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Mercredi, 14 Septembre 2011 00:49

PHD Comics, Coming to a Theater Near You

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PHD Comics, Coming to a Theater Near You

By Kunio N. Sayanagi, Ars Technica

Earlier this year, graduate students suddenly found themselves deprived of a major source of procrastination when updates of the Piled Higher and Deeper Comics suddenly reduced to trickles. The hiatus led to a widespread speculation that Jorge Cham, the creator of the comics, fell victim to (*gasp*) procrastinitis after advocating for the habit over many years through his worldwide speech tour titled “the Power of Procrastination.”

PHD Comics is a humorous and point-blank accurate take on the everyday struggles scientists face in grad school that are often hard to explain to people on the outside — like our parents. The comics earned their worldwide popularity soon after Jorge started writing them in 1997 for this exact reason — they finally gave us a way to laugh at ourselves for banging our heads against the lab benches and computer monitors.

While graduate students everywhere were waiting impatiently for a new comic strip, the reason for idleness was soon revealed: Jorge teamed up with some uber geeks at Caltech to produce a live-action film adaptation of his comics — the popular comic characters Cecilia, Mike Slakenerny, Tajel, and the Nameless Grad Student finally come to life, their roles played by real-world grad students. The long wait is now over, and the film is being released on academic campuses worldwide this Thursday, September 15th.

Like the comics, the film focuses on many aspects of life in graduate school — research, teaching, friendship, love, research and… research. Those of us who have gone through a Ph.D. program saw ourselves projected onto Cecilia, Mike, Tajel, and the “Nameless.” Our struggles no longer seemed lonely.

The movie adaptation stays true to the spirit of the original comics, and it is by far the most accurate depiction of scientists’ daily lives I have seen in popular media. Most of the things we try, we fail miserably at and in the most boring way possible—no explosion, no billowing smoke, just stupefying silence or an infinite loop cut short with an expletive. I am excited that the PHD Comics Movie succeeds in presenting us young scientists as interesting human characters without overly dramatizing what we do. It brings the audience to the core of our daily grinds while still managing to make us laugh.

The movie is a long-awaited depiction of academia that counters the “ivory tower” image that is still prevalent in popular culture. In the recent years, TV series like the Big Bang Theory finally started focusing on the human side of scientists, and helped break the stereotypical images of scientists, such as the crazed Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown in the film Back to the Future.

The recent rise of geek culture is positive for the popular depiction of scientists; however, it is still not quite something we relate to 100 percent. For example, the Big Bang Theory’s contrasting depiction of socially awkward male physicists and engineers with a blonde waitress neighbor is still far from breaking the stereotype; in many ways, the PHD Comics Movie is Caltech’s own answer to the Big Bang Theory.

Another remarkable aspect of the PHD Comics Movie is that all the talents necessary for producing the movie were found locally at Caltech. All the actors are real-world students who face the daily research struggle. All the original songs in the sound tracks are written and played by students and postdocs at Caltech. The filming and production are largely done by students as well. In this way, the film also breaks down the view of the academy as a monastery, and shows us that it’s full of people with passion and, more importantly, a sense of humor.

The movie is being released on academic campuses worldwide starting September 15 — you can find out if your school has a screening scheduled on the PHD Comics website. Finally, there is a movie of the graduate students, by the graduate students, for the graduate students; it is truly a must see for science fans, and it could be coming to your campuses this fall.

Disclosure: Ars writer Kunio Sayanagi was involved in the production of the movie.

Image: PHD Comics

Source: Ars Technica

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