Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Doctor who?

In the interest of getting chemists involved in the current phenomenon of reality TV, I have a few ideas of new shows that some silly network can use (although, on the off chance that they do, I’m claiming rights…*)

Idea #2: Along the lines of American Idol, graduate students would get to compete to become America’s favorite Ph.D.** We would start with an incoming class at some prestigious university (or at least, one that is willing to have a reality show determine who graduates?!). Then the students would have to face certain challenges, like completing oral exams or giving a seminar to the department, followed by an audience vote to determine who failed (and thus, gets kicked out of the program, or perhaps sent to the Masters’ track). Depending on how squeamish the school is, or how scientifically-illiterate the audience is expected to be, the relevant professors could perhaps pick a subset of the students to be voted on to help weed out the worst students. In the weeks (or months?) when there aren’t any elimination competitions, the students could compete for prizes, like who gets first choice of graduate advisor, or who gets to keep the office they had as a TA. The final student would win… a professorship somewhere? The postdoc of their choice? A 30-city tour to present their thesis? Ok, some of the details aren’t quite fleshed out…

What I think would be really interesting is that, with an audience vote, the best scientists are by no means guaranteed to succeed, as the stereotypical ideas of what a ‘good’ (or ‘smart’, etc – insert random complimentary word here) scientist does (such as reading a lot, and working hard in the lab) would not make for interesting TV.* Thus, there would definitely be an element of strategy on top of the science – how do you engage an audience and get them to vote for you? In my mind, it somewhat relates to currently existing questions about how scientists are evaluated – what are we recognizing/rewarding, and what should we be rewarding? Well, perhaps that’s another show in the making…

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)

  • In all fairness, this is really an idea that arose in grad school, so my two friends would get in on the rights as well.
    • And, kudos to Propter Doc, who suggested a similar idea in response to my last post. In fact, given the timing of graduate school vs. postdoc appointments, his/her idea may work better in practice…
      • I think a similar problem would also apply with Propter Doc’s idea (of a professor picking his Next Top Postdoc), as working hard unfortunately doesn’t always equate with getting good results, etc.


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    CN said:

    As a lowly undergraduate, I think my life’s ambition would be to elevate myself to the status of having the ability to be on that “Chemistry Idol” show.

    Speaking of which, my best friend and I had a similar idea a while back of having a cooking show based on chemistry/biochem/biology. Not only could the chemistry of cooking be addressed (anywhere from ingredients to reactions to materials), but also the effects of chemicals, general foods, and whatever-else/you-name-it on the body would be explored – all on a level of public appreciation, but without lacking technical details for the real chemists to enjoy. Now, would the Food network be interested, and would enough nerds watch to keep it alive? hmm…