The Minimum Requirements for a PhD Thesis


Mark Pallen (of Pallen and Matzke fame) offers an interesting take on on the Minimum requirements for a PhD thesis.

I am getting tired of having to examine sub-standard PhD theses and then having to write the same old comments in the report on the thesis, so I have decided to set down the minimum requirements for a PhD thesis. Anyone who is contemplating asking me to examine a thesis should read these and comply with them or stop wasting my time. And be warned, you don’t want to get me cross by wasting my time with substandard theses that are an insult to my intelligence!

All you grad students out there need to take note of his advice.


Psst…it’s “advice”, not “advise”.

“Piled higher + Deeper”

= “Learning more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing” … except for me of course!

More on-topic: Pallen has some good advice, which I will probably pass on the the students in my group who should be ready to write their dissertations this year.

Mark Pallen writes;

My suspicions will be aroused if the thesis is too short (<200 pages) or too long (>300 pages). It is almost never necessary to present a thesis that spans two volumes.

Obviously much depends on the area of research, the importance of the results, what role the candidate played in a research group, and the general requirements of the university.

Physics dissertations that I know about have ranged between something on the order of ten pages to a couple of hundred. My dissertation was 101 pages; somewhat below the average number of pages. My committee appreciated the “terse accuracy” and not having to slog through space-filling bloviation.

Indeed; I have to wonder if they do things differently in the UK, or if it’s just his field. Very few of my co-students had theses that were over 200 pages.

My committee appreciated the “terse accuracy” and not having to slog through space-filling bloviation.

The exact opposite of the values system of the Discovery Institute and

Yeah, the comments about length are probably UK and discipline-specific

Will try and summon the energy next week for a blog post on whether the whole PhD process is flawed ;-)

Sad that I am best known for Pallen and Matzke rather than the Rough Guide to Evolution (book and blog). In retrospect should have known better than to bring out a book on evolution in the bicentenary when every man and his dog was doing the same (in fact there was even a book about Darwin and his dogs written improbably by daughter of Pete Townshend from the Who![…]p/071123065X). Still, readers of Panda’s Thumb might be interested to hear that my University has adopted my book as part of the University of Birmingham student experience, so more than 5000 1st year undergrads will all be reading about evolution towards the end of next month and Ken Miller and John Hawks and Emma Darwin will all be joining in the fun! Have so many people in the same place all read about evolution at the same time before? Only problem is that it has almost driven the book out of print.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on August 12, 2011 1:53 PM.

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