I started reading other posts from TTW and came across this one on The Zombie Thesis. Her idea of a Zombie thesis was one that didn't live - it was ideas but no structure. One of her examples was a thesis with the comments:
he got his draft back from his supervisors with comments like “it is not a thesis yet”, “Where is your voice?” and “this is boring”.
A Zombie thesis can walk and talk, but it isn’t really alive.
A zombie thesis looks like a thesis – with title pages, chapters, graphs and charts – but the parts aren’t quite hanging together yet. This is largely because the apparatus we rely on to orient us in the text: introductions, transitions, topic sentences and so on, are not always in the right order, or they are missing in action.
Although the post was interesting, after reading it I can't give you a one sentence summary. I'm not sure why these problems make it a zombie thesis. But it did make me think about what makes a good thesis.
I think some, if not many, of the problems that TTW outlines in her blog can be / are easily avoided by science PhD's. If you think in terms of scientific papers. The best thesis, which I blogged about before, is one that you get published before you defend. This is not easy. I know. If you write your thesis as a series of publishable papers, then you are being held (by the journal) to a slightly different standard that a "normal/usual thesis". With respect to science, the standard is usually higher. With respect to clarity of presentation, it is almost always higher. With respect to filling in the little details, literature review, and a bunch of other stuff that I think unimportant, the standard in a journal will be lower. No one there cares about a lit review.
I have never understood people who say "you must write a classical thesis, with chapters, and a lit review". In The Olden Dayes, when scientists wrote Bookes, this made sense. One was producing one's first piece of adult work. Now a days, many of the BSD's write books for their own greater glory, but seldom are they (the books, but possibly the BSD's) the cutting edge science that gets jobs, tenure and grants. Why make students do something that has little relationship to what their Growne-Uppe Job is going to be?
I often joke with my lab that we are a factory that is assessed on our widget production and our widgets are scientific papers. (I know this is a dreadful reductionism that leaches the joy and substance out of what we do. Please, its a joke). If you are going to go work in a widget factory, why insist that the student build a dishwashing machine, if they are never going to do that again (or at least not till they are an old fart)?
My PhD advisor occasionally had a good thing or two to say to his students. One of them was: doing science is not putting another brick in a large edifice. Doing science was part of a living organism that could grow, and contract, and remodel itself. The parts were interactive with other parts. But the bits we make that interact are the papers, the posters, the talks we give. I believe, strongly, that asking trainees to do something that has nothing to do with what they are being trained for is a waste of their time, my time, and an insult to the organism.