Comics about mathematics, science, and the student life.

Magical Ingredient

A graph showing the proportion of time spent in the different parts of writing a paper. A small part is the initial draft, most of the line is revision, and then at the very end is publication. An arrow points to the revision section, noting: The not-so-magical ingredient to good writing.

Unless you hit on an amazing concept in the first draft, you shouldn’t be surprised to see changes between the initial and final product.


Left panel: A scientist climbs a hill towards the top of a New Project, pulling their brain along the way. They say, "Almost there..." Right panel: The scientist turns around and points to something in the distance, letting go of their brain. "Hey, look at that random object!"

Doing research is putting this temptation aside over and over again.


Left panel (Caption: Drafting): A scientist writing, with a huge stack of papers on their desk. "I'm on fire!" Right panel (Caption: Editing): The scientist holds one paper, while the rest are in the bin. "This is the only good page?!"

Actually, it’s only one line on that page.


Left panel (A girl and a boy talking about their assignments): The boy: "I'm happy the assignment looks short. Only two questions." The girl: "Short? Ha!" Right panel: The girl: "By the time you finish the subparts, you will understand the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew alphabets."

I’m not joking when I tell you that I once had a statistical physics assignment which had parts lasting until around part s).


A plot of messiness of a board versus time. There are three regimes. The first (the steepest) is for someone that rewrites equations constantly and erases the board with their fingers. The second (moderate steepness) is for someone who has trouble erasing well. And the third (the shallow slope) is for someone with very clean writing.

There are many other variations. See Board Work.


A plot of effort versus time. There are successive highs, followed by long lows, showing the necessity of recovery. Caption: Why vacations are necessary.

Vacations are on my mind as I get back into the PhD life.


Left panel (Caption: What we imagine): First researcher to the other one: "We did it! We achieved our research goal!" Right panel (Caption: What happens): First researcher to the other one: "Well, I can't think of anything else for us to look at, so we're done!"

This has not turned out to be a job for a person who likes clear objectives.


Left panel (Caption: What I want): "Time to spend a few hours on these figures." Right panel (Caption: What I suspect): "I'll just whip these up in ten minutes."

My problem tends to be the opposite. I spend way too long adjusting how things look.

Academic Vacation

A timeline of a vacation. About the first 70% involves resisting the temptation to "just check" work stuff. Then, a small portion is spent enjoying the vacation, while the last bit involves cursing that you have to go back.

The only solution is to double the vacation time!

Goes Like This

Left panel (What we say): A female mathematician is at the blackboard, facing the audience. "The proof goes like this." Right panel (What we mean): She says, "This is how I *wished* the proof went, if there weren't so many technical details that make the proof not go like this at all."

No wonder I can never follow the proofs that are in the PDFs of presentations!

(Thanks to Alex Kontorovich for inspiring this on Episode 1 of the 3b1b podcast.)