When Jorge Cham adapted his hugely popular PhD cartoon for film, he eschewed animation and hired real Caltech students and academics for his comically true-to-life doctoral tales. Paul Jump reports
Absent-minded academics and scientists who are a few base pairs short of a double helix are as much a cinema staple as maverick cops and superheroes with a troubled past. For all the recent rise in 3D film, Jorge Cham believes that researchers are rarely portrayed in ways that transcend that stereotypical dimension.
So when it came to making a film based on his highly successful PhD Comics series, the key theme he wanted to convey was that academics and research students are “real people with relationships, multiple talents and passions”.
Cham has spent the past 14 years highlighting the humorous side of the downsides of life as a research postgraduate – the huge workload and the inherent sense of anonymity and personal limbo. His Piled Higher and Deeper strip, subtitled “the ongoing chronicle of life (or the lack thereof) in grad school”, is syndicated all over the world and his website, where the strips are archived, receives about 7 million unique visitors a year. More recently, the website has also acquired some video content, in which Cham, who holds a PhD in robotics from Stanford University, interviews researchers about scientific concepts such as dark matter.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.