Dissertations of the Influential
Many of our best and brightest write dissertations in their mid to late twenties.
While the age of significant contributions to a field is rising
Scientific Breakthroughs by Age Achieved
Based on 525 Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine over the last Century
2/3 of winners did prize-winning work before 40
20% before 30.
Average age of Nobel Prize-winning work is 48.
Average Age of Dissertation: 33
“Burden of knowledge” means that as we accumulate more knowledge, more knowledge must be known before new contributors can contribute.
Many dissertations lay the foundation for a well-published and powerful career.
Some of the Most Influential Dissertation Writers
Karl Marx, 1841, “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature
University: University of Jena, Germany
Thesis: Theology must yield to the superior wisdom of philosophy.
Led to: Advancement of Atheist cause. Groundwork for later Marxist thought.
Woodrow Wilson, 1886, “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics”
University: John Hopkins
Thesis: The founding fathers were mistaken. The US needs something like a British parliamentary system.
Led to: Years of debate. Openness to exchange ideas. Respect even from those who disagreed.
Fun Fact: Wilson argued for US progression according to a divine plan.
Marie Curie, 1903, “Radio-Active Substances”
Thesis: First measurement of radioactive material achieved. Developed aspects of radioactivity.
Led to: Vast advances in Medicine, Technology
Nobel Prize in Physics, 1903
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1911
First woman to win Nobel Prize
Albert Einstein, 1905 “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions”
Thesis: Initial estimates of the Avogadro constant, a measurement of the number of constituent particles per mole of a substance.
Led to: Papers on the photoelectric effect, brownian motion, special relativity, and equivalence of mass and energy.
Nobel Prize in Physics, 1921
Louis de Broglie, 1924, The de Broglie Hypothesis
Thesis: wave-particle duality. The wave nature of electrons suggests that all matter has wave properties.
Led to: Schrˆdinger’s Cat, advancement of quantum theory
Nobel Prize for Physics, 1929
Ludwig Wittengestein, 1929, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
Thesis: Attempted to identify the relationship between language and reality, and define the limits of science.
Led to: Advancement of logical positivism. Later pivot to common language philosophy.
Fun fact: the Tractatus was written in the trenches and while a POW in World War 1.
Alan Turing, 1938, “Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals”
Thesis: Ordinal logic introduced, limitations of Turing machines described.
Led to: Early understanding of computers.Notion that computers can consult other computers.
Fun Fact: The Turing Award, given by the Association for Computing Machinery since 1966 is equivalent to the Nobel Prize in computing.
Paul Samuelson, 1941, “The Foundations of Economic Analysis”
Thesis: Mathematical structure of utility by consumers and profits by firms, as well as the stability of equilibrium of economic systems outlined.
Led to: More productive use of math in economics. Landmark textbook in study of economics.
Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
Fun fact: Samuelson was the first American to win this award.
Martin Luther King Jr., 1955, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of…”
University: Boston University
Thesis: God is a living force, more personal than previous authors will admit.
Led to: Enhanced preaching career. Formation of religious thoughts used in civil rights movement.
Nobel Peace Prize, 1964
Fun Fact: MLK Jr’s dissertation was later found to be plagiarized, but his doctorate was not revoked.
Jane Goodall, 1965, “Behavior of the Free Ranging Chimpanzee”
Thesis: Evidence of reasoned thought, abstraction, generalization, symbolic representation, and concept of the self in chimpanzees.
Led to: Enhanced understanding of highly intelligent mammals.
Fun fact: Jane Goodall never received a bachelor’s degree.
Robert Gates, 1966, “Soviet Sinology: An Untapped Source for Kremlin Views and Disputes Relating Contemporary Events in China”
Thesis: Tracking Soviet views through the study of Chinese culture, language, politics, and sociology.
Led to: Enhanced understanding of East/West relations. Cold War Intelligence.
Fun Fact: Gates has served as director of the CIA, president of Texas A&M University, Boy Scouts of America, and Chancellor of the College of William & Mary
Newt Gingrich, 1971, “Belgium Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960”
Thesis: Did colonial powers perform a painful but positive function in disrupting traditional society?
Led to: Belief that colonialist policies didn’t lead to later economic stability.
Fun Fact: Gingrich loves to allude to obscure historical facts and the fact that he was a historian in speeches.
Condoleezza Rice, 1981, “The politics of client command: party-military relations in Czechoslovakia”
Thesis: An exploration of the ambiguous position of military forces in Soviet East Europe.
Led to: An appreciation of history as a propaganda tool for advancing political power.
Fun Fact: Rice fell in love hearing about the consolidation of power, and machinations of the powerful in an international politics class. She speaks Russian, French, German, Spanish, and English.