Rabbit's Ph.D. Thesis and Lion's Watch Repair Business
Two Parables for Graduate Students

The origin of these tales is unclear. The first, at least, has been circulated among science students for some years. The plot for the second, clearly its mate, I got from Charles Frohman, who got it from his brother. There is a rumor that they may be old and come from China, though I cannot confirm this. I have done a certain amount of rewriting, particularly of incidental details. (Margaret Fleck)

Rabbit's Ph.D. Thesis

Scene
It's a fine sunny day in the forest, and a rabbit is sitting outside his burrow, tippy-tapping on his typewriter.

Along comes a fox, out for a walk.

Fox
"What are you working on?"

Rabbit
"My thesis."

Fox
"Hmmm. What's it about?"

Rabbit
"Oh, I'm writing about how rabbits eat foxes."

(incredulous pause)

Fox
"That's ridiculous! Any fool knows that rabbits don't eat foxes."

Rabbit
"Sure they do, and I can prove it. Come with me."

They both disappear into the rabbit's burrow. After a few minutes, the rabbit returns, alone, to his typewriter and resumes typing.

Soon, a wolf comes along and stops to watch the hardworking rabbit.

Wolf
"What's that you're writing?"

Rabbit
"I'm doing a thesis on how rabbits eat wolves."

(loud guffaws)

Wolf
"You don't expect to get such rubbish published, do you?"

Rabbit
"No problem. Do you want to see why?"

The rabbit and the wolf go into the burrow, and again the rabbit returns by himself, after a few minutes, and goes back to typing.

Scene: inside the rabbit's burrow.

In one corner, there is a pile of fox bones. In another corner, a pile of wolf bones. On the other side of the room, a huge lion is belching and picking his teeth.

(The End)

Moral
It doesn't matter what you choose for a thesis subject.

It doesn't matter what you use for data.

What does matter is who you have for a thesis advisor.

Lion's Watch Repair Business

Scene
It's a crisp, sunny fall day. Lion is strolling through the forest enjoying the fall foliage, when he sees Fox walking towards him down the path, head drooping down.

Lion
"Hello, Fox. Why are you looking so gloomy?"

Fox
"It's been like this all week. First my cub got sick, then the car started making a funny noise, and last night I accidently put my watch through the washing machine and it quit working."

Lion
"Well, I can't do much about the child or the car, but I can fix your watch for you."

Fox
"That'll be the day. You with your big claws? You would have trouble picking up the watch, let alone fixing the insides. You'll just break it even worse than it already is. I'd better take it into town."

Lion
"Let me take it into my den for a couple minutes. You'll be surprized."

So he disappears into his den with the watch. A few minutes later he returns: the watch is fixed.

Later in the week, Lion is sitting in the warm sun by the river, when Wolf comes running by, looking flustered.

Lion
"Wolf, why are you headed into town? I thought you wanted to work on your grant proposal?"

Wolf
"The hard-drive on my laptop crashed last night, so I can't get anything done until I get it fixed."

Lion
"I can fix that for you real quick: there's no need to walk all the way into town."

Wolf
"What? You? The lion whose paws are too big to even type on my keyboard? The one who left great blue smears on the trees when he tried to paint his front door? I don't think so."

Lion
"You'd be surprized: just let me give it a try."

So the Lion takes the laptop into his den. In a few minutes, he returns with the laptop, now working fine.

Scene: inside the lion's den

In one corner, next to the coffee machine, is a smug-looking lion lying on a couch cleaning his fur. In a second corner, there are piles of IEEE Computer, Byte Magazines, and Viz Comics reaching up to the ceiling. In the final corner, there are seven industrious rabbits surrounded by tiny parts and precision tools.

Moral
It doesn't matter whether you can write working programs or prove theorems.

It doesn't matter whether you can do a slick demo or generate pretty pictures.

What really matters is whether your graduate students can.