Comics about mathematics, science, and the student life.

Basics

Host: "Professor, could you start off by explaining our standard conception of gravity for our listeners, and then share what you've been doing-" Professor: "Gah, I can't do this. It's all trivial. Nobody wants to listen to that!" Caption: When you've spent so much time talking with experts that you forget that some people are just interested in the basics.

I sometimes notice myself rolling my eyes when I see another explanation of a basic concept that I know well, but then I realize that the target audience is not me.

Communicating to the public is important and distinct from communicating with experts.

Loyal

Scientist, walking a pet on a leash (but only the collar is visible): "Even if no one else thinks you exist, I believe in you, pal." Caption: A scientist with his pet theory.

Admit it. You have a pet like this, too.

Existential Risk

First panel. Person One: "I'm developing an app to make people take existential risks seriously." Person Two: "That's great, but how are you going to do that?" (A device beeps) Second panel. P1 with their phone out: "See this counter? It shows the number of people who are currently awake and have the power to destroy the world. Right now, it's only at four, but I've seen it much higher." Third panel. P2: "For real? That's nuts!" P1: "And there's another one. Do you want the beta build? I'm testing a feature in which the app sends you more and more dire end-of-the-world quotes when certain thresholds are crossed." Fourth panel. P2: "I think I'm going to have trouble sleeping from now on." P1: "Don't worry, my machine-learning algorithm is predicting that things will get worse."

“Oh yeah, and that’s a good thing you won’t be able to sleep. That’s what I call ‘taking it seriously’!”


Disclaimer: I do not know what kind of values for such an app would be typical, but I think any number other than zero is a little terrifying.

Blending

First panel. Person One: "What are you working on?" Person Two: "Oh, I'm just doing some science communication. I'm about to mix my ingredients together." P1: "Wait, what's that box on the ground?". Second panel. P2: "Thanks for reminding me! I almost forgot to put it in." (The box is marked 'Pet Theories'.) Third panel. P1: "Isn't that going to confuse people? They won't be able to distinguish scientific fact from your own ideas." Fourth panel. P2: "I'm sure everyone will be able to tell the difference!" (Presses the 'super blend' button.)

I am only able to spot this within my own field, but I am certain that I get misled by experts in other fields when they feel compelled to mix in their own ideas.

There is no harm with stating your viewpoint, but it should be clearly distinct from the rest of the science. In that sense, I like thinking of good science communication like a layer cake. Each part is clearly marked so confusion is left to a minimum.

Academic Ghost Story

Three scientists are sitting around a fire, while one tells a story. "It was a dark and rainy morning when I opened the arXiv and saw... a paper with non-standard notation!" Person Two: "The horror!" Person Three: "Good God!"

Bad notation will literally haunt you for weeks when you need to translate it in order to compare to your own work.

Positive

First panel. Person One: "Since this is just a constant, I can use this symbol, right?" (Indicates a sad face icon.) Person Two: "Absolutely not! Give me that." (Takes the chalk.) Second panel. Person Two has changed the sad face to a happy one. "That's better. Haven't you learned that physicists like their constants positive?"

If you want to confuse a physics student, set a constant to be negative in a differential equation that would be harmonic motion. Chances are, they will zoom on and solve the problem without realizing their error.

Sorting

First person: "How can you work with all that clutter on your desk?" Second person: "It's not cluttered. I sort my stuff just like on my computer." First person: "And how is that?" Second person: "By last modified."

I prefer to think of it as simply letting my desk settle into its most natural state: pure chaos.

Physics Students

Any good student is a mixture of these at each moment.

Warning: The superposition may not always be an equal measure of both.

Navigation

First panel. An old map with a bunch of confused paths represents a student. Second panel. A high-tech GPS receiver represents the supervisor.

This is why your supervisor is confused that you are confused.

Drop

First panel. A researcher stands near the edge of the waters of science, holding a vial of liquid: "Time to add my new work to the oceans of science!" Second panel. The researcher empties the vial, and apart from a splash, nothing changes: "Well, I thought it was going to be a bit more exciting than that."

Ah, the realities of doing science (any almost any other kind of work).