later went on to co-found Pixar?

Quote:
The dissertation itself is mostly tough reading for the uninitiated, as you might expect. Nonetheless, when writing the book, I found it an interesting window into the opening days of 3-D computer graphics, of which Catmull was one of the founding fathers. The techniques he described in the language of mathematics are used today in videogames, special effects, and, of course, computer-animated films.
From Wikipedia - During his time [in grad school] he made three fundamental computer graphics discoveries: Z-buffering (independently from Wolfgang Straßer who described it 8 months before Catmull in his PhD thesis), texture mapping, and bicubic patches, and invented algorithms for anti-aliasing and refining subdivision surfaces.

Last edited by Pray for peace; 01-21-2010 at 07:32 PM.
#14
Old 01-21-2010, 07:43 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Quote:
Originally Posted by Švejk View Post
It's called a dissertation, not a 'PhD paper' or some such.
Yes I know. It's simply a sloppy habit of description I developed. My friend spent 5+ years on his PhD and whenever it came up in discussion, it was the "PhD paper."
#15
Old 01-21-2010, 07:47 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 19,649
Part of the reason for the comparative obscurity of actual Ph.D. dissertations is that they are generally not published as peer-reviewed research in dissertation form (at least not in the US, and I'm not aware of major exceptions to that practice elsewhere).

A dissertation is supervised by one's graduate advisor, reviewed and evaluated by one's dissertation committee, and then submitted to (and, with luck, accepted by) one's university in partial fulfillment of the Ph.D. requirements. (Other Ph.D. requirements include completing the necessary coursework and paying one's tuition bills.) The dissertation then goes into the university library and/or archives, and is usually incorporated into the University Microfilm/ProQuest database for general access, but doesn't automatically show up as a regular research article or monograph.

People who want to publish their dissertation research have to revise the format (and sometimes the content) of the dissertation to conform to the requirements of a publisher or a journal editor. It's usually the published form of the work that gets cited by other research and becomes famous.

For instance, Einstein is well known for, among other things, the three major scientific papers he published in his annus mirabilis or year of breakthroughs, 1905. A lot of people could probably tell you that those papers were on the topics of light quanta, special relativity, and Brownian motion, but probably many of them don't know that the third paper was actually just a slightly revised form of Einstein's recently-accepted doctoral dissertation.
#16
Old 01-21-2010, 07:56 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,544
Here's one that is very famous (for the wrong reasons!) (pdf)
#17
Old 01-21-2010, 08:11 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: U.K.
Posts: 12,068
Ph.D. dissertations (or theses as they are known in the U.K) are not normally published. Indeed, until fairly recently, when some have begun to be made available on the web, they were quite difficult to get hold of. They usually existed in only 2 or three copies, one kept by the author (authors might make extra copies, but typing, copying and binding would all be at their own expense) and another one or two kept in the library of the awarding institution, often locked away in the vaults somewhere. Somebody at that institution could ask to have a look at it, if they knew it was there. They would not stumble across it on the open shelves or, probably, in the main catalog. If you were based somewhere else you might be able to get it by interlibrary loan (which might cost you, and you can't keep them for long), or you might have to travel to the library where it was kept. When I was doing my own doctoral research I did need to get a few other people's theses on interlibrary loan. Sometimes they came as rather dogeared photocopies of the original, sometimes as microfilm, and once I got a bound copy.

However, the material in a Ph.D. dissertation very often will be published, either as a book (usually at least somewhat rewritten) or as a series of scholarly journal articles. This the route through which doctoral research has most of its impact, but readers will usually either not know or not care that it originated as dissertation work.
#18
Old 01-21-2010, 08:15 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Lincoln, IL
Posts: 24,021
Riemann's?

Upon looking it up, I guess I was thinking of his "Habilitationsvortrag" (probationary lecture), in which he laid some of the foundations for non-Euclidean geometry that was, if I understand correctly, of key importance to relativity. But it turns out his dissertation was pretty important, too.
#19
Old 01-21-2010, 08:20 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
People who want to publish their dissertation research have to revise the format (and sometimes the content) of the dissertation to conform to the requirements of a publisher or a journal editor. It's usually the published form of the work that gets cited by other research and becomes famous.
This is true but I was thinking there were dissertations so brilliant that they rose above the walls of academia.

