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Queen’s student dances her PhD – and wins

Contest compels participants to explain their thesis through interpretive dance.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | DEC 05 2011

When a friend forwarded her the details to Science magazine’s Dance Your PhD contest, Queen’s University graduate student Emma Ware knew she wanted to enter. “I was delighted to see that it existed. Because I was doing my PhD at the time and I’ve always loved to dance, it was sort of a no-brainer for me.”

That enthusiasm and assuredness served her well, as Dr. Ware took home the prize – and $500 – for best dance in the social sciences category of this year’s contest.

Now in its fourth year, the Dance Your PhD contest addresses the perennial issue that many graduate students face: how to explain your thesis without people’s eyes glazing over. The answer: through interpretive dance.

There were 55 entries submitted to the increasingly popular competition in fields from psychology to astrophysics. Those entries were pared to 16 finalists, who were judged by a handful of scientists and choreographers.

Dr. Ware danced her thesis, A Study of Social Interactivity Using Pigeon Courtship, with her boyfriend Geoff Goodson, a law student at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. She says the two of them worked for about a week choreographing the video and spent three hours recording it. Then, “I pulled an all-nighter the night before the contest deadline to edit it.”

Dr. Ware successfully defended her thesis last April and plans to apply to medical school. She says her PhD lent itself well to the contest; she did her research at the BioMotion Lab at Queen’s, which studies the perception of body movement. “It wasn’t as difficult as some projects might have been, like molecular chemistry and things like that.”

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