Comics about mathematics, science, and the student life.

Specialized Vocabulary

A single axis labeled, "Specialized Vocabulary", increase to the right. Starting far to the right and extending to the right is an arrow labeled, "Jargon for experts". Starting closer to the left and extending to right is an arrow labeled, "Jargon for everyone else".

If it’s a word that has a technical meaning that diverges from the usual meaning of the word, avoid it.

Degree of Knowledge

Two friends in a conversation. The first person is finishing talking and saying, "...I don't know." The other says, "But you have a physics degree! Shouldn't you know this?" The first person answers while shrugging, "My physics degree only asserts that *at some point* I knew this."

“What, did you expect me to remember that stuff forever?”


A plot of "Hills you choose to die on" versus "Your sanity". It's a negative linear relationship.

Just ignore those molehills.


A scatter plot of "Apparent Confidence" versus "Desperation". The points rise exponentially and have the following labels: "Can this work?" (low confidence and desperation), "This might work" (slightly higher confidence and low desperation), "This should work" (More confidence, a bit of desperation), "This will work" (higher confidence, rising desperation), "This better work" (slightly higher confidence, much more desperation), "This *has* to work!" (super high confidence and desperation).

The missing axis here is “actual confidence”.

Jargon Meter

A scientist holds her jargon meter and says, "I bought this jargon meter to improve my communication, but it's always at the highest setting. It must be broken." Her friend gestures with his arm and says, "I assure you, it's not."

“I don’t understand. Nobody has said anything!”

“I think they just learned to tune you out.”

Sign Error

A plot of "My confidence in your teaching" versus "Number of times you say, 'Up to a minus sign'". My confidence starts high at one, but as soon as you say the phrase three times, it drops to zero.

The transition happens even faster if you say, “I’ll let you figure out on your own where I made any mistakes.”


A plot of "Time spent doing" versus "Time spent worrying". The relationship is negatively linear, and at the top-left where you have a lot of time and little worry, there's the label, "Letting go of too many desires".

Pruning your active projects is underrated.


A scatter plot of "Significance" versus "Ease of calculation". On the top-left is a marker representing "Heavy-duty experiments" while on the bottom-right is a marker representing "Academic toy models".

There’s a reason all of the early academic work in field X deals with simple models.

Project Timeline

A graph of "Progress on a project" versus "Time". At first, the graph increases linearly, with the label "Initial burst of motivation". Then it plateaus in the "Plateau of difficulty". Then it decreases in the "Decline of neglect". A slow climb ensues in "Remembering the project" followed by "Hitting snags" which makes the graph decrease again. Finally, it skyrockets to the finish with the label "Enough already. Let's finish this!"

Not shown: Extra pauses while people are confused, the many rewrites of the paper, bug hunting and data cleaning, and probably ten unique things that only showed up in this one project ever.


A trailhead with two arrows. To the left is "Breakthrough Work". To the right is "Safe Career".

A breakthrough is just another way of saying it might not have worked.