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PhD Comics + Animating the Thesis

Diagnosis: Doomed!PhD Comics has long been a great quick digital diversion for academics (and particularly graduate students) in need of a little self-parody. However, as it has aged the comic has also provided a window into the real ongoing scholarship of graduate students around the country. The site is now hosting a contest that promises to further that cause: the “2-minute Thesis” contest, with the grand prize an animated video of a student’s thesis explanation.

There are a range of entries in the contest, all with two-minute audio clips of students explaining their work from cannibalism to philosophy to what appears to be actual rocket science. Some of the leading entries already have a hundred or more votes, already more than the attendance at the average doctoral defense. This type of expression is similar to the creative play at work in the Dance Your Ph.D contest, where graduate students express their work through interpretive dance often involving full cohorts and choreographed routines.

This isn’t exactly comics in the classroom, but it is an opportunity to reflect on academic forms on a broader scale of audience and framing. While this is not an alternative form of dissertation production, these thesis topics will probably already reach more people than their “real” version can hope to. The interdisciplinary dialogue surrounding the dissertation’s still-traditional form was very active this week thanks to the Digital Dissertation Workshop (nicely storified by Lee Ann Ghajar here) and discussions of what a born-digital, tech-dependent dissertation looks like.

It’s certainly impressive to listen to some of the audio clips and hear some of the graduate students framing complex scientific research in terms appropriate to a wider audience. This type of playful form can offer a window for the rest of us into specialist research in fields far from our own comfort zone.

How have you played with expressing academic ideas? Can we “animate” the outcome of thesis research for a wider audience?

[Creative Commons Licensed Photo by Flickr User JD Hancock]

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