Bwog Reviews Science! The Musical

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there’s a musical about everything these days

Bwog Staff Writer Riya Mirchandaney and Science Editor Alex Tang are here with a review of last night’s performance of Science! The Musical, a witty musical about the trials and tribulations of science research in academia. Additional performances are happening tonight and tomorrow (see the bottom of the post for details).

Perhaps you thought something entitled Science! The Musical would be about biology, or chemistry, or astronomy, or—God forbid—physics. Instead, Presidential Scholar Andrew Goldman’s witty musical, ripe with commentary on the absurdities and triumphs of the academic world, is about social psychology.

The fifty minute show (with five minutes for set change) took place in a small classroom on the fifth floor of Fayerweather. While we were initially confused by the location, we realized that the location effectively mirrored the feel of a lab office or a science conference hall (places that the play is set in). The musical tells the story of Janice (Sammie Lideen), a first-year PhD student whose abstract has just been accepted by an academic conference on interdisciplinary studies. The momentary thrill of the acceptance is countered by the stark realization that Janice, who has never run a study on her own or used a statistical software, actually has to conduct the research and write the paper before the two week deadline.

Janice’s enigmatic and slightly ridiculous professor (Emily Erickson), who is referred to merely as “The Professor,” attempts to explain the modern science climate to Janice (“These days, people scan dead salmons in fMRI machines”), and the importance of covering multiple disciplines in her paper. Janice realizes her paper can cover psychology, sociology, statistics, and, last but certainly not least, interdisciplinary studies!

It is hard to watch this and not feel a tad bit disillusioned by scientific research as a whole: you feel embarrassed by Janice’s naivete and desire to change the way people think. In response to the unsolicited advice of cutthroat Reality Science Journal editor Joy Wiles Blackly (Mikayla Phillips), Janice laments the purported distinction between the “real world” and the world of academia, as well as Blackly’s portrait of research as a race to publish, with little emphasis on the quality of the research itself. Blackly, who was too slow to publish a physics paper back in her academic heyday, and was thus subjected to editorship rather than professorship, has reason to warn Janice against doing science for science’s sake: in the scientific world, one must “publish or perish”.

Helped by a lab post-doc, Simon (Dillon Colagrosso), Janice manages to churn out a research study in time for her conference. We’re able to follow Janice as she goes through a condensed version of the scientific method, as well as a slightly uncomfortable romantic mixup with Simon.

The musical featured a variety of songs that captured various aspects of science, including the catchy “Accepted!,” sung by Janice when she gets accepted into an academic conference, as well as a slightly melancholic “If I Had The Time,” sung by “The Professor” who laments the fact that she has run out of time during an academic presentation. The cast was musically talented (and articulate in their singing), and the music added much levity and humor to the play.

While the performance kept the audience (mostly scientists and science students) laughing, there were several important messages that were embedded in the play, which critiqued several points of the way science is conducted in this day and age. The song “Physics Envy” addressed the hierarchy of sciences prevalent today, where there seems to be an expectation for the “softer sciences,” such as psychology, to justify themselves to the “harder sciences,” such as physics. Indeed, during the academic conference scene, a pompous physics professor proclaims, “I am a physicist! How does your work relate to my research?”

In “Real World,” sung by Janice, the musical also addressed the division between research and the real world, or in other words, doubts by researchers on whether or not the work they do is valuable. The song also played on the belief that graduate school almost seems like an alternative path, where one trades office jobs, mortgages, and the “real world” for even more school and controlled lab environments.

The musical also contained various inside jokes about science that triggered several nods in the audience. Key lines about coffee (“it’s the scientific way!”) and malfunctioning projectors (“it worked before when I tried it!”) drew chuckles from the audience. An entire song devoted to statistics software (“Yes, Yes, SPSS”) touched on the fact that almost nobody, except statisticians, knows what they’re doing what it comes to statistics.

Science! The Musical was an excellent reflection on the current culture of science research in academia. If you’re a science student, and especially if you’re one working in a lab, we highly recommend this musical – you’ll resonate deeply with many of the messages. If you’re not a science student, you should definitely still come, at least to learn more about the culture of STEM and to enjoy some music.

Science research can be an arduous, lonely, confusing process, but the musical made sure to end on a happy note. In the end, the physicist and the social psychologist decided to work together on an interdisciplinary study, thereby reinforcing the values of teamwork and the fact that each scientific subject helps another.

Additional performances in 513 Fayerweather on Saturday, February 24, at 3pm and 7pm, and Sunday, February 25, at 3pm and 7pm. $10 student tickets and $15 general admission tickets.

Science! The Musical poster via scienceandsociety.columbia.edu

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