Dissertation Cheddar? What the hell is that?
My dear friends, a dissertation cheddar is a cheddar cheese that you do not crack open to consume until your dissertation is complete. One hundred percent completed. No more edits to be made so lemme walk across this stage and put on this hood, please.
Why a cheddar for a dissertation?
If I had started making cheese earlier, I probably would have done another type of cheese. But many cheeses, including cheddar, taste better the longer they age. So as I am writing my dissertation, my cheddar is aging and finally when all is done, I can enjoy the cheese of my labour. (Get it? Instead of fruits of my... yeah you got it.)
The cover image for this post is my dissertation cheddar after it came out of the press and before I waxed it and shoved it into the cheese cave for an indeterminate amount of time. I feel great solidarity with this cheddar. Because completing a PhD is in many ways like a cheese.
Cheese making is not an extremely arduous task; but, it's not easy either. Milk needs to be at a certain temperature; int needs to be inoculated with a certain type of bacteria; ripened for a certain amount of time. Cut, stirred, pressed, salted and or brined. And then you let it do it's thing for weeks for younger cheeses, and up to years for sharper cheeses.
But after that time is up, you take that cheese out of the depths of the cheese cave and crack it open.... and it still might not have anything of worth. Scratch that, not only is a PhD similar to cheese. Science in general, and my experiments in particular, have a similar habit of not always doing what you expect.
Maybe what you made can be saved and reworked into something else, maybe it can't; it's an occupational hazard, I suppose--in scientific research but also in cheesemaking. It's hard not to try to empathize with the feeling of waiting and grinding until suddenly you're ready and you have something to put into the world--or not. At least for this dissertation cheddar, I won't know until May.
Until then, every week when I flip over my cheeses in the cave, I'll have a rueful smile on my face when I look at my dissertation cheddar as a symbol of hope to come, but with no guarantees.