Jorge Cham visiting UK to talk about his college-life comics


Jorge Cham

Procrastination can weigh down even the most motivated students, and Ph.D. hopefuls are of no exception. Creator of “Piled Higher and Deeper Comics” Jorge Cham would know.

With a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech and an M.S. and Ph.D. in robotics from Stanford, he faced the challenges of Academia that all students come up against. Cham uses his experiences to discuss the ups and downs of being a graduate student in his comics with humor, relatability and honesty.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Toxicology and Cancer Biology Nathan Vanderford started reading Cham’s comics around 15 years ago when he started graduate school. In the potentially lonely environment of tough research and intimidating advisers, Cham’s comics are a reminder that everyone’s in it together.

“Whether you are a student, postdoctoral trainee, faculty, or staff person, you can see how his satire can speak directly to you or situations you are aware of,” Vanderford said. “These shared experiences – positive or negative — are important to discuss and Dr. Cham does so in a powerful way through his comics.”

Cham was born in Panama to parents who both had graduate degrees and taught at the University of Panama. He was interested in becoming an engineer until the student newspaper at Stanford put out a search for a new comic strip during his first year of graduate school. He threw around ideas with his brother, Jaime, and some friends before submitting a strip about the hardships of grad school.

The Stanford Daily picked up Cham’s comic, and PHD was published in October 1997. He started publishing the comic online as well for free, and he updated it multiple times a week. Continuing the comic through graduation and into an instructor and research associate position at Caltech from 2003 to 2005, Cham soon had to decide whether to pursue a career as a professor or commit to the comic full-time.

Defining his own version of success, Cham gave up his dream of becoming a professor and focused on PHD Comics. Cham’s sister, Laura, organized for him to give a talk at MIT where she was studying. His lecture was a success, and he began traveling to speak to students regularly about procrastination and the other joys of academia.

“Procrastination and its associated anxieties are issues we all deal with no matter our stage of life,” Vanderford said. “Dr. Cham seeks to address these issues as a way of helping us all understand that we are not alone in dealing with them, and he wants to encourage others to move forward in a positive way.”

In addition to his comics and lectures, Cham is a founding board member of a non-profit school in Los Angeles and the co-founder of PHD TV, a video platform that “illustrates and communicates the ideas, stories and personalities of researchers, scientists and scholars worldwide,” according to its