The Secrets of the Advisors

Sep 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Hello. I am called Masks of Eris, the same as my blog; I think introductions are tiresome.

I am a graduate student of mathematics; I don't know when it is socially correct to start calling myself a mathematician.

There are many others things I don't know, which sometimes affects, or even inspires, my blogging. Indeed, sometimes it seems an education in mathematics consists of nothing but decreasing your relative amount knowledge (relative to all you know exists), even as your absolute amount of knowledge slowly increases.

But this one thing I know: how a graduate student's advisor, that guide of thesis-work and toil, is chosen. The method is a die roll; a fair, impartial die roll; and the role the advisor plays is taken from the table below. It is a grim, adventurous tale how I got hold of it, and what happened to the brave assistant who annotated it; but that is a tale which this introductory margin is too narrow to contain.

* * *

Roll (1d100) : Result

1-2 : Nice

3-12 : Raving lunatic psycho (Yes, this is the actual proportion. The thing is, those that roll 1 or 2 have a disproportionately larger probability of survival; i.e. their advisor is not a raving lunatic psycho.)

13-14 : Nice on the surface, raving lunatic psycho below. (As you know, graduate students aren't told their roll; sometimes even the advisor doesn't know, but is just given subtle behavioral nudges by the Secret Department Committee.)

15-17 : Nice on the surface. Nice below it. Actually all nice, except that one mortal enemy whose name calls up a black storm of rage. Unfortunately, that's a semi-major author on your thesis topic.

18-21 : Charles Manson (with a roll of 21 and the subject of Modern Religions, literally.)

22-23 : Quaintly old-fashioned. As in, "You sent me electronic mail? Oh, turn my machine on and check if I got it. Usually the secretary does, but he is still procuring the fine vellum I requested for your official study plan."

24-25 : Aggressively old-fashioned. As in, "You sent me electronic mail? Why? I don't have a computer. Use paper! And cursive longhand!"

26-27 : Really, really old-fashioned. With a beard and all, no matter the sex; in the old-fashioned days every academician had a beard and a black robe. Don't goggle, for professors are subtle and quick to anger. And also have magical powers; did you really think the money came from sources other than the gibbering dark demons of the rites of De Fundiis Mysteriis and The Book of Bloody Grants?

28-29 : Affable but clueless (What, elaboration is needed on this? Sure! Um, it's fairly simple. If you just take a person that's as one usually is, and them um proceeds by the usual tricks and methods and does the jump sideways, that's as it is in the book of that one person. Easy, you can do it!)

30-32 : Feedback enthusiast ("Ah, but what do you think about what you thought about what I said about your feelings?")

33-35 : Unstable ("And this form of an integer is, is fine, because it decomposes better than the rotting body of a..." (blinks) "I didn't mean anything by that.")

36-38 : Stalker ("This is normal academic supervision. Now proceed with the lady, please.")

39-42 : Recursion tasker ("Easy. You prove Lemma A with Theorem C, just add that. C is proven with E --- add that --- that's a corollary of Theorem 5.1, easy to add, which follows from chapters 1-4...")

43 : Law savvy ("Well, actually, I do own you. Study plan section 5-C.")

44 : Genre savvy ("Of course I knew you would be here. Do you think this wrinkled face never contorted in a graduate student's lazy despair? Do you think these feet never took the route not past the Door of Doom? I know you, for mere half a century ago I was you!")

45-46 : Zen ("When the pupil is ready to learn, a teacher will appear. You clearly aren't ready yet.")

47-48 : Believer ("Problems with your thesis? Let us pray. Oh Pythagoras, we turn at thee---")

49-51 : Publicity hound ("That's a good thesis topic, provided we could make it a bit more international. You think you could put some controversy into it? The fine properties of even primes and the government is full of Nazi criminals! Excellent!")

52-54 : Fund-a-mentalist ("Ah yes, you... I have funding for you from the Imperial Zoo of Hamburg. The cage arrives tomorrow.")

