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Get Academically Funky With the Winners of the 2015 ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ Contest

When’s the last time you saw a doctoral thesis move like this?

Image via YouTube screen capture

Interpretive dance. Is there anything it can’t do?

Sure, most people use it to express the subtleties of the human experience and the innermost fluctuations of the soul, but if you’re Florence Metz, you use it for a wholly different purpose: to explain your doctoral thesis on water protection policy.

Metz, a graduate student at Switzerland’s University of Bern, is the winner of this year’s “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest, beating out 31 other doctoral theses for the annual competition’s top honor. Metz’s routine, based on her work studying the policies around water protection and conservation, tops off at just under 10 minutes, in which “several dancing styles (hip-hop, house, salsa, acrobatics) stand for diverse political groups, which fight over the use and the protection of water resources.”

Now in its eighth year, the Dance Your Ph.D. contest is split into four categories: Social Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology. Winners in each category take home $500, with Metz’s grand-prize-winning routine earning her an additional $500, as well as a trip to Stanford University for a special screening of her dance video.

The winners in the contest’s other categories:

Biology: Pearl Lee, a Ph.D. student at Australia's University of Sydney, for “Cellular interactions with tropoelastin.”

Physics: Merritt Moore, a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford, for "Exploring multi-photon states for quantum information applications.”

And Jyaysi Desai, a Ph.D. student at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, for “Molecular mechanisms involved in neutrophil extracellular trap (NET) formation,” which won both the Chemistry and Audience Favorite awards.

While silly and fun, the contest is also a fairly serious attempt to bridge the gap between high-level scientific study and broader appreciation outside what might otherwise be a siloed field. The contest explains on its website:

A panel of judges will score each Ph.D. dance with 3 parameters: scientific merit, artistic merit, and creative combination of the science and art. Basically, to win this contest, you have to impress the judges. Some of them are scientists, some of them are artists. Your dance has to convey something essential about your Ph.D. research. Whatever that is, the judges need to “get it”. But you also have to make something that is fun to watch. Sure, it can be funny. But if so, it should also be impressively creative. And put some effort into the “Description” text for your video. This is really important. Steer clear of jargon.

Metz’s prize marks the first time in the contest’s eight years that a social scientist has won top honors. As she told the publication Science, which sponsors the dance-off: “My main aim with this video was to make people laugh. This bridge between academia and the nonacademic world is crucial.”

The complete list of entry videos can be found here.


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