Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ph.D. Thesis Interpretive Dance Competition

Back in graduate school, as the pressures of getting ready to defend my thesis grew, my lab partner and I would come up with more and more fanciful ways to avoid working on it. One of our best suggestions was to forgo the traditional thesis defense in favor of using interpretive dance to convey my thesis topic "Solid Dispersions in Surfactant Solutions". Think of the possibilities of dancing wormlike micelles and particles in rainbow colored colloidal crystals. Add lasers for the laser light scattering and shooting soap foam and bubble machines for the surfactants and it would have been quite a production. Alas it never came to be.

Almost a decade later John Bohannon sent out a request for students, scientists and postdocs to interpret their Ph.D. Thesis using only dance, no words or images. The results of the contest with videos are available at Science. Participants were given 60 seconds before the performance to summarize their Ph.D. thesis topic for the judges, so it wasn't a complete free-for-all. The judges really were looking to see if the performance really represented the research.

The dances are all very charming and some are quite good and everybody looks like they had fun. I can't directly link to the videos because they are on the Science magazine site, but scroll down the article page to see them for yourself.

The winner, Brian Stewart, wore a loin cloth and enacted in dance the hunting of an antelope (played by a colleague, archaeologist Giulia Saltini-Semerari) and then topped it off with the touching gift of the hide to a tribe member to present "Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, cooking, sharing and disposal at the Dunefield midden campsite, South Africa".

Some other fun performances were:

"The eventful life of galaxies in low density environments" by Ruth Gruetzbauch was charmingly portrayed as a tango ending with the two dancers (as galaxies) locked in an embrace.

How would you perform a thesis entitled "Analysis of thymic nurse cells in the chicken"? Professor Josef Penninger did the chicken dance, what else!

Nicole-Caudia Meisner won the postdoc catagory by tap dancing her way through "mRNA Stability Regulation as a Drug Target: mRNA Stability Cross-Screening and Molecular Mechanisms in Post-Transcriptional Regulation resolved bu Quantitative Biology."

There are many more and all are worth watching.

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