We read Emily Dickinson's poems that were written scraps of paper left behind in her house. (But to your point, they weren't famous until submitted for publishing by her sister.)

We read Aristotle's works even though they are second-hand notes by his students.

We can think of many quotes from Shakespeare's plays or Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations."

I think each of the examples above show how the author's work transcended its original form.

And yes, dissertations are written by young 25-year old students. However, Mary Shelley was younger than 20 when she wrote Frankenstein and the public is familiar with that (though these days, probably the movies more than the book.)

It strikes me as odd that not a single dissertation in the last 200 years, even though it is formal (not scraps of paper and not 2nd-hand student notes), and has heavy time investment (not just the 2 years Mary Shelley to write her novel) has not made its way into a high school class as assigned reading material or general public awareness. (Again, I know it's not the purpose of the doctoral dissertation to become high school reading material (especially the non-mathematic ones) but the original purpose of Shakespeare wasn't to be high school material either.)

Perhaps we're just 1000 years premature for that situation to happen.

Last edited by Ruminator; 01-21-2010 at 08:24 PM.
#20
Old 01-21-2010, 08:27 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Quote:
Originally Posted by njtt View Post
However, the material in a Ph.D. dissertation very often will be published, either as a book (usually at least somewhat rewritten) or as a series of scholarly journal articles. This the route through which doctoral research has most of its impact, but readers will usually either not know or not care that it originated as dissertation work.
Right and I suspected this in my OP.

So, would Einstein's Brownian motion be the best example of this? Is there a more well-known case?
#21
Old 01-21-2010, 08:32 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 6,956
I immediately thought of "that infamously short particle physics paper in the early 1900's", although I confess in my feeble memory it was Heisenberg who had the famously short paper. Geezing.

In modern times, the most notorious one that comes to mind is Martin Luther King's thesis, which achieved that notoriety over plagiarized content. I don't know if that counts as being "famous" or not.

As Kimstu notes, most dissertations are resigned to dusty shelves. In part this is because they do not involve fabulous ground-breaking insights; they are part of the process for obtaining the Piled higher and Deeper. If a student in higher education discovers something really spectacular, you can bet their supervising professor is gonna publish it as an active paper with her name listed first. It ain't gonna make the dissertation as a primary discovery.

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 01-21-2010 at 08:34 PM.
#22
Old 01-21-2010, 08:39 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant View Post
If a student in higher education discovers something really spectacular, you can bet their professor is gonna publish as an active paper with her name listed first. It ain't gonna make the dissertation as a primary discovery.
Chief Pedant's cynicism works its magic again.

That's an insightful comment and something I overlooked. Totally makes sense.

But Pandora's box is opened and I'm now curious what the most famous example of an advisor stealing credit from a student would be. Off to google land...
#23
Old 01-21-2010, 08:44 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 6,956
I pretend no expertise, but if this is De Broglie's thesis, it's about 70 pages...

http://nonloco-physics.000freeho...om/ldb_the.pdf
#24
Old 01-21-2010, 08:46 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 6,956
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruminator View Post
Chief Pedant's cynicism works its magic again.

That's an insightful comment and something I overlooked. Totally makes sense.

But Pandora's box is opened and I'm now curious what the most famous example of an advisor stealing credit from a student would be. Off to google land...
Ouch.
Kimstu, help! Rescue me!

Perhaps we can get another PhD paper: "Kimstu agreed with CP"

(Not about MLK; about the advisor taking credit if a student discovers something spectacular. No way is that student's name going first...)

Ever heard of PRE? Me neither. But EPR is in any physics history book.

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 01-21-2010 at 08:51 PM.
#25
Old 01-21-2010, 08:47 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 19,649
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
If a student in higher education discovers something really spectacular, you can bet their professor is gonna publish as an active paper with her name listed first. It ain't gonna make the dissertation as a primary discovery.
Wait a minute. This may be the case in some experimental sciences where few if any single-author works are ever published, but it's absurd (bordering on slanderous) to suggest that outstanding dissertation research in every field would automatically be co-opted by a dissertation advisor.

