Astronomy + Dance + Friends = Awesome

Whew! I’ve just about recovered from last week’s activities, and finally have some time to post again. Here’s what I got up to.

At the end of every year the graduate students in my department host a one-day conference for Astronomy students from all over Australia. I have no idea how this tradition got started (lost in the mists of time, I suspect) but it’s a fantastic idea and it always turns out to be a great day. At the start of the year a committee of four or five students is appointed to do all the organising, but of course one person is in charge, to coordinate the others and do the major jobs. This year, I volunteered for the job. Although it turned out to be more work than I expected, it was such a valuable experience and I don’t regret it at all. At times it was stressful, but it’s so pleasing when something you’ve been organising for ages goes off well. And this year, it turned out to be even bigger than ever.

2009 was officially designated the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), so Astronomy outreach events have been happening all around the world all year. After I advertised our little conference at the major Astronomy conference I went to in July, I was contacted by the Australian IYA coordinator. She suggested that we should celebrate IYA by running an extra session at our conference: a workshop on how to Dance Your PhD.


I first heard of the concept of Dance Your PhD about a year ago, and it’s basically what it sounds like—communicating your research through movement. There is an international competition run every year, and lots of people do it just for fun too. You can find heaps of examples on YouTube—make sure you read the blurbs so you know what they’re trying to describe. I mean, how awesome is that?! And the best thing is that you can interpret ‘dance’ however you want—ballet, mime, tango, hip hop, random movements to music, whatever.

As a lifelong dancer and dance-lover, of course I was immediately hooked. And so, after doubling my organisational commitments, the idea culminated in a day-long workshop which we held on Thursday, with the help of a physical theatre artist from Melbourne. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time—prancing around pretending to be a tidally-stripped dwarf galaxy or waving my arms impersonating a radio telescope—you just can’t beat it. You can’t. And the idea appealed to so many people that we ended up occupying most of the science page in Sunday’s paper.

The next day, Friday, was the conference proper. Again, everything went off spectacularly well. We had several interstate students, both old friends and new, who were able to attend—someone even came from Perth! Everyone gave such high-quality talks, either about their research or about another part of Astronomy that interests them. And because we’re students, we have a bit of fun: every year some of the talks are cleverly funny in that very scientific way, audience members who ask questions get space-themed confectionery in return (mars bars and milky ways ftw!), and talking beyond your allotted time will get you shot with nerf guns. And of course there’s the networking and socialising over morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and the celebratory dinner. A dinner which, this year, was augmented by a performance of the routines developed at the Dance Your PhD workshop the day before.

The two days were so wonderful, especially after all the work I put into making them happen. And of course thanks also to the lovely people who helped me all the way, and went above and beyond on the day. You know who you are, and you’re the best :)

Here’s to next year’s conference!


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2 Responses to “Astronomy + Dance + Friends = Awesome”

  1. Kate Says:

    What a cool and neat thing – Dance your PHd. I wonder if you met our former upstairs neighbor at your conference? He was a really nice guy named Brian from Australia who had his PHd in astronomy and worked for the Smithsonian in Cambridge Mass. He and his wife, Laura and their son moved back to Australia when he got a really good job offer in Sidney I think. Of course I can’t remember Brian’s last name. :( They were super nice neighbors, and we missed them after they moved very much.

    your Secret Pal from SP 14.

  2. Something that lifts my spirits on stressful days « An odd assortment Says:

    […] don’t think I could have gotten through all of last week’s organisings without […]

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