humor, science

50 things not to do for your thesis defense

The Queen of Fractal Beauty sent me this list and commented that she could see me doing most of them. The sad thing is that she wouldn't be far wrong; I've done most of them (shown in bold, with my comments in italics) during my stints at science museums.



  1. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise for the singing of our National Anthem." Part of a show explaining fireworks
  2. Charge 25 cents a cup for coffee.
  3. "Charge the mound" when a professor beans you with a high fast question.
  4. Describe parts of your thesis using interpretive dance. Er, yes.
  5. "Musical accompaniment provided by…" Mussgorsky and Tchaikovsky, with bits from Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Tom Lehrer
  6. Stage your own death/suicide. As part of the "proper science safety" lecture for interns, usually accompanied by singing of "Kill the wabbit"
  7. Lead the spectators in a Wave. Done at Demonstrathon
  8. Have a sing-a-long. Done at Demonstrathon, camp-ins, and in my lab classes as a TA
  9. "You call THAT a question? How the hell did they make you a professor?"
  10. "Ladies and Gentlemen, as I dim the lights, please hold hands and concentrate so that we may channel the spirit of Lord Kelvin…" Usually said as I did the "Frankenpickle" experiment in which we made a pickle light up from the sodium in it
  11. Have bodyguards outside the room to "discourage" certain professors from sitting in.
  12. Puppet show. Sadly, yes. Squaffles, meet the glerts.
  13. Group prayer. This wasn't intentional on my part; it just happened when I got stuck teaching the disease class to a bunch of fundamentalists who didn't think that a "good christian" should need ot be tested for VD before getting married.
  14. Animal sacrifice to the god of the Underworld.
  15. Sell T-shirts to recoup the cost of copying, binding, etc. Does sending people to the gift shop count?
  16. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you – there's a banana in my ear!" An actual joke from the start of the Great Medicine Show
  17. Imitate Groucho Marx. More times than can be counted.
  18. Mime. I'm going to stand mute on this one
  19. Hold a Tupperware party.
  20. Have a bikini-clad model be in charge of changing the overheads. Would you settle for a cute blond titrating the solution?
  21. "Everybody rumba!!" Actually, it was the Bunny Hop…
  22. "And it would have worked if it weren't for those meddling kids…" A line I used after getting the audience to catch me swapping a solution in the chemistry show.
  23. Charge a cover and check for ID. Only for the company parties.
  24. "In protest of our government's systematic and brutal oppression of minorities…"
  25. "Anybody else as drunk as I am?"
  26. Smoke machines, dramatic lighting, pyrotechnics… Obviously, they've seen my shows.
  27. Use a Super Soaker to point at people.
  28. Surreptitiously fill the room with laughing gas.
  29. Door prizes and a raffle. I gave out "golden pennies" to people to get them to come to the Chem-Magic show.
  30. "Please phrase your question in the form of an answer…" A great line to use on the know-it-alls in the audience.
  31. "And now, a word from our sponsor…" Typically used as I usher them out the door, reminding them that they can get memberships for cheap.
  32. Present your entire talk in iambic pentameter. The skeleton demo, done in the style of Dr. Seuss meets Elvis
  33. Whine piteously, beg, cry…
  34. Switch halfway through your talk to Pig Latin. Or Finnish Pig Latin. If-ay ou-ya ill-way and-stay ack-bay, I-ay ill-way et-say off-ay e-thay plosion-exay!
  35. The Emperor's New Slides ("only fools can't see the writing…") Potassium nitrate invisible ink, made visible when touched with a punk by a punk.
  36. Table dance (you or an exotic dancer.)
  37. Fashion show. Part of every introduction "You can see that I am wearing the latest fashion in safety gear. That's because I like my eyes and want to keep them!"
  38. "Yo, a smooth shout out to my homies…"
  39. "I'd like to thank the Academy…" Obviously, I need better writers
  40. Minstrel show (blackface, etc…) I did sing Swaneee a few tiimes, but that was it.
  41. Previews, cartoons, and the Jimmy Fund. Done once when Disney was experimenting with viral campaigns
  42. Pass the collection basket. Does urging people to become members count?
  43. Two-drink minimum.
  44. Black tie only.
  45. "Which reminds me of a story – A Black guy, a Chinese guy, and a Jew walked into a bar…"
  46. Incite a revolt. Every damn day.
  47. Hire the Goodyear Blimp to circle the building. How about "make a blimp that flew inside the building"?
  48. Release a flock of doves.
  49. Defense by proxy.
  50. "And now a reading from the Book of Mormon…"

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10 thoughts on “50 things not to do for your thesis defense

  1. Ahh, the good old days! But John, why didn't you have line 50 in bold back in the days before grad school when you used to dress like a Mormon?

  2. #9 LOL At the school where I took my phud, there was a story that one of the professors listened carefully to his student defend his dissertation, then the professor stood up and said "I don't believe a goddam word you said. But I can't prove you wrong, so as far as I'm concerned, you pass." Some 30 years later, that dissertation is an integral part of the oil and gas business…John

  3. # 14 – "I don't practice Santeria…" LOL No, but we did send baby chickens on "sea cruises" (i.e., flushed them down the toilet when they didn't make it out of the hatching chamber).John

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