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Dissertation Circus Tricks

Dissertation Circus Tricks

An unusual graduate school tradition from the Nowicki lab.

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circus tricks
Elizabeth Derryberry pulls a few surprises out of her magic hat during her dissertation defense.

Durham, NC - When graduate students in biologist Steve Nowicki's lab present their dissertation defense, there are no cookies on the table, but there may be fire juggling, unicycle riding or a rare occasion of plate spinning.

Defense traditions on campus vary greatly, but the Nowicki's requirement that graduate students present a circus trick is certainly among the most unusual.

On his lab's website, Nowicki, the dean of undergraduate education, states the origin of the tradition started with his first graduate student Bernie Lohr, who juggled fire.  It immediately became a lab requirement.

"Successful completion of the Circus Trick Requirement is judged much the same way that outcomes of gladiatorial contests were judged in a Roman coliseum," according to the lab website. "An assembled rabble signal their approval or disapproval (now measured accurately with a state-of-the-art applause-o-meter) and the Emperor (or lab head, or whatever) confirms the result with a thumbs up or thumbs down."

"When other graduate students are getting ready to select their research topic, students in my lab are selecting their circus trick," Nowicki said.

For more, information about the dissertation circus tricks, click here. The website includes a complete list of past tricks and commentary on several ongoing controversies.

To date, no one has attempted to saw the professor in half.

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