There have been many brilliant Ph.D. students who published spectacular results from their dissertations solely under their own names, including the dissertation authors mentioned upthread.
#26
Old 01-21-2010, 08:50 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Jersey City
Posts: 742
This might not really fit the OP for a couple reasons (the theory is not that important to non-academics, major points were republished) but Noam Chomsky's dissertation, "Transformational Analysis," revolutionized linguistics. It was republished in Syntactic Structure and The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory.
#27
Old 01-21-2010, 09:01 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 19,649
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruminator
I'm now curious what the most famous example of an advisor stealing credit from a student would be.
I dunno about famous examples, but there was a lawsuit alleging such conduct in Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in Johnson v. Schmitz (.doc).
#28
Old 01-21-2010, 09:09 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 6,956
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
Wait a minute. This may be the case in some experimental sciences where few if any single-author works are ever published, but it's absurd (bordering on slanderous) to suggest that outstanding dissertation research in every field would automatically be co-opted by a dissertation advisor.

There have been many brilliant Ph.D. students who published spectacular results from their dissertations solely under their own names, including the dissertation authors mentioned upthread.
I've been waiting years for this: cite?

Mr CP the Cynic holds to his scandalous, slanderous view, the outstanding (and quite a bit smarter) Kimstu's (naive ) opinion to the contrary:

No way an outstanding discovery from a PhD candidate (in modern times) gets published first as a dissertation anymore and no way an outstanding (Nobel-level...genius-level) discovery gets published with the student-author's name as the only (or even primary) author.
In the academic world, which is much more scandalous than you think, publishing is everything and first-author credit is most of the credit. You aren't alive until you are published, and you aren't gonna get first-author published on sumpin' really really good til you earn your PhD, if you are working toward a degree.

OK, maybe every once in a great while, but no way, on average...Damn Kimstu hates me so bad...

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 01-21-2010 at 09:12 PM.
#29
Old 01-21-2010, 10:00 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 19,649
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
No way an outstanding discovery from a PhD candidate (in modern times) gets published first as a dissertation anymore and no way an outstanding (Nobel-level...genius-level) discovery gets published with the student-author's name as the only (or even primary) author.
Sorry, but this is nuts. Students in many fields do retain independent control over their own research results and don't get them stolen by their advisors, even if the results are brilliant. Demanding that the results be restricted to "Nobel-level" discoveries seems unrealistic---how many graduate students do Nobel-level research, with or without co-authors?---but genius-level discoveries certainly are published independently by Ph.D. candidates.

I'm thinking in particular of the outstanding Fields Medalist mathematician Terence Tao, who published several major papers (with no co-authors) before and shortly after receiving his Ph.D. in 1996, and to a lesser extent another mathematician, Manjul Bhargava, with similar though not quite as renowned accomplishments.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
OK, maybe every once in a great while, but no way, on average...
"On average", grad students aren't doing genius-level work, period. IME, the few who do achieve that tend to have advisors who are inordinately proud of them and run around showing them off every chance they get and push them to accomplish even more stunning things, not jealous losers who steal from them.

Frankly, AFAICT, a truly genius-level hotshot grad student whose advisor doesn't support him/her with integrity has plenty of opportunities to find another advisor. Students like Tao and Bhargava generally acquire quite a reputation informally among specialists in their fields even before they begin to publish, and they usually have some fairly hotshot senior geniuses who are eager to work with them. Stealing credit from a student of that caliber would be likely to cause quite a scandal in the profession.

My guess (and this, unlike the specific examples of individual cases offered above, is only a guess) about the "plagiarized-by-advisor" phenomenon in general would be that it shows up primarily among comparatively mediocre professors with good-but-not-great students, where the people involved have no academic celebrity status and comparatively little collegial scrutiny, so intellectual theft is more likely to pass unnoticed.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
In the academic world, which is much more scandalous than you think, publishing is everything and first-author credit is most of the credit.
In the academic world, where I've worked in both humanities and sciences departments for the past twenty years and which is much more diverse and complex than you apparently realize, there are lots of different social models of competition and collaboration. It is simply not true that every academic department is a seething abattoir of backstabbing and throatcutting in the struggle for publishing credit, nor is it true that every academic will abandon all loyalty and integrity for the sake of getting their name on a genius-level publication.

