About to graduate with your PhD? One more tip.

By Charles Sutton on January 8, 2013

A rite of passage for US PhD students is the title page of their dissertation. The way that faculty indicate their approval of the final dissertation is by signing the title page, and students are required to leave space on the title page for this purpose. It’s up to the student to run around to all their committee members (mine had 5) and get them to sign. Holding the final title page, with all the signatures, this bland sheet of acid-free paper that signifies that your hard work has come to something… it’s a heady feeling.

Often people go to a bookbinder to get bound copies made as gifts for their parents and PhD supervisors. I had a copy bound for myself as well (boy was that a mistake). So here’s my tip: Keep a photocopy of your signed title page. Then, when you get your thesis bound, you can include the signed title page with all the bound copies. This looks much nicer than a title page with blank signature lines, which gives the faint impression that you’re trying to pull something over on someone.


Tags: advice

Happy Pi Day! (belated)

By Charles Sutton on November 10, 2012

Pi Day is an international holiday celebrating the mathematical constant π. It is celebrated on March 14, i.e., 3/14 in month/day notation. It is typically celebrated by telling everyone you know, “Hey, it’s Pi Day!” More enterprising people bake lots of pies, take pictures of them, and then post the pictures on the Internet.

After moving to the UK, where the date would be written 14/3, that choice for Pi Day seemed wrong, reeking of American cultural hegemony. There had to be a better way.

So I came up with one. Why not celebrate Pi Day on the 314th day of the year. In most years, this is November 10. This should be easy for everyone to remember, because it is the day after my birthday. In leap years, like 2012, Pi Day occurs a day earlier, on November 9.

Happy belated Pi Day!

(Those amused by the juxtaposition of this post with the preceding one on this blog are welcome to their amusement.)

A Very British Thanksgiving

By Charles Sutton on October 3, 2012

A humble note to the great British nation:

It has become cliche to say that the UK and the US enjoy a special relationship. Despite the obvious differences in language, size of automobiles, average waist circumference, availability of socialized medicine, and so on, it is undeniable that the two cultures are more similar than they are different. But these two sister countries are still divided by a cultural chasm, one that prevents us from truly having common ground, a chasm deeper than politics, football, or religion. This chasm is nothing less than the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Although you will no doubt be familiar with the holiday from your exposure to American books, films, and television, it is impossible to truly understand the spirit of Thanksgiving without having experienced it. The time has come for a new social movement to celebrate the goals of peace, cultural understanding, and consuming a seven kilogram turkey in one sitting. The time has come for the British people to finally adopt Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Thanksgiving is an exceedingly simple holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Here’s what you do: On Thursday, you prepare a large roast and serve it to your family. On Friday, you skive off work. That’s it. First you eat a big roast, then you skive off work. I ask you, can you imagine a holiday more intrinsically suited to British culture? Frankly, I’m disappointed that you people didn’t think of it first.

Now, as you become more experienced at celebrating Thanksgiving, there are many ways in which you can make the celebration more elaborate, if you prefer a more authentically American experience. For example, for Thanksgiving dinner, it is common to invite members of one’s extended family, some of whom travel long distances to attend. This tradition will no doubt yield the same hilarious results in the UK as it does in the US.

Or you might like to try your hand at the American custom of “Black Friday”. On the Friday after Thanksgiving—the skive day, remember—some people like to spend the day shopping, for their Christmas presents, ostensibly. The shops accommodate this by opening their doors early in the morning and advertising a range of one-day-only special offers, for which people—yes! Americans!—queue as early as 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. Now, as much as you may welcome the opportunity of queueing, I do not recommend that you attempt to follow this tradition literally in the UK, as at 5am Friday on a British high street, you are likely to find yourself lonely. And, most probably, wet. Instead, I recommend that you wake up at a more reasonable hour, like noon, and do your shopping then.

Whichever of these more advanced Thanksgiving traditions you choose to adopt, it is important to emphasize that whilst all of these traditions can make be a fun way to add spice to the holiday, none of them are essential to the true spirit of Thanksgiving. Anyone to whom these enhanced traditions appear onerous should simply content themselves with the roast, the long lie in, and the knowledge that they are doing their part to increase cultural understanding across the Atlantic.

This year, why not start the festive season off right, with a very British Thanksgiving. Remember: Thursday, you make a roast. Friday, you skive. That’s all there is to it.

In fact, why don’t you try it out this Thursday? You know, for practice.


1 Thanksgiving would more properly be termed a North American holiday, as it is celebrated in Canada as well. However, I understand from my reading of Wikipedia that in Canada Thanksgiving is celebrated on a Monday rather than a Thursday. This makes no sense at all. For this reason I have made the decision to ignore the existence of Canadian Thanksgiving for the purposes of this essay.

Note to Self

By Charles Sutton on October 2, 2012

Probably best not to attempt using the phrase “posterior analysis” as a term of art. Fortunately I caught this before attempting to send it to anyone else…

Spot the Scot

By Charles Sutton on August 24, 2012

This is the final weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an enormous and insane annual event which draws around half a million people to a city of around half a million people. Walking round the city this week, I thought of a game to pass the time when stuck in a Festival crowd.

The game is called “Spot the Scot”. To play, start by walking down the streets of Edinburgh. Then, pick a group of people coming toward you on the street, not too distant, but far enough that you can’t hear them. Give them a good look over, and guess whether they are actually Scottish or not. As they pass you, eavesdrop to find out if you were right.

I have found this game thoroughly enjoyable, and I highly recommend it. Feel free to post strategies or high scores in the comments.