Roffa dancers in “Dance your Ph.D. contest 2015”

The Dance your Ph.D. contest is a yearly competition sponsored by Science Magazine. It invites current Ph.D. students, and people who recently obtained their Ph.Ds to dance their research. There are four categories where people can win: biology, chemistry, physics and social sciences. And then there’s a big winner from all the categories.

This year, swing dance and Roffa are leaving their stamp of energy and creativity in this contest, being selected as finalists for the social science category. We spoke with Zoë, whose Ph.D. was danced in this video:

How did you come to the idea of dancing your Ph.D.?
I love expressing myself differently, and I love talking about serious things in an entertaining way because I think it keeps the discussion going and makes it more accessible.
Since the beginning of my Ph.D., I wanted to organize a musical with my research team.  A year after, I started Lindy Hop at Swing in Rhythm ( and never stopped.  Last year I sang a song at a presentation at my department and that really motivated me to take the plunge and dance my Ph.D.

How did you choose the song?
After deciding that I was going to participate, I started listening to many songs. They had to be free of copyrights, and they had to be short, and I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I was actually listening to the 1st Roffaswing Hot 100 playlist on Spotify when I realised that Diga Diga Doo by Artie Shaw was the song I was looking for. It had so much energy, happy moments, dramatic moments, very argumentative moments. It was perfect.

So how do you dance your Ph.D?
Well, first you pick a song, then you figure out the story you want to tell. I spent two days breaking down the song by phrases and deciding what kind of story should happen in each phrase. I designed about half the choreography before the filming day, but I ran out of time. I was lucky to have the crew I had. First because Marike knows quite a bit about filming and she had this very good camera, and second because all my friends are great creative people, so for everything I had not yet planned, they had ideas. For instance, we were looking for what moves could express anxiety when the farmer doesn’t know what to do, or moves that could express anger. It was a really fantastic collaboration. The editing was also a lot of work but a ton of fun. Marike and I share a lot of the same humor, and she added fantastic special effects!

What was the most difficult thing about participating in this competition?
Knowing what my Ph.D. was actually about! I’m finishing in about 6 months, so it was perfect timing now because I finally know the main message of my research, so it’s nice to be able to communicate it through dance, and not just academic publications.

So, if we watch your video, we’ll know what your Ph.D. is about?
Yes! Well, without all the technical jargon of ethics of technology. You’ll see some of the main problems around the use of GMOs, and some morally relevant problems, I raise, and solutions I suggest.

Will it help people form an opinion about it?
I hope so! The use of GMOs in agriculture is a very controversial topic. So it’s really nice to see people’s reactions to the video. There’s a lot of things that you can’t explain in a short video, but I think the dancing is so much fun to watch that at least through that video, I can get people who would never talk to each other, since they disagree so much, to think about a few ideas that I put out there as solutions.

There’s a cash prize involved, what will you do with the money if you win?
I want to create a scholarship for a Swing in Rhythm student who comes up with a crazy idea to share the love of swing dances. The rest I will split between all the dancers who helped me. Maybe it’ll sponsor their Harbour Hop 2016 party passes depending on what prize I win.

So what are you waiting for? You can vote here till November 19, midnight!

2015 15 nov