Your boasted scandalous slanderous cynicism may be personally titillating to you, but that doesn't make it an accurate picture of all academia.
#30
Old 01-21-2010, 10:43 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 6,956
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post

Your boasted scandalous slanderous cynicism may be personally titillating to you, but that doesn't make it an accurate picture of all academia.
I dunno...if you have to reach back a decade to get a couple of really smart exceptions in your own field, I'm tempted to stick with my boasted scandalous slanderous (bit touchy, aren't we..slander?) cynical generalization about academia. And obviously my tongue is in my cheek. I realize you are all lovely people, anxious to advance the other guy's career.

Those two guys were obviously pretty good genetic stock when they showed up to play, so I'm happy to admit they could get their own names on a paper. But in my opinion, they still represent the exception and not the rule. You have, of course, convinced me that altruism reigns supreme in academia.

p.s. : Thanks for "abbattoir." I will be pretending I knew it all along.

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 01-21-2010 at 10:46 PM.
#31
Old 01-21-2010, 10:44 PM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 6,471
I read somewhere that many big breakthroughs in science have come when the person was under the age of 40 .
#32
Old 01-21-2010, 10:56 PM
Charter Member
Moderator
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 72,722
Consider: Many professors do, in fact, have integrity, and I've known several who have a policy that all work done in collaboration with a student of theirs gets published with the student's name first. If we assume that the true geniuses among the graduate student population are evenly distributed amongst professors, then surely at least a few would end up under such professors. In fact, such professors tend to get a good reputation among students, and therefore tend to have more students than average.

Quote:
No way an outstanding discovery from a PhD candidate (in modern times) gets published first as a dissertation anymore
This, generally, is true. Any work sufficient to be published as a thesis is also sufficient for a half-dozen journal papers or so, and most folks will not want to sit on something they could publish while they accumulate more work in the field. In practice, the set of papers the student publishes end up being a sort of rough draft for the thesis.
__________________
Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.
--As You Like It, III:ii:328
Check out my dice in the Marketplace
#33
Old 01-21-2010, 11:00 PM
Guest
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 5,441
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Consider: Many professors do, in fact, have integrity, and I've known several who have a policy that all work done in collaboration with a student of theirs gets published with the student's name first.
I've never seen it. I'm sure it happens, but I've never seen it in chemistry.
#34
Old 01-21-2010, 11:15 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,544
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Consider: Many professors do, in fact, have integrity, and I've known several who have a policy that all work done in collaboration with a student of theirs gets published with the student's name first.
Rita Levi-Montalcini (Nobelist in 'Physiology or Medicine') insisted that her one and only graduate student publish her (the student's) seminal paper without Levi-Montalcini even being a co-author (ironically, the cite for this is in the today's issue of Nature which I cannot link to).

ETA: For those interested, I just find another site for the cite (2/3 through the page).

Last edited by KarlGauss; 01-21-2010 at 11:19 PM.
#35
Old 01-21-2010, 11:15 PM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Greenbury, Michigan
Posts: 3,861
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruminator View Post
I didn’t find any obvious answers on this topic with google search.
Because sometimes it isn't so obvious.
#36
Old 01-21-2010, 11:31 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 19,649
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
I'm happy to admit they [Tao and Bhargava] could get their own names on a paper. But in my opinion, they still represent the exception and not the rule.
Note that Tao and Bhargava are not extremely exceptional in authoring independent research papers before they obtained their Ph.D.'s. Hell, even I had written an independent research paper before I had my Ph.D. (although I didn't get it accepted for publication until the following year), and I am not by any stretch of the imagination a genius.

