James Gosling recalls his PhD days:
Back when I was a grad student I was spinning out of control trying to come up with a thesis topic. My advisor took me out to lunch one day and asked me a simple question: "What is a PhD thesis?" I yattered on for a while and he listened patiently. Eventually he said "No: It's just a stack of 100 pages with 4 signatures on top". I was falling into a common grad student trap of feeling that I needed to do something grandiose and solve all of the worlds problems. He was into "keep it simple". So I did, and I came up with a pretty straightforward thesis proposal. The odd thing was that when I finally finished my thesis, I realized that I had only delt with one sentence out of the simplified proposal.
This is significant for me, not because I'm having problems with my thesis, but with something much smaller. For my application, I have to provide samples of academic writing. I have two papers in mind I want to write (new papers because I'm too embarrassed about anything I wrote during my undergraduate days ten years ago). The problem is I think I'm setting the bar too high. I keep thinking these two papers have to be ground-breaking work. But they aren't even my thesis. They are just samples of academic writing. As long as remind myself they are just "a stack of 10 pages that proves I can write English and put together a bibliography" then I think I'm in good shape.
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