Comics about mathematics, science, and the student life.


Top left panel: Teacher to the student, holding a box labeled "Year One": "Here's your first set of math tools." "Thanks." Top right panel: New teacher, holding a box labeled "Year Two": "Here's the next set." "Uh, thanks?" The first box is already at the student's feet. Bottom left panel: The boxes are now piled on top of each other, and the student wonders, "Uh, will we start learning how to use these-" The next teacher cuts in, "More tools!" She carries a new box. Bottom right panel, after a few more years: Another teacher arrives with more tools, saying, "Don't you love new tools?" The student, buried under a pile of boxes with too many tools, says, "Help!"

Professors always say that learning mathematics is all about, “adding new tools to your toolbox”. The problem is that they may be a little too enthusiastic about it. I sometimes need a teacher to come in and say, “Let’s take some time to organize and understand your tools.” If only!


Left panel (Undergraduate): A seesaw with a rock on each end, labeled "Math Skills" and "Coding Skills". The "Math Skills" rock is heavier. Right panel (Graduate): The "Coding Skills" rock is heavier here.

In my case, it feels like this relationship really is a zero-sum game.


A man and a woman near the man's library. The woman asks, "Wow, you have so many science books! Have you read them all?" The man says, "No." (Pause) "But I *could*". Caption: I can't resist acquiring new books.

I’ve got more knowledge bottled up here than the great libraries of history!


Left panel (How it happened): Two points connected by a twisting journey that is messy. Right panel (What we show): Two points connected by a curve which only goes up and down a bit. Tangle-free.

We aren’t photons, so we do like to give a story that isn’t a straight line.


A student complaining to their teacher. Student: "Give me one example of when I'll use this!" Teacher: "Your test next week?" Student: "Damn it, good point."

The teacher: “If you think about it, we’re giving you the most topical information you could ever want for success in your career as a student.”


A plot of believability versus the number of coincidences. Life is a constant function, and in fiction, there's a step function that drops to near-zero after two coincidences.

I think this is the reason behind the saying that life is stranger than fiction. Life is allowed to be as weird and wonderful as it likes, while those writers need to adhere to strict rules.


A plot of ambition versus the location in a paper. The introduction starts off with a lot of ambition, and things steadily drop as we get to the model and the technical results. But by the time we get to conclusion, we're skyrocketing in ambition.

The classic “U” shape of a paper. I’m guilty too.


Twelve different groups. 1: An Ensemble of Statistical Physicists, as a bunch of dots. 2: A Galaxy of Astrophysicists, as a galaxy composed of people. 3: A Mole of Chemists, as a bunch of dots that are close to a mole. 4: A Ring of Algebraists, arranged in a ring. 5: A Mass of Gravitational Physicists, as a bound cluster. 6: A Superposition of Quantum Physicists, as a wavefunction. 7: A Clique of Graph Theorists, arranged in a clique on a graph. 8: A Scattering of Particle Physicists, as a Feynman diagram. 9: A Cluster of Computational Scientists, arranged in a cluster with their laptops. 10: A Manifold of Topologists, arranged on a manifold. 11: A Distribution of Statisticians, arranged according to a probability distribution. 12: A Minimum of Optimization Scientists, at the minimum of a function.

I used to be in the Mass of Gravitational Physicists, but I couldn’t resist the allure of the Superposition of Quantum Physicists.

(Side note: This is the 500th comic. When I began, I couldn’t even imagine doing fifty. I had no idea I’d find so much handwaving to do. Thanks for reading!)


Four panels, with title: Distractions for Scientists. Top left: A fancy plot. Top right (An unexpected observation): A researcher on their laptop, holding their chin and saying, "That's weird." Bottom left (Papers online): The site for the arXiv. Bottom right (Free food): First scientist, "Going to the seminar? There's free food." Other scientist, "I'm in."

Other distractions: The internet, any stray blackboard with a half-finished calculation, a dinner table with a bunch of other scientists, and a stack full of good fiction books to read.


Researcher at a board: "Any questions?" "..." from the audience. The researcher: "Okay, I'll assume everything was clear." Caption: I think we need a new default assumption.

The trick for engagement: “Whoever didn’t understand anything of what I said, please say nothing.”