Where people like Tao and Bhargava are extreme outliers is in the exceptional brilliance of their work. (Tao in particular, as one of the youngest mathematicians ever to receive the Nobel-equivalent Fields Medal, is by anybody's standards one of the top people in the entire discipline.) But if you're asking about people who were merely talented enough to produce publishable work during their Ph.D. candidacy and succeeded in publishing it on their own, that's a much less rare situation.

I'd estimate that somewhere around 5-10% of graduate students in pure mathematics (and more in my own field, which is related but less technically difficult) have single-authored research papers appearing in print before their Ph.D. is actually awarded, and many more get their dissertation research out under their own names within a year of receiving the degree. As Chronos notes, if it's publishable-quality work then there's no reason to hold off on publishing it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
I realize you are all lovely people, anxious to advance the other guy's career.

[...] You have, of course, convinced me that altruism reigns supreme in academia.
Yes, because of course we all know that there can never be any intermediate truth between two extreme hypotheses. Since it's false to state categorically that there's no way a genius-level result could be published independently by a Ph.D. candidate rather than being co-opted by the candidate's advisor, then it must be true that all advisors are selfless altruists whose only goal is to advance the other guy's career.

How interesting it must be to live in Chief Pedant Land, where every day brings either a multimillion-dollar lottery win at a sumptuous luxury resort or else a devastating automobile accident coinciding with bankruptcy. Sounds a little too exciting for me, though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
p.s. : Thanks for "abbattoir." I will be pretending I knew it all along.
Good, because if that's the way you're going to spell it I would hate to have people think you picked it up from me.
#37
Old 01-21-2010, 11:31 PM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 938
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kozmik View Post
Because sometimes it isn't so obvious.
But they left Stanford before finishing their PhDs, right? Not that it held them back or anything...
#38
Old 01-21-2010, 11:38 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kozmik View Post
Because sometimes it isn't so obvious.

I wasn't counting on google to unearth the dissertations themselves.

I was thinking of something indirect. For example, maybe somebody compiled a list of "Top 10 PhD Dissertations of all time." Or when reading various websites with guidelines to writing a quality thesis, some might point to a seminal paper that everybody knows of as a shining example of what to emulate. Edward Gibbons "Decline and Fall of Roman Empire" serve as a common frame of reference for historical writing but no PhD work (so far) seems to have risen above the pack transcending its academic origins.

I'm beginning to believe this is simply an accident of history and 200 years is too short a time (too small a sample size) for any such works to become known (at least superficially) by the general public. Somehow the equation e=mc^2 escaped the boundaries of academia and made it into public consciousness even though most don't understand what it means. I do find it hard to believe that there isn't single original quote embedded in any PhD dissertation that's regurgitated by the public today? How many phrases have been put to paper in the last 200 years of dissertations? Millions? Not a single one leaped off any dissertation that we use as a cliche today?

Last edited by Ruminator; 01-21-2010 at 11:40 PM.
#39
Old 01-21-2010, 11:48 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 19,649
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruminator
I do find it hard to believe that there isn't single original quote embedded in any PhD paper that's regurgitated by the public today?
Again, the crux of the matter is that most material embedded in any Ph.D. thesis doesn't generally reach the public via the Ph.D. thesis itself.

Yes, you could go through a list of popular memes derived from science and scholarship, and look up the Ph.D. theses written by those memes' originators, and I'm sure that in many cases you'd find that the meme first appeared in the thesis. But since the primary mechanism for disseminating the meme was some piece of published research rather than the Ph.D. dissertation, the dissertation itself is likely to remain obscure, no matter how famous the meme or the author is.
#40
Old 01-22-2010, 12:17 AM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
Again, the crux of the matter is that most material embedded in any Ph.D. thesis doesn't generally reach the public via the Ph.D. thesis itself.
Yes, I understand that barrier. I'm not expecting raw PhD dissertations to sit on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or for Kindle download at amazon.com.

But somehow, Plato's writings survived through the centuries (passing through Persians and Arabs) even though there was no Journal of Philosophy (or no Gutenberg printing press for that matter) to publish (broaden its appeal).

