Sitting and reading the news in the library, I stumbled upon a story in a recent issue of Science that highlights one of my true loves: dance. I danced for over 20 years when I was younger, and still dance now, though I’m beginning to feel a bit old in a hip-hop class filled with teens and 20-somethings.
I dance regularly, think about dance often, and have watched countless dance performances and films, but I must confess I have never explored the relationship between dance and science. It seems a natural partnership, as both are creative endeavors. And a quick search on PubMed reveals 212 entries that include the words “dance” and “science” – and from a glance, it looks like the terms have been used both literally and figuratively in the studies listed.
Beyond the idea of planets dancing in the galaxy, though, I never imagined that a connection could exist between dance and work as a scientist – or more to the point, that a Ph.D.-level scientist might actually land a job through dancing!
The story behind this glorious act is highlighted in “Why Do Scientists Dance?” by John Bohannon. In it, Bohannon explores the 2010 “Dance Your Ph.D.” competition, a contest in which Ph.D.s present their thesis through dance. The videos made are then reviewed during the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York every October, and the winners are awarded prizes during a ceremony at the conclusion of the festival.
Bohannon, seeking to learn the motivation behind scientists’ participation in the competition, surveyed entrants via email. Here are two responses to survey queries about the consequences of the dance:
“My PhD dance may have helped me get a job. I submitted my dance in the last year of my PhD, shortly before I started searching for a postdoc position. The video was one of the top hits for my name on google, so when I interviewed for my current job, my coworkers-to-be had all googled my name and seen the video. It may or may not have influenced their opinion of me as a scientist, but it definitely gave us a starting point for getting to know each other. And if any of my potential employers saw my PhD dance and thought worse of me because of it, then the video may have saved me from joining a lab full of boring fun-haters.” —Bonnie Barrilleaux
“I had two interesting things happen as a direct result of my dance. First, I went to the scientific recruiter at my postdoc to talk about getting a new job and asked him whether he thought I should take down my dance to increase my chances of getting a job. He thought it would not hurt to keep it up. In the end, I think it he was right. My current boss has a habit of googling people before they are hired, and I learned that he not only saw my dance but was also more enthusiastic about hiring me after learning of this crazy endeavor.” —Wendy Grus
What lessons can we take away from the Ph.D. Dance? Three things, I think:
1) Push yourself – and I mean really push yourself – to think of your work in a new way. Try to explain your work to a non-specialist. Try to see your work in other art forms, or translate your work into a painting or drawing. You may find that you’re able to see connections you hadn’t seen previously.
2) Attack your job search in the same way. Think of innovative ways to network, share your work, etc. Don’t be afraid to mention outside interests, as you may uncover a personal connection someone has in the same area.
3) Be ready for everything you have ever posted on the web to be examined closely by potential employers. Get rid of things you would not be willing to have read or viewed by your colleagues.
Get on out there and dance! Or count yourself lucky that your Ph.D. advisor isn’t/wasn’t Adam Burgasser, who now requires the dance of his grad students as a condition of the doctorate. 🙂