#LOLmythesis, an online confession booth for academics

About a month ago, a Harvard University senior launched the equivalent of an academic online confession booth: a collection of the one-sentence summaries people might give of years of work in their more sleep-deprived moments.

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LOLmythesis is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the futility and incrementalism that can seem to be at the root of a project that has basically co-opted a person’s life. Called “LOLmythesis,” for laugh-out-loud my thesis, it’s become a legitimate meme, drawing entries from sarcastic thesis students from universities across the world. The @lolmythesis Twitter account has nearly 6,000 followers.

Harvard senior Angie Frankel told the origin story of LOLmythesis on National Public Radio , explaining that “I have killed so many fish” sometimes just feels much more accurate than the true title of her thesis, “Characterizing the Role of [A Specific Gene] in Second Heart Field Progenitor Cells- A Close Look at Zebrafish Embryonic Cardiogenesis.”

Here are a couple of fun ones from local universities:

“Because human babies are lame and can’t do anything for themselves, the only ones that survived were those who could manipulate others into taking care of them, turns out we’ve been manipulating each other ever since.” -Biological and Cultural Anthropology, Boston University

“Rocks that are next to each other in Massachusetts now were also next to each other 400 million years ago.” -Geology, Amherst College

“A newly-discovered worm protein does the same thing as a more well-known worm protein.” -Biology, MIT

“Almost breaking a million dollar machine, in order to measure the strength of crab claw shell to the 0.001 k/N.” -Biology, Smith College

“Online ads that claim you are the 100000th visitor are surprisingly effective.” -Computer Science, Harvard

“People reach faster and straighter to pictures of cake than pictures of vegetables.” -Cognitive Neuroscience, Brown University

Last year, right around this time another Twitter meme took off, in much the same vein: tweets hash-tagged #overlyhonestmethods that showcased a funny and often cynical take on how science unfolds in the lab.

I love this type of humor. It’s funny, it showcases the personalities of academics, and it lets people blow off a little steam during the serious pursuit of the answer to a question. To discover something new, people often have to spend a lot of time working on projects that many of their friends and families simply don’t understand or care about. This website gives people a kind of common ground. And even though the projects can sound—when snarkily summed up—incredibly trivial, it’s only by asking specific questions and doing experiments that people can learn new things.

It’s also interesting for another reason: woven into these kinds of jokes are occasional critiques of the incentive systems for research, or a subtle dig at the way a field moves forward that’s worth taking seriously. But mostly, they just make you chuckle.

“Turns out my 3 years of research made zero ripples in reproductive biology. But spending 3 years researching bull sperm serves as a great first date and bar topic.” -Reproductive Biology & Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University