I guess it seemed strange that no PhD work in 200 years was so groundbreaking that it leaked out into the public sphere and didn't need (didn't wait) to be reformatted by a publisher.
#41
Old 01-22-2010, 01:51 AM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: America's Dairyland
Posts: 12,780
Camille Paglia's first book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), was an adaptation of her 1974 doctoral dissertation at Yale, Sexual Personae: The Androgyne in Literature and Art.

It was reviewed in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Nation, Mother Jones, The Times Literary Supplement — and became a bestseller.

Last edited by Walloon; 01-22-2010 at 01:53 AM.
#42
Old 01-22-2010, 02:31 AM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: up the coast
Posts: 4,417
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's PhD thesis became the bestselling book Hitler's Willing Executioners. It has its critics and faults, but is nevertheless a landmark work in Holocaust history.

There may not be a single PhD paper that's the most famous, but arguably there may only be one Master's thesis that is famous. Claude Shannon's which described how digital circuits could implement Boolean logic; in other words how an electronic digital computer could be built. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any other master's thesis that is as near as well-known as that one.
#43
Old 01-22-2010, 03:01 AM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: California
Posts: 19
There seems to be some misunderstanding of the nature of doctoral dissertations in this thread (which has been largely addressed by Kimstu, Chronos and others).

Jumping in with experience from my own field of experimental physics, it is fairly rare for original research to be published first as a dissertation. In the course of four to eight years of graduate school, a successful student will publish several peer-reviewed journal articles and be first author on one or more. This work will eventually make it into the student's dissertation, but it will not appear there first. A dissertation is typically the most complete record of the theory, methods, and results of the research (outside of inscrutable lab notebooks), and colleagues or competitors who wish to understand or replicate the research will typically read about it in students' dissertations.

Consider, as an example, a dissertation about some moderately famous work that was enthusiastically described in the popular press at the time: the first observation of Bose-Einstein condensate. I believe that this is the first dissertation in which the work was described, and it was completed in 1998. The initial observation of BEC was in 1995, and many papers were published on the subject in the intervening years. The student who wrote this thesis was the second author on the 1995 paper describing the initial observation, after a postdoctoral researcher. The two faculty members who lead the group were the last two authors on that paper.

Those who said that a dissertation advisor will be quick to take credit for ideas from students also have it wrong, at least in my experience. Academic research is a collaboration between students, postdocs and faculty, and the names of all participating collaborators will appear in the author list. A student who is primarily responsible for the research will nearly always be first author. Tradition holds that the professor who leads the group is usually listed last.
#44
Old 01-22-2010, 04:18 AM
Guest
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 18,104
Drexler's dissertation on nanotechnology was supposedly the first on the subject, and is mentioned by people in the field.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._Eric_Drexler

His Ph.D. work was the first doctoral degree on the topic of molecular nanotechnology and (after some editing) his thesis, "Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation," was published as "Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation" (1992), which received the Association of American Publishers award for Best Computer Science Book of 1992.
#45
Old 01-22-2010, 08:56 AM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: The Euston Tavern
Posts: 2,578
Quote:
Originally Posted by WarmNPrickly View Post
I've never seen it. I'm sure it happens, but I've never seen it in chemistry.
eh? It's absolutely commonplace - student who did the (most) work goes first, PI goes last. And whilst this ordering of names is common, but not uniformly observed, in chemistry publications, it's practically the law in biology.

I'm sure you know this, so maybe you mistook Chronos' post to refer to students publishing papers as the only author, without the PI's name at all. I agree that this is unheard of in a laboratory-intensive discipline like chemistry, I've never seen this happen. I've seen a few examples where the PhD student has been starred as the corresponding author, along with the PI. Presumably because they've had an idea that is outside the interests of the PI and been left to get on with it.
#46
Old 01-22-2010, 09:06 AM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 19,050
Kate Millett. Sexual Politids.
#47
Old 01-22-2010, 09:30 AM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,768
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maillard Duck View Post
Jumping in with experience from my own field of experimental physics, it is fairly rare for original research to be published first as a dissertation.
Would this generalization also hold true for theoretical (not applied) physics?

How about mathematics, sociology, history, English, etc?