55 : The advisor is a substance abuser --- this, however, is no reason to be (s/gl)ad since this means he daily pours ketchup into his underpants while blissing out over the feeling. (Here "he" is used deliberately, as according to the Heinz theory of humors ketchup is the male condiment; a woman would use mustard.)

56 : Substance abuser, harmless. While you're in his/her smoky office, it seems nothing is difficult and all the secrets of the universe are within your reach, moons and planets of titillating possibilities whirling round and round in your head, emitting blue moans and intoxicating tastes --- but when you get back to your room and take up a pencil, nothing but a headache remains.

57 : Substance abuser, almost harmless. Your thesis draft comes back with notes written in some messy red liquid. The advisor giggles, then assures you of not being the kind of a lunatic that'd write notes in one's own blood. You sigh in relief, but then see the other graduate student walking around, looking wan, with his arm in a sling...

58 : Mildly eccentric (Has an irrational fear of cellphones and computers. Attends official functions in a tinfoil suit. Likes the administration.)

59-61 : Technohazard (She enters your room and your thesis is replaced by the Blue Screen of Death. If you don't use Windows, a hamster runs in instead, dives inside your machine, and spontaneously combusts. Then she asks: "Any new developments?")

62-65 : A fan of different ways of learning ("I cannot help you. You must seek the answers from Beyond.")

66-67 : Yoda ("Mudhole? Slimy? My office this is!")

68-69 : Chewbacca (Has some communication problems.)

70-74 : The Emperor ("Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design.")

75-77 : Darth Vader ("You have failed me for the last time!" --- also, all modern lists of archetypes include several Star Wars characters; this is known as the Campbell-Lucas law, as you surely know, and now can't gracefully admit not having known.)

78-81 : Saruman ("And yet you did not have the wit to see it. Your love of the Halflings' leaf has clearly slowed your mind.")

82-84 : Sauron (Secretary tells you that "My Master, Sauron the Great, bids thee welcome. Remember, he doesn't allow his name to be spoken or expressed in any form. And don't say anything about the eye.")

85-89 : Gollum ("My preciousss... Precious funding... Gone! All gone! The grad student! We hates it! We hates it forever! It shall pay!")

90 : Cthulhu ("Ph'nglui mglw'bhok Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" or "In his office at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming". Which is to say, the graduate student that wakes him/her/it will end up screaming.)

91 : Conan the Barbarian ("Black-haired, sullen-eyed, [...] a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth." That's the reputation, so there's the constant risk of becoming an anecdote.)

92-93 : Sadist ("Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding." Enough said.)

94 : Humorless twit ("I, for one, find this list to be unrealistic and offensive.")

95-96 : The advisor is elsewhere, and did not take you with him/her/it. No worries, for there is Skype; much worries, for there also is a twelve-hour time difference.

97 : The advisor is dead, but the department can't afford losing the prestigious name. The secretary recommends using an Ouija board.

98 : The advisor is held in the local correctional facility. He apparently did something to his previous grad students. You have to remove your tie and shoelaces before you're allowed to see him.

99 : The advisor is nice, but you keep having a terrible hunch that she keeps spiders in her room and you can't quite say why.

100 : The advisor is a difficult person.

* * *

Now that I have the younger audience in my grip, and the elders in an uproar over me revealing the Secrets of the Tenured Ones of the Tenureous Darkness --- and those in between thinking this post has been thoroughly meh --- I can tell a bit more of myself: I am Finnish, and in Finland, in Unnamed-Small-University-X, and I usually blog about whatever; the above is an example of my subtle style, vast erudition and stolid realism. I am a fan of George Carlin and heavy metal, a Discordian, and equipped with delusions of humility.

Oh, and I'll be blogging here for the next two weeks. Nice to meet you all; I am honored and somewhat giddy to be here.

Feel free to protest below, or to discuss the question of when one can with good conscience call oneself a mathematician, a biologist or even, oh shudders, an academician. I don't know, and as can be seen above, my guesses tend towards the unrealistic.

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