Thesis reflections

All these people finishing their theses takes me back to my own Ph.D. thesis writing experience. Not that I recall much about it at all; rather like giving birth, the memory erases the excruciating pain and substitutes a kinder, gentler version.

I took way too long to write up, for a variety of reasons, but a major factor can be summarised in one word: Microsoft. In those days I was running Windows 3.1 and Word 6 (I think), on 433 MHz PC with 8 MB – yes, megabytes, of memory. It crashed. A lot. In fact I could not save documents that contained embedded images, so my solution was to insert the image, draw lines around it to indicate its position, remove the image and save. Before printing I added each image back, removed the lines, printed the page then removed the image again. Insane!

Even back then I had an inkling that this was not right. At one stage I thought: “is it even sensible to include images in a text document?” I also had a good friend, a crystallographer, who wrote her thesis a little before me and produced a quite beautifully-formatted and typeset document. Had I known then that what she was using was called “LaTeX” and that no, embedding images in text is not at all sensible, perhaps I’d have reached where I am today a little sooner. Better late than never.

Best of luck to all of you writing and defending your work.

6 thoughts on “Thesis reflections

  1. Jonathan Badger

    I did my thesis in LaTeX, as well as my first four papers. Then I started writing papers that included 1) active authors that weren’t me and 2) active authors that weren’t computer scientists. Then I went to the purgatory that is Word.

  2. Eric

    I love LaTeX as well as BibTeX, but I now have the same problem as Jonathan Badger; my advisor and all the people around me use neither. I have a hard enough time avoiding Powerpoint; avoiding Word+Endnote is nearly impossible!

  3. Simon Baker

    Those were the days. I can’t remember if it was possible back then to run Linux on PCs… Your home phone bills for the telnet connection to run LaTeX on molbiol.ox.ac.uk would have been huge…

  4. Morgan Langille

    I too will be starting to write in January. I have used LaTex a couple of times in the past, but my peers could not live without Word’s Track Changes. At least Word is much more stable now then it once was!

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