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
- 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.
- "What are you working on?"
- "My thesis."
- "Hmmm. What's it about?"
- "Oh, I'm writing about how rabbits eat foxes."
- "That's ridiculous! Any fool knows that rabbits don't eat
- "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
Soon, a wolf comes along and stops to watch the hardworking
- "What's that you're writing?"
- "I'm doing a thesis on how rabbits eat wolves."
- "You don't expect to get such rubbish published, do you?"
- "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.
- 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
- 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.
- "Hello, Fox. Why are you looking so gloomy?"
- "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."
- "Well, I can't do much about the child or the car, but
I can fix your watch for you."
- "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."
- "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.
- "Wolf, why are you headed into town? I thought you wanted to work on
your grant proposal?"
- "The hard-drive on my laptop crashed last night, so I can't get anything
done until I get it fixed."
- "I can fix that for you real quick: there's no need to walk all the way
- "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."
- "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.
- It doesn't matter whether you can write working programs or prove
It doesn't matter whether you can do a slick demo or generate pretty pictures.
What really matters is whether your graduate students can.