Piled Higher and Deeper
|Piled Higher and Deeper|
|Current status / schedule||Three times a week|
|Launch date||October 27, 1997|
|Genre(s)||Academia, doctoral research|
Piled Higher and Deeper (also known as PhD Comics), is a newspaper and web comic strip written and drawn by Jorge Cham that follows the lives of several grad students. First published in the fall of 1997 when Cham was a grad student himself at Stanford University, the strip deals with issues of life in graduate school, including the difficulties of scientific research, the perils of procrastination, the complex student–supervisor relationship and the endless search for free food. Cham continued the strip as an Instructor in mechanical engineering at Caltech, and now draws and gives talks about the strip full-time. Originally, the strip was drawn in crude black-and-white, eventually became grayscale, and finally became color in June 2004.
Piled Higher and Deeper introduced its main characters early in its run, and their personalities have remained fairly constant during the strip's several years of publication. In the strip's first few seasons, the characters were clearly Stanford University students, though the number of school-specific references and jokes has decreased since.
- The Nameless Hero – a graduate student in engineering, this bespectacled protagonist has procrastinated through the entire strip without receiving a name. He bears a striking resemblance to the comic strip author, Jorge Cham (at one point, his younger sister Dee remarks that her brother has dreams of quitting grad school and becoming a cartoonist). Little is known about the hero's background, although early on Mike Slackenerny states that he knew the hero's older brother (who quit his PhD and went on to work for a "Silicon Valley Company"). As he is seen playing with two children at home during his winter vacation, he probably has younger siblings, nieces and/or nephews, or cousins. He has been increasingly seen with a set group of friends (one is named Mikkel) and seems, at least marginally, to be the most favored graduate student of his advisor, Prof. Smith. At the conclusion of the film, the character states for the first time that his name is Winston, named after Jorge's father.
- Cecilia – an engineering student born around May 1, 1980 Earlier strips have her born in 1973. Cecilia spent years refusing to admit that she was truly a geek at heart. However, in one strip she finally with hesitation admitted she is indeed a geek. Addicted to chocolate and cookies, she has long since taken enough classes and conducted enough research to graduate, but a mysterious psychological force keeps her in school. She stated in an interview for a project by her friend Tajel that her father was a professor, a "great teacher", something that may or may not be a motivation for her to go above and beyond (also, her choice of words indicates that her father may have died). During class, she deliberately wears frumpy clothes to discourage male interest, since the vast majority of her classmates are men. This strategy is not always successful – "Excuse me, female, will you marry me?" She has had two boyfriends in the course of the strip: David and Scott. Although she broke up with David relatively quickly, she seriously dated Scott, her crush in high school, for numerous strips; they had a long-distance relationship for a while after Scott was promoted and moved to London but broke up amicably in 2007. Cecilia sometimes accompanies Tajel to political rallies and such events. She was asked in 2006 by a professor to interview for a faculty position at a different institution because "it's the only position you're not overqualified for" and "we hired one of their grad students, so, diplomatically, they owe us."
- Michael Slackenerny – endlessly devious, remarkably clever and phenomenally lazy, Mike had been in graduate school for longer than anyone can remember (during one of his interviews it was strongly implied that he started grad school in the 1980s), surviving on ramen and free food from various events on campus. He views grad school not as a place but as "a state of mind [...] preferably sleeping, which you are interrupting". In the spring of 1998, he drove to Las Vegas with a seemingly foolproof plan to beat the blackjack tables, thereby winning enough money to solve Stanford's housing crisis. Instead, he returned with a wife, Jen, who remained an unseen character for some time. Jen became pregnant with their daughter Sophy and stayed that way for several years, constantly urging Michael to finish his thesis and graduate. Michael finally completed his doctoral defense in 2005 – Jen went into labor just before his presentation began – but did not finish writing his thesis until 2007. After submitting his dissertation, Mike was seen walking home and asking himself, "Now what?" After a period of job-hunting, he was finally hired by Prof. Smith as a postdoc.
- Tajel – an anthropologist and the lone social scientist in the main cast. She was Cecilia's roommate before she got married. She is a dedicated activist who frequently attends or organizes rallies. Her frustration with U.S. politics is exacerbated by her not being a United States citizen. She is conversant in Spanish. Her mother is Indian and her father is Caucasian. She married Dr. Khumalo in February 2009.