In computer science, many ideas are first mentioned in the dissertation -- although most people are not familiar with them. (Claude Shannon's thesis may be an outlier. Wikipedia mentions that William Poundstone called it "the most important master's thesis of all time." However, no PhD thesis I'm aware of has been characterized as such -- yet.)
#48
Old 01-22-2010, 09:49 AM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: The Euston Tavern
Posts: 2,578
Lars Onsager submitted his PhD thesis to the Norwegian Institute of Technology in the 1920s, in the area of thermodynamics (reciprocal relationships in non-equilibrium systems). Regrettably, the thesis was found to be somewhat below the level required for an advanced degree at that institution, and no PhD was granted.

Onsager went on to a stellar career as a theoretician in the physical sciences and subsequently won the 1968 Nobel prize in chemistry for, you guessed it, his work on reciprocal relationships in non-equilibrium systems
#49
Old 01-22-2010, 11:57 AM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 19,649
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruminator
I guess it seemed strange that no PhD work in 200 years was so groundbreaking that it leaked out into the public sphere and didn't need (didn't wait) to be reformatted by a publisher.
But the "reformatting by a publisher" is exactly how the "leaking out into the public sphere" happens, and how it's designed to happen. (And it doesn't always take much waiting, either; as noted upthread, publication of dissertation results can coincide with or even precede submission of the dissertation.)

I'm still not seeing why this would seem strange, but I'm probably just being dense about the point you're making.
#50
Old 01-22-2010, 12:04 PM
Guest
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 5,441
Quote:
Originally Posted by Busy Scissors View Post
eh? It's absolutely commonplace - student who did the (most) work goes first, PI goes last. And whilst this ordering of names is common, but not uniformly observed, in chemistry publications, it's practically the law in biology.

I'm sure you know this, so maybe you mistook Chronos' post to refer to students publishing papers as the only author, without the PI's name at all. I agree that this is unheard of in a laboratory-intensive discipline like chemistry, I've never seen this happen. I've seen a few examples where the PhD student has been starred as the corresponding author, along with the PI. Presumably because they've had an idea that is outside the interests of the PI and been left to get on with it.
Quite honestly, I'm not certain what I was thinking since, looking at my resume, I am first author on two papers, and a third may or may not ever get published. I graduated, and really have no desire to edit it.

I am an example of research that was published in my dissertation first. I think this isn't as uncommon as you might think though. For one chapter, it was simply that the research was being wrapped up as my defense was approaching. Even if we had submitted it as is right then, it would have been many months before it ever appeared in a journal. The other chapter wont get published because it is mainly about a bunch of interesting things that happened, but were basically unpublishable. Ironically, I consider that stuff to be the most interesting and potentially groundbreaking, but nobody has the money to burn platinum group metals like that.
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:12 AM.

Copyright © 2017
Best Topics: goodnight saigon ugly men hair bastard daughter criminy origin fraternity paddling perqs or perks song ventura highway new vcr convoy lyrics meaning oven broiler ultrasound invented polycarbonate lenses problems boxing martial arts cashmere itchy simian cat unbiased america best henna shampoo charmed witchcraft dark italians cannonball breeders brains for sale beethoven genius di vs bi profilext questions schwanz food modern tricorn hat cheesecake without mixer blepharitis forum ap bullet dope cat tri point bayonet how to measure pelvis smell of burned toast what does a capital j look like in cursive what is a chuck wagon do you have to be 21 to buy cooking wine gutters or no gutters how far is schaumburg il from chicago il double sink for 30 inch cabinet how to write eighty dollars check vegetarian in the military swiss army knife with pliers and scissors is that you john wayne is that me how to decarbonate soda t shirt over long sleeve shirt new england patriots field symbol no bills over 20 accepted sign oz in 2 liter does drano get rid of hair what to write on wedding card envelope hot girl with black hair tail light cover replacement cost male losing hair on legs why is oxygen o2 skin tag swollen after tying performance designs art collection inc how to join plywood sheets how to use old satellite dish as antenna how did latin die ending of quantum of solace poulan pro chainsaw chain tensioner what to do with wetlands on your property does korbel champagne go bad do you have to swear on a bible in court