How often are you at home with family or out with friends and someone asks you about your research? Sometimes I find it’s a tough balance between giving the simplest of answers: bioengineering. (Um, what does that even mean?) Or taking the deep dive and beginning to say, “Using molecular imaging techniques to understand temporomandibular joint pain…blah blah blah,” as my friend’s eyes glaze over. Even the coolest PhD research can be sleep inducing without the proper context and background.
Last year, Heidi interviewed a chemist who created a comic book version of her PhD to help explain her research to her family and friends. (And because it was a whole lot of fun!) I have found that these ‘alternative’ ways to describe a PhD thesis are gaining traction in attempt to engage family and friends, as well as the general public in science. Last week, a friend sent me the link to Science’s annual Dance Your PhD contest. The contest, now in its ninth year, challenges current PhD students and graduates to create a dance of any style about the topic of their graduate research.
You might be thinking… I don’t dance or, even worse, I don’t want to watch scientists dance. But a quick glance through previous years' videos left me laughing (some are pretty goofy!), interested, and very impressed. The dances are so creative and add a completely different dimension to the research.
The 2015 winner did her PhD research on water protection policy and finished her thesis only three weeks prior to the contest deadline! Her (amazing) video includes a ton of different dance styles, each representing a different interest group that plays a role in shaping water policy.
The 2015 winner of the physics category used the tango to describe her research on entangled photos and the biology winner danced ballet to illustrate her findings on tropoelastin. The winner in the chemistry category used Bollywood style dance to illustrate molecular nets. Since we usually express PhD-level research in excel spreadsheets, computer code, plots, schematics, and lengthy papers, it is refreshing to experience this work through a totally different lens.
And, there are prizes. $500 to the winner in each category (physics, chemistry, biology, and social science), plus an extra $500 to the overall winner.
This year’s deadline is September 30th – so get dancing!