Just really got it: the second Jorge Cham tweeted the winners of the “2 minutes thesis competition“, hosted by PhD Comics that will be featured in PhDTV.

I entered the competition myself, a month ago, when along with more then 200 PhD students from all over the world, I recorded my PhD thesis in two minutes: “what causes cancer?“.

And the winners are: Nahom M. Beyene, from Pittsburgh University (Pennsylvania), Brett Salkeld from Regis College (Toronto) and Michael Marks, Bonn University (Germany). All three choices are very interesting and communicative, therefore no doubt deserve recognition.

However —> the decision to award the second place to Brett Salkeld is striking.

Brett thesis exams transubstantiation,  the doctrine in the Roman Catholic theology about the bread and the wine change into the body and the blood of Jesus.

Not exactly rocket science.

Wikipedia defines transubstantiation as “the doctrine that, in the Eucharist, the substance of wheat bread and grape wine changes into the substance of the Body and the Blood of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses […] remains as before”.

In his record, Brett says that a clear definition for transubstantiation is missing, and since different Cristian groups deny or affirm it (Protestants vs Catholics), the searching for a clear definition of transubstantiation is important, as communities shapes their identities around this doctrine.

In a very nice history summary, Brett says that a controversy arose on transubstantiation when people wondered whether the Jesus body was really present in the Eucharist.  In a marathon that run entirely on the line of theology, history and philosophy, Brett wants to show that each religious movement may not have such a different opinion on transubstantiation, after all.

Though I have all the respect for other PhDs work, and all field of study deserves respect, somehow the choice of rewarding a Theologist from a Roman Catholic Collage, leave me quite down.

[Don’t take this as a revenge for not being included in the winner list (give me little credit!).]

Regis College is “Inspired by the charism of St. Ignatius of Loyola and faithful to the Roman Catholic tradition, Regis serves women and men called to minister to people of many faiths and cultures.”

Though PhD Comics stated that ANY field of PhD study was welcome, all the thesis I listed to spanned from medicine to astrophysics, trying to provide (part of) the solution to pressing world challenges.

Brett thesis definetly pops out, and made me wonder on the significance of his work. Though his speech is popular, Brett failed (in my opinion) to give the right reasons why we should peruse the definition of a doctrine, and what is the value of finding one. Religius re-unification? For the sake of… world peace? Economy implementation? Sociology issues?

My very (bad?) conservative view of PhD studies is bound to the discovery of things, weather they are hidden in dusty books, molecules or planets. Wonders about transubstantiation fall in the impact range I wouldn’t pay much attention to, and wouldn’t consider a key for the future of the planet.

OBS: I am not questioning the integrity Brett Salkeld and his work, which is far away from my area of expertise. I rather questioning the decision to awarded his thesis discussion as second best among the others.

3 Responses

  1. It was not PhDcomics who awarded the prize, but popular vote… so, the guy had lots of support for the community. So, nothing to do with the actual ‘content’ of what was being said…

    And, maybe his work will have some huge impact in the future of something we don’t know about yet… after all “pure” research does not have to be applied :o)

    1. Totally right, Jan.
      I thought the first place only was going to the most supported… Maybe I got it wrong.
      True no one knows future impact of this guy work, I deeply hope to be somehow useful to something, though I fail to find out in what exactly…
      Just as note, I think there is no basic research that doesn’t have application. Doing research with no applications is virtually impossible, and all of us should keep this in mind.

  2. Updates on the story:
    on an interview to Natalie Von Der Lehr, Jorge confirms that the criteria to assign the first three prizes were exclusively base on the voting system.

    Full article (in swedish):

    in english the relevant part:
    “[…] The three entries with the most votes won. I chose to do so to get started a word-of-mouth marketing. Those who had sent contributions would tell their friends, post links on Facebook and invite all to listen and vote, explains Jorge Cham.”

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