I’d Like to Thank the Academy
My committee has my thesis draft.
We’re getting over a heat wave here in Berkeley. My office is neither air-conditioned nor particularly well shaded and ventilated, so I’ve been hanging out in my nice cool living room (not air-conditioned, but protected from the yellow face), putting my files in order, catching up on laundry, assembling alternate resumes and writing my acknowledgments.
I imagine committees sitting on drafts as adopting the posture of a brooding hen. That’s funnier for some committee members than for others.
My ability to actually write the acknowledgments is limited by the heat – I lose about 5 IQ points for each degree above 72F – and by my fear of churning out a string of clichés (I was similarly stymied on the introduction and conclusion). So, while I could make a list of names and add words like “encouragement”, “support”, and “discussion” at random intervals, and it would even be a more or less true expression of sentiment, I can’t quite bring myself to do it yet.
I’ve found that if I think very carefully about the specific thing I want to say, and then just say it without regard to whether or not it conforms to the formula expected for the circumstance, I can usually avoid this form of writer’s block. The problem, of course, is knowing what I want to say. My introduction and conclusion were tricky because they are essentially social fictions, which meant that accessing that inner reservoir of sincerity lead immediately to deleting hard-won paragraphs in fits of pique.
The acknowledgments are tricky because I pretty much never recognize the most valuable things I have learned from people until long after I have learned them. Like when I saw my students crash and burn at unit analysis in the same week that I made serious professional use of the Buckingham Pi theorem*, and suddenly I remembered all those worksheets we did in high school chemistry converting gloofs per square hornswoggle to gallumph-seconds.
Inspiration hasn’t struck and the final deadline approacheth, so I’ll probably end up with something bland. That’s ok: the blandness is just a stand-in for some moment N years in the future when I finally realize what I actually learned in grad school.
*The Buckingham Pi theorem is a fancy way of telling you that if you don’t know the answer, you can perform brute force symbol manipulation until you find something with the same units as an answer.**
**All the best answers are dimensionless constants.