Sunday, September 6, 2015

'What does it all mean?'

THE PHD MOVIE 2: STILL IN GRAD SCHOOL (2015)

Produced by: Several, including a kickstarter campaign that this reviewer contributed to
Director: Iram Bilal
Starring: A lot of students, and a Nobel Laureate
Pros: For those in the loop, a very real story, funny
Cons: A little preachy, predictable ending
Rating: Just watch it!

Well, this isn't a traditional movie that's going to show in all theaters in town. While I'm a little skeptical of the title of 'Independent cinema,' I'd prefer to call it 'niche cinema,' because it is for a very narrow audience (college students, especially graduate students). And for that audience, this movie certainly clicks! Picking up from the first edition PHD Movie, this sequel picks up from where the last one left off, although it doesn't say as much in the beginning.

There are major differences between this movie and the last one, chief among them being the higher quality of direction, which had to come with the arrival of a professional director. You now have much nicer shots of Caltech as well as the lead stars (one of whom actually has a PhD!), as well as more subtlety. In that respect, I have to give it to the director for Cecilia's defense, wherein backer David Sell puts on a parallel show without saying anything - I wish I had a third eye for that one!

Most importantly, for grad students, the movie is both funny as well as serious, as it raises some important questions about the nature of competitive research from the lens of the students doing the bidding of their advisers. Much has been said about the need to break free from the trap of impact factors and h-indices, but humor is typically the best way to emphasize it. Funding agencies and donors need to understand the basic nature of research, in that failure is as useful as success, so that the people who find the eventual solution actually did it on the back of countless others who didn't.

One last thing - he has a name, that unnamed grad student. Winston. We knew this right at the very end of the first movie, but for some reason Nature missed it (yes, they reviewed the movie; why wouldn't they?) and so it was re-emphasized. Overall, a delightful movie for grad students and maybe also undergraduates, if they take it in the right spirit. As for the rest of the big world, this is your periscope into the high world of academia! (OTFS)

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