Meet Louis de Broglie…
… or to give him his full title, Louis Victor Pierre Raymond, 7ème duc de Broglie. In 1924, he submitted his doctoral thesis in Physics, entitled “Recherches sur la théorie des quanta”.
The Duke de Broglie is a strong candidate for the award of greatest thesis of all time. Here’s why…
1) It changed the field
More than 10 years before Scrödinger ever got his hands on a cat, de Broglie’s work laid the foundations of quantum mechanics.
The whole wave-particle duality shebang was originally his idea, and the equations he came up with have been taught to every physics undergraduate everywhere in the world ever since.
2) It had a celebrity examiner
When you come up with an idea that revolutionises your entire field, who’s going to check that you’re right?
De Broglie’s thesis baffled his examiners, but rather than fail him and kick him out, they sent it to Albert Einstein to give it the once-over. Einstein gave it the thumbs up, and de Broglie passed his doctoral degree.
3) It won The Big Prize
In 1929, De Broglie was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for the very same work he presented in his doctoral thesis.
Pretty impressive. So, what can you learn from de Broglie’s success? Well it depends on why you’re writing your thesis in the first place.
Writing for posterity vs writing for now
De Broglie will probably be remembered for as long as people are doing physics. But at the same time, his thesis work was probably the peak of his career.
Even though they built on his work, he didn’t particularly like some of the later developments in quantum physics. While de Broglie has his place in history assured, science went ahead despite his objections and did what it wanted.
Everybody wants their work to mean something, but then there’s the depressing thought of your hard-bound thesis gathering dust on a library shelf somewhere after you finish. That emotional conflict can be paralysing.
So instead of thinking about writing for posterity, think about what finishing your thesis can do for you now. Getting it finished quickly will give you your life back. Passing it is going to open the door to the next phase of your career, whether that’s in academia or not, and you have the rest of your life to build up a reputation in your field.
Your thesis is just an exam. If you really want to change the world, go ahead and do it, but worrying about posterity is like dreaming that future generations will remember your driving test.