THE OTHER DOCTORAL THESIS OF ISAAC ASIMOV OR WHAT [NOT] TO DO TO NOT BORROW WHEN YOU WRITE YOUR OWN THESIS

Interrupting doctoral studies means, in most cases, renouncing the doctorate. That’s what happened to Isaac Asimov at 24 years of age. Not voluntarily, but because the American army enlisted him and was forced to participate in the last phase of World War II and then remain in the ranks until his official retirement.

When returning to the civil life, Asimov analyzed the possibility of resuming his studies or of plane forgetting them. He felt out of place and behind with the new advances in chemistry. What is convenient for him is that he had already finished his courses and he would not have to attend to any of them, because if that were the case, he would renounce the opportunity and remain as an ABD (All But Dissertation). And so, like someone who does not want the thing, he went to Columbia University, where he had done his studies, and Professor Dawson, who was his tutor, welcomed him.

The favorable situation encouraged him to consider his thesis research work, which was the only thing he needed to finish his doctorate, and with the support of Professor Dawson as his advisor, he went straight to the laboratory. Despite the desire to finish his studies, he realized that the investigative work was very boring and not stimulating, perhaps because of the slow pace of things, because he said that he was not made for scientific research. In this way, to get up the mood during the time he devoted to the thesis, he began to dream, devised a fictitious topic for a false thesis, and soon began to write it, all of which happened in this way:

“I was sitting at my table, preparing the material for the day’s experiments and thinking that the time was near to have to write my doctoral thesis. A thesis is a very definite style document and the strict rules required that it be written in a rigid and abnormal (even stupid) way. I did not want to write it like that. Therefore, it occurred to me, in a malicious start, to write a parody of a doctoral thesis that would alleviate my soul and allow me to face the real thesis with more encouragement “(Asimov, I. 1994. Asimov: Memoirs, Eng. Ediciones B ).

As Asimov experimented with a substance called catechol, which at the mere contact with water is solubilized, an image came to mind and he said: “What if (the crystals) dissolve just a fraction of a second before touching the surface? What would happen then? “

“The result, says Asimov, was that I wrote a pseudo-dissertation as indigestible as I could about a compound that dissolved 1.12 seconds before adding water. I put the following title: The endochronic properties of resublimated Thiotimoline “

Asimov was at odds with the style of scientific writing and its stiff rules, because in his view this inhibited the emergence of a richer, more understandable and more contagious expression than any traditional scientific statement could offer. He said that the science releases (read ‘scientific articles’) were only for experts and experts, that in essence there are very few individuals for each of the thousands of disciplines and subdisciplines that exist.

Thus, the false thesis work that Asimov wrote, in an attempt to evade the insufferable boredom and discontent with which he was passing, was a story where he gives details of an experiment done with a substance of his invention. The explanation was made using all the tools of scientific writing: severe and authoritarian tone; short and precise; logical; third person exposure; IMRYD structure; graphics and drawings; quotations and bulk references; an example, for writers and readers of science fiction, about the style in how scientists write, and how they should not -not even play- adopt it in their stories and novels.

His pseudocyesis appeared in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, directed by John Campbell, in March 1948, two months before his doctoral examination. Asimov had asked the director of the magazine that the authorship should appear with a fictitious name, but due to forgetfulness or carelessness of Campbell the text was published under the name of the real author: Isaac Asimov. This omission caused Asimov several weeks of stress and stomach illness, because, as his work spread in the graduate school between students and teachers, he lost sleep for weeks and imagined that they would not let him present or that they were going to expel or that in the examination of degree they would humiliate it. He had committed the worst of sins in the university: “the old crime of irreverence towards my superiors”.

His fears did not come true and on May 20, 1948, Isaac Asimov, who would later become the most prolific science fiction writer in history and a major disseminator of science, obtained his doctoral degree defending the dissertation: The kinetics of the reaction inactivation of tyrosinase during its catalysis of the aerobic oxidation of catechol, a 67-page thesis.

 The other thesis of Isaac Asimov is a form of procrastination, an example of how to waste time doing other things instead of confronting reality and carrying out the truly important functions of the moment. Procrastination is a common evasion behavior in the vast majority of university and postgraduate students, and it influences the statistics of those who do not get their degree because they can not write their theses.

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