Dance your PhD: "an experiment for outgoing, exhibitionist scientists"

by Toby Manhire / 29 February, 2012
Move over, Nobel. The doctorate thesis dance award is where it's at.

Dust your dancing shoes off, doctoral students. You’ve only a matter of months to polish up your entry for the 2012 Science magazine “Dance Your PhD” competition.

Not just any old jig will do. Last year’s winning entry, from an engineer in Perth, juicily titled “Microstructure-Property relationships in Ti2448 components produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story” (above), is an elaborate, enthralling stop-motion adventure. The winner in the biology category, meanwhile, “depicted the mating dance of the fruit fly”.

Now in its fifth year, the competition began “as a drunken party stunt”, founder and Science reporter John Bohannon tells the Financial Times.

He explains:

I made a video of the evening and put it online, and it wasn’t long before I started getting emails from scientists all over the world asking me when the next contest was.

I put the idea to my editor at Science, suggesting that the magazine could put up some prize money and do an online contest. My editor agreed and I put an advertisement in Science. Videos arrived from all over the world. Today, we’re in the fifth year of the contest and the quality keeps getting better and better.

One of Bohannon’s favourite entrants is “the bee guy”, as he calls him:

The man emerges from a hive dressed as a bee and earnestly begins mimicking bee behaviour. You can’t help but be moved. I’d like to create an alternative prize to recognise dancers like him.

Why has it taken off?

One of the reasons the competition works is that it operates a very weird, specific constraint so that only certain people can take part. Each person only has one option: to appear in his or her own PhD research dance.

It’s like a secret society, but I think it appeals to scientists because their lives are hard work. Most of them are poor and obscure but with this competition, they can exhibit themselves. This whole contest is an experiment for outgoing, exhibitionist scientists. It gives them a platform.

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