David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
So, You Think You Can Diss?

November 22, 2013: So, You Think You Can Diss?

Is this how Olympic  track and field athletes first felt when they heard there was going to be synchronized swimming at the Olympics?

Apparently, the journal Science and the American Association of the Advancement of Science (SAAAS?) now sponsors a competition featuring the best interpretive dance of someone's doctoral thesis (obviously in the sciences).   This kinetics competition is in its sixth year, but, as far as I know, has been dramatically undermarketed, although that may change after this year now that "guys in speedos portraying chicken sperm" have been featured in the winning video. 

Yes, you read that right.  I will pause and let you soak that in (so to speak).

An Oxford Ph.D. in Biology is this year's winner.  And, I have to admit, I really like his video, although I may never be able to look at one of those hamster balls (you know, the clear ones that roll all over the floor) the same way again. 

Let's face it, there is something pretty cool about each of the top five entries (all videos are available at the bottom of the page linked above), although I question whether the time and effort is justified by a measly $1000 grand prize.  I am disappointed that for the winner the music isn't Monty Python's "Every Sperm is Sacred," although I suppose the point is that "Every Sperm is Not Sacred" or "Every Term[inal] is Sacred."

I have always thought that Ph.D.'s in the science exist in a process that is more humane than it is in the humanities, where sometimes Ph.D. candidates can feel like they are left to die, or at least ABD, all but dead.  In my limited experiences and knowledge, science graduate students often get greater (or at least more effective) guidance and advice. And, now they get song and dance also!  Certainly, as one friend says, writing a dissertation is basically an interpretive dance with dissertation committee anyway.

I wonder what I would have done as an interpretive dance for my dissertation. For those of you who don't have it prominently displayed on your bookshelf, it has the riveting title of Restricted Space: The Urban Tenement and the American Literary Imagination. (By the way, if you haven't known it, you can tell a dissertation is from the field of English by its use of the colon to set off the whimsical from the practical.  But, I digress.)

I need a song first.  One can't have interpretive dance without music, right.  (Every mime in the world wants to cold-cock me right now.)   I think I will go with "Cities," by The Talking Heads.

With it's jangling guitars and quirky beat, the set up is perfect.  Prone dancers pile on top of each other with jerky motions, forming rickety tall structures.  Each pile of dancers starts its structure closer and closer to the last, showing the crowdedness.  Meanwhile, shabbily dressed dancers alternate with well-dressed dancers going in and out of the spaces between the walls of bodies--denizens living in the space, aristocrats fascinated by the space.  The overhead light flashes on and off, sometimes with burned stop motion shots, reflecting the photography of Jacob Riis.  All of this happening while David Byrne chants "I'm checking them out/I'm checking them out" over and over.  (Not sure what I would do with "Do I smell/smell home cooking/it's only the river.")

Actually, as I think about it, it's probably unfair of me to illustrate my humanities' topic with art.  If the intentions of SAAAS is to force art onto science, then I guess I need to force science onto art.  I suppose I need to come up with an interpretive experiment.  I think I could deal with the smell issue.

I know one thing--it sure as hell wouldn't feature guys in speedos.