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<em>Science</em> Announces ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ Winners

The top "Dance Your Ph.D." prize was awarded to Florence Metz's interpretation of her thesis, "Do Policy Networks Matter to Explain Policy Design?" | Florence Metz

“What is your Ph.D. about?” can be a daunting question for a researcher, but Florence Metz answered with acrobatics, hip hop, salsa, and house dancing. Metz’s choreographed dance video of her thesis on policy networks earned the top prize today in Science’s 2015 “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest.

The contest, now in its eighth year, is sponsored by Science magazine, AAAS, and HighWire Press. Prizes of $500 each were awarded in four categories. In addition to Metz’s top social science entry, the contest recognized winners in biology, chemistry, and physics. As the overall winner, Metz also won an additional $1,000 and a trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where her video will be screened.

Metz learned about the contest after an acquaintance earned the prize for best social science dance in 2012. When she submitted her Ph.D. thesis at the University of Bern at the end of September, a friend congratulated her — and reminded her about the contest. With the contest deadline just three weeks away, Metz worked busily to choreograph the dance, film the scenes, and select the best sequences.

Metz’s video depicts the use of policy networks by groups with diverse interests — governmental bodies, agricultural groups, industrial associations, and environmentalists — to achieve effective water protection policies. They express their policy preferences through different styles of dance but are thwarted by groups like parliaments that can block the policymaking process, represented by turning off the music. Finally, they are aided by brokers who help find common ground among their different viewpoints. The video’s final scene integrates dance moves from a range of styles to depict compromise.

Using a diverse range of dance styles to represent different viewpoints was a natural choice for Metz, who has danced since childhood in a variety of styles.

“I started with figure ice skating as a child and as a teen started with street style, which includes in my case popping, locking, new style, and house dance,” Metz said. “Today, I also dance salsa and lately discovered acro yoga — I love it!”

Dance talent isn’t all that wins the contest, according to contest judge Allan Adams. Adams, an associate professor of physics at MIT, praised Metz’s prowess for clearly communicating scientific ideas.

“The dance and the choreography tell a story that’s clear and persuasive,” he said, adding that Metz took full advantage of video editing to produce a tight narrative structure that is still light-hearted and playful.

The best entries are those that artistically and effectively communicate scientific ideas, Adams said, which has much broader applicability beyond the Dance Your Ph.D. contest.

“At the end of the day, ideas that aren’t communicated just don’t matter in the public sphere,” he said. In the era of Facebook and Instagram, Adams said that scientists “need to be able to communicate visually.”

While Metz initially intended just to make people laugh with her video, she said her video has had more impact than she expected.

“This bridge between academia and the non-academic world is crucial, but unfortunately not incentivized enough in the day-to-day academic business,” Metz said.

“Family and friends who are not into research watched the video and became a little familiar with my research work. I feel that the Ph.D. dance video contributed to making research accessible to a larger crowd of people,” she said.

Social Science and Overall Winner
Florence Metz, University of Bern
Do Policy Networks Matter to Explain Policy Design?

Physics Winner
Merritt Moore, University of Oxford
Exploring Multi-Photon States for Quantum Information Applications

Biology Winner
Pearl Lee, University of Sydney
Cellular Interactions With Tropoelastin

Chemistry Winner
Jyaysi Desai, Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich
Molecular Mechanisms Involved in Neutrophil Extracellular Trap (NET) Formation