- Gerard – the strip's newest "official" character, he is a major in Medieval Scandinavian Cultural Philosophy, who was personally introduced to readers by Tajel, supposedly in response to numerous letters from Humanities majors requesting their own character, and was meant to provide jokes on "obscure manuscripts, dead languages, and being the lowest paid grads on campus. Also, political correctness!" Despite this, Gerard has only been shown twice after his initial introduction, apart from a cameo as a guest at Tajel's wedding, in a joke on the obscurity and uselessness of his field. His first actual storyline within the comic occurs when he is informed that funding has been cut for humanities majors and to leave the strip or find a more useful major, subsequently forcing him to justify why the comic should retain a humanities character.
- Dee – the hero's younger sister. She is an undergraduate student who has been seen taking the GRE. She also talks on her cellular telephone, eats quite a bit, and naps during class when she isn't doing something even more inappropriate, such as chatting or eating a full meal during a test. Dee once phones her "sister dearest", so the main character may have more than one sibling. Dee has a good male friend who she often spends time with and at one point hints that he may have romantic feelings for her. Like the main character, he has not yet been named.
- Mariko – a Japanese student in the same research field as the hero, she visits Prof. Smith's lab in 1998. Smith assigns her to work with "whoever is lowest in the lab hierarchy", which turns out to be the hero. During her brief stay, she inspires in him a powerful unrequited affection, which he maintains for at least three years. She eventually quits her Ph.D. and starts her own company, at which the hero works briefly. She is still occasionally seen talking with the main character as he works, so her current status is somewhat murky. On a strip dated 28 April 2010, entitled "Lost no more..?", she was seen in an alternate timeline as possibly being the mother of the Nameless Hero's (supposed) baby, with the Nameless Hero asking "WHAT IF I HAD STAYED IN ACADEMIA?"
- Steve (aka. Golden Boy) – Remarkably clever, sincere and "good boy". Steve has been in graduate school for two years and has already completed his thesis. In the lab hierarchy he is given more consideration than any of the post docs or research associates by Prof. Smith. He is extremely good in getting positive results and is always consulted by Prof. Smith for his opinion. His "good boy" image in comparison to the nameless hero is a running joke in the series.
- Allison – The sole female PhD student in Professor Smith's lab, which Smith and the other PhDs often forget to Allison's frustration. Unlike her labmates, she is not distracted by sporting events like the World Cup and proves to have some measure of athletic ability during the students vs. professors baseball match.
- Professor Jones – Cecilia's research advisor; a typical graduate school professor, although seemingly older and kinder than Prof. Smith. He is clueless in giving Cecilia advice on non-research related topics such as her lovelife and future career and will ask for her help with small tasks, such as changing the font size of footnotes, while claiming it is urgent. Apparently the only reason he has time to see his wife is because he married his administrative assistant; before he got his tenure, he had already been divorced three times. He has a daughter in 1st grade named Shelley, who is intelligent enough to fix Mike's work for him.
- Dr. Patrick Khumalo – A member of the Anthropology Department's faculty, who Tajel eventually marries. Tajel mistakes him for a first-year grad student when they first meet, possibly because she is older than he is.
- Professor Rivera – Tajel's advisor. He apparently takes a laid-back approach to being an advisor, being entirely clueless as to Tajel's research interests, progress, and sometimes even her name. Once he praised a draft of a paper that Tajel had written, three months after Tajel had already submitted the final paper on due date. Additionally, he is extremely elusive when needed, such as when Cecilia needed to find him for documents to allow Tajel to renew her visa, appearing only when Cecilia tried imagining he was the last person she wanted to see. He is married to Professor Stein, the chair of the anthropology department.
- Professor Brian S. Smith – Mostly intimidating and unsympathetic but sometimes forgetful, Prof. Smith advises Mike Slackenerny and the Nameless Hero in their research, taking credit for any output his lab actually produces. Prof. Smith occasionally tries to "fit in" with his students (nearly all males and one female student, Allison ), to humorous and awkward results. He has a wife and two children, a daughter named Sadie, and a son, "Junior". Prof. Smith was originally drawn so that his face was never seen, much like Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the early James Bond movies, Doctor Claw in Inspector Gadget, or any teacher/adult in Peanuts. According to his wife, Smith apparently "used to goof all the time as a grad student"  and it has been suggested on occasion that he had been interested in becoming a circus performer rather than a professor. A brilliant academic who disproved all the theories of his advisor Professor Emeritus Zekowsky, Professor Smith is the Arthur C. and Caroline J. McCallister Distinguished Chair Professor and Anderson Faculty Scholar, and the Director of the Center for Computational Research and the National Institute of Dynamical Physics. He is the recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Prize of the Netherlands, the National Science Foundation Presidential Investigator Award, the Exceptional Achievement Medal from the International Society of Engineers, the Pi Gamma Tau Industry Excellence Professorship, the National Medal of Engineering, and the Medal of Honor from the Royal Academy of Scientists. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Advanced Dynamics, the Journal of Nano-Particle Computation, Physik-Publication and several other journals, and on the advisory boards of many industry consortia. He holds honorary doctorates from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Tsing-Chua Beijing University and the Universidade de São Paulo, among others.
The title of the comic comes from an old joke about becoming a Ph.D., which explains that if one knows what "B.S." stands for (in this context, "bullshit"), then "M.S." stands for "More of the Same" (or "More Shit"), and "Ph.D." stands for "Piled Higher and Deeper".
One of Cham's recurring themes is to re-cast an item of popular culture in the grad-school milieu. Upon several occasions, the strip has included spoofs of popular movies, like The Thesis (The Matrix), Raiders of the Lost Dissertation (Raiders of the Lost Ark), I, Grad Student (a mixture of the book and movie I, Robot), and Summer days (Summer Nights (Grease song)). In addition, Cham has parodied television programs like The Jerry Springer Show, among others.
Jorge Cham has also parodied Newton's laws of motion as Newton's 3 Laws of Graduation. According to the strip these laws of graduation were superseded by Einstein's "Special Theory of Research Inactivity".
The strip has also included several adaptations of Shakespeare as well as several propaganda posters. Captions for the latter include "This man does research for you!", "When you procrastinate... Someone is watching!" and "Women in grad school... Support your local female geek."
Five PhD comic books have been published so far. The first book, Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Comic Strip Collection (2002), contains production sketches and an afterword by Prof. Smith in addition to the comic strips.
The second volume, Life is Tough and then You Graduate, was published in April 2005. It contains six strips not published online that explain what happened in Mike's thesis defense. It also has a foreword by Karl Marx, behind-the-scenes author notes and a graduate school board game.
The third book, Scooped!, which was released in May 2007, also contains "Tales from the Road", a series of comics that detail Cham's experiences whilst giving his Power of Procrastination tour.
The fourth book, Academic Stimulus Package, was released March 2009. This volume is printed in full color.
The fifth book, Adventures in Thesisland, was released April 2012. This volume is also printed in full color. The introduction is an excerpt from the screenplay of the PHD Movie.
Piled Higher and Deeper: the Movie
In March 2011, Jorge Cham started filming a movie based on the comic series. The film production is a collaboration between Cham and a theater group at the California Institute of Technology. In fall 2011, the film was released on selected academic campuses. A trailer of the movie is available on the Piled Higher and Deeper website as of June 8, 2011. After about a year of various campus screenings around the world, the movie became available for purchase on DVD or streaming on April 15, 2012.
Notes and references
- CHOE, JAYWON (22 July 2011). "The Joke Is on the Ph.D.". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
- Jorge Cham (September 21, 2001), Lil' sister, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009
- Jorge Cham (February 11, 1998), Mike Slackenerny: A PhD student needs not such things, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009
- Jorge Cham (December 20, 2006), Taking the laptop with me, retrieved April 23, 2009; Jorge Cham (2008), Scooped!: The Third Piled Higher & Deeper Comic Strip Collection, Los Angeles, Calif.: Piled Higher & Deeper, LLC, p. 110, ISBN 978-0-9721695-3-0
- Jorge Cham (November 22, 1997), Dead Week, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009)
- Cecilia turned 25 in 2005: Jorge Cham (May), Birthday 2005, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved October 28, 2009 ; Cham, Scooped!, p. 12.
- Cecilia went to her 10 year high school reunion in 2001: Jorge Cham (November 14, 2001), High School Reunion, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved October 28, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 12.
- "Geeks Anonymous". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- Jorge Cham (November 23, 2000), The grad student of academia, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009
- Jorge Cham (June 6, 2005), Dress to repress, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 14.
- Jorge Cham (May 8, 2006), Friday night, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 67.
- Jorge Cham (May 18, 2006), Long distance, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 69.
- Jorge Cham (March 30, 2007), Is this it?, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 130.
- Jorge Cham (January 31, 2006), Faculty position, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 53.
- Jorge Cham (February 5, 2006), Faculty position, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 53.
- Jorge Cham (December 8, 2003), Coming back to grad school, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009
- Jorge Cham (May 22, 1998), Slackenerny – going to Vegas, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009
- Jorge Cham (January 23, 2006), Paternity leave, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 51.
- Jorge Cham (April 2, 2007), Now what?, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 131.
- "Drama!". PHD Comics.
- "Tajel got married". PHD Comics.
- "Humanities". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Tajel getting married, pt. 5". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Budget cuts". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Choosing grad schools". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
- Jorge Cham (April 28, 2010), PHD Comics: Lost no more...?, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved May 15, 2010
- "Tech support". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- Jorge Cham (June 29, 2009), Bridge, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved September 27, 2009
- "Simpler". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- Jorge Cham (July 4, 2005), Cingradella, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 20.
- Jorge Cham (Oct 19, 2001), Kids! (Part 4), Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved Feb 9, 2011
- "Permission". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Tajel got married". PHD Comics.
- "Social". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
- Cham, Jorge (27 April 2007), "Terrific Job", Pile Higher and Deeper, retrieved 19 November 2008
- "Only when you don't need them". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "A very serious matter". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- The fact that his first name is Brian is reflected in Jorge Cham (June 20, 2001), Lil' sister, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009 and Jorge Cham (December 20, 2005), A Smithmas carol, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 45.
- "Turf Wars, pt. 3". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Turf Wars, pt. 5". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Turf Wars Epilogue". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- Jorge Cham (August 2, 2006), Conference call, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 81.
- "Mrs. Smith, pt. 3". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- Jorge Cham (June 20, 2001), Lil' Sis (Part 5), Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved February 9, 2011
- Jorge Cham (November 24, 2010), Smith Circus, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved February 9, 2011
- Jorge Cham (December 8, 2005), A Smithmas carol, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 43.
- Jorge Cham (August 16, 2005), Author biographies, Piled Higher and Deeper, retrieved April 23, 2009; Cham, Scooped!, p. 85.
- "What is... The Thesis?". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Raiders of the lost dissertation". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "I, Grad Student". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Summer Days". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
- "Newton`s Three Laws of Graduation". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Irony?". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Closer to Fine (Academic Version)". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "Who will grade your work?". PHD Comics. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
- "A Comic Strip That Skewers Academe Will Become a Live-Action Movie". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
- Cham, Jorge (2002), Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Comic Strip Collection, Palo Alto, Calif.: Piled Higher and Deeper Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9721695-0-9.
- Cham, Jorge (2005), Life is Tough and then You Graduate, Los Angeles, Calif.: Piled Higher & Deeper Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9721695-2-3.
- Cham, Jorge (2007), Scooped!: The Third Piled Higher & Deeper Comic Strip Collection, Los Angeles, Calif.: Piled Higher & Deeper, LLC, ISBN 978-0-9721695-3-0.
- Cham, Jorge (2009), Academic Stimulus Package: The Fourth Piled Higher & Deeper Comic Strip Collection, Los Angeles, Calif.: Piled Higher & Deeper, LLC, ISBN 978-0-9721695-4-7.
- Schuman, Jamie (August 12, 2005), "Dawdling and doodling", The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Smaglik, Paul (August 2005), "You've got to laugh ..", Nature 436 (7051): 745, doi:10.1038/nj7051-745a.