Sunday, February 10, 2013

Professor Hands Out "Erase Undesirable Data Points" Coupons To PhD Students

TIJUANA- Obtaining a PhD in the life sciences now routinely takes six or seven years, whereas 30 or 40 years ago, students could graduate from a PhD program in just 3 or 4 years. The University of California, Tijuana (UCT) hired a consultancy firm to help them identify the reasons for the prolonged PhD duration. The consultants found the culprit: Data outliers.

Richard ("Dick") Tator is a Professor for Complementary and Alternative Science (CAS) at UCT and explains the findings.

“If a PhD student conducts an experiment with eight mice and five respond one way, but three mice the opposite way, most students then have to conduct additional experiments with many more mice to obtain a definitive, statistically significant result. This can prolong the duration of a PhD by months or even years.”

Professor Tator has now come up with a very innovative program to address this problem. He hands out “coupons” to his students which allow them to simply erase any data points which are interfering with the statistical significance of the results or which do not conform with the anticipated findings.

Lay Zee is a student in Professor Tator’s laboratory and is a big fan of the new system. “Dick is just a wonderful mentor. He basically allows every graduate student to earn up to three coupons a year, and each coupon is good for up to two years. So you do not have to use them all up at once and you can keep them in stock for a future data point that does not support your hypothesis.”

Lay says that Professor Tator gives out one “erase undesirable data coupon” for performing three chores, such as walking his dog, picking up Professor Tator’s laundry and baby-sitting his children. Lay feels that implementing “erase undesirable data coupons” is a win-win situation for everyone.

“I get to graduate sooner and we get to publish our results faster. Some of my friends in other programs are going to be stuck in their PhD program for another two or three years, performing mundane experiments, just to ensure that they will have statistically valid results, whereas I am already receiving job offers.”

Tator’s colleagues are also impressed with his innovative approach. Knott Eggsist is a professor of philosophy and UCT and admits that he is a bit envious.

“Professors in the humanities also have dogs that need to be walked and our students are also stuck in a PhD program for a very long time, sometimes as long as 8 or 9 years. We would love to have something similar to Dick’s coupons, but our problem is that we do not really have any actual data in the humanities.”

“How do you erase a data point that never even existed?”, Eggsist asks. After a brief pause, his eyes light up and he then nods vigorously, “Now that would be a great dissertation topic!”

Eggsist then talks about an equally innovative program that his department might implement.

“We are considering an entirely different approach in the philosophy department. We have determined that PhD in philosophy is prolonged unnecessarily because one has to deal with all the complex and long-winded thoughts of German philosophers. We will therefore start using an ‘Erase a German philosopher coupon’. With each coupon, our students will be able to write their dissertation and pretend that for example Hegel, Kant or Nietzsche or any other German philosopher of their choosing never existed and simply ignore all their writings.”

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