I recently watched the movie Whiplash, about a college jazz band director, Fletcher played by J.K. Simmons, who torments his musicians to force them to be their best. The movie focuses on a drummer, Andrew, which makes for a great audio/video feast but in its essentials Whiplash is a story of a professor and his student.
I can imagine playing the role, “Do you think your proof is correct? Yes or No? Are you applying Toda’s theorem correctly or are you using the same crazy logic your dad used when he left your mom?” OK, maybe not.
Nevertheless Fletcher has a point. Too often I’m seeing graduate student doing just enough to get a paper into a conference instead of pushing themselves, trying to do great work and still not being satisfied. Fletcher says the two most dangerous words in the English language are “good job”. While that might be a little cruel, we do need to push our students and ourselves to take risks in research and be okay in failing. To roughly quote John Shedd and Grace Murray Hopper, "the safest place for a ship is in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for."
Whiplash had a different kind of scene that definitely hit home. Andrew could not impress his family with the fact that he was lead drummer in the top college jazz band in the nation. I’ve been there, trying to get my mother excited by the fact that I had a STOC paper early in my career. "That's nice dear".