The Ph.D. Movie: Part One
This two-part movie is based on Piled Higher and Deeper (also known as PhD Comics), is a newspaper and webcomic strip written and drawn by Jorge Cham that follows the lives of several grad students. First published in the fall of 1997 when Cham was a grad student himself at Stanford University, the strip deals with issues of life in graduate school, including the difficulties of scientific research, the perils of procrastination, the complex student–supervisor relationship and the perpetual search for free food. Cham continued the strip as an Instructor in mechanical engineering at Caltech, and now draws and gives talks about the strip full-time. In recent years, he has presented at the University of Minnesota and some of my students had the chance to have supper with him and share stories that might appear in future Ph.D. comics.
When I heard about the comic strip, I asked my graduate research assistants about it. They were all avid readers. I asked them if it was okay for me as a professor to read the comic and laugh at the events. the story lines are that are humorous, painful, and much too real. The students told me that they wanted me and other instructors to read the comic strips to provide some real insights into their lives and maybe consider how I interact with the graduate students. Ouch. While the comic strips are no longer regularly distributed, Jorge Cham has focused his energy on the Ph.D. films and tours the world speaking at colleges to packed audiences of students. Many of the story lines in the comics come directly from experiences shared with him by the graduate students as well as his own experiences.
The actors in the films are real-life graduate students and professors and filmed on college campuses. Cecelia, one of the characters, is my favorite. The actress who portrays her in the movies is now has earned her Ph.D. in astrophysics. Look for her name in the film credits at the end of the second movie. A highlight in her life was interviewing Dr. Steven Hawking for one of the video specials in the Ph.D. series. The look of joy in her eyes during their short interaction was priceless.