Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Making choices

I have finally received the examiner’s reports from my thesis (submitted back in June). Much to my delight the suggested corrections they have requested are minor, so it shouldn’t be too much longer until the degree is granted.

There was one statement in the examiner’s report which raised my eyebrows a bit. One of the two examiners expressed “surprise” that I made no use of Thermocalc “pseudosections”, which said examiner has found to give consistent results for a variety of compositions. He is correct; my thesis did not make use of that particular program for that task. Instead I used the program Perple_X, to which I was introduced first. I did consider also learning Thermocalc, and Theriak-Domino as well, since each program approaches the task slightly differently. However, it was recommended to me that rather than learning several different programs for the same sort of tasks that I instead focus on one and use the time not spent learning the mechanics of the other programs generating additional data for other aspects of the thesis. Around this same time I read a paper* by an author who did take the time to use those three different programs to model the same samples, and achieved similar, though not identical, results with each. The advice sounding reasonable to me, and the paper further convinced me that since different tools will give similar results that the important thing was to simply choose one of them. I can fully understand having a preference for one program over the other when doing such modeling and creating such diagrams, but never will I be surprised if a student working on their PhD chooses to go with only one program to accomplish a specific type of task. Today’s students are given a limited amount of time to complete their degree and failure to submit the thesis by the University imposed deadline results in loss of funding/support. Given such constraints it is not possible to use every program available, without sacrificing other sections of the research and some choices must be made.

*Hoschek, G., 2004. Comparison of calculated P-T pseudosections for a kyanite eclogite from the Tauern Window, Eastern Alps, Austria. European Journal of Mineralogy, 16(1), 59-72.

1 comment:

Lockwood said...

As an undergrad, I spent several years working as a student technician in a forest soils ecology lab. My supervisor once told me, "it doesn't matter so much what you do. What matters is that you do exactly the same each time."

It took me a while to comprehend that statement, and much longer to understand its importance. Yes, there were a number of minor variations in procedures that might have been arguably "better," in the sense of giving slightly more accurate readings of the "real" values. But the important thing was that all results could be compared to each other. And given limited time and resources, the most sensible thing was just to keep on doing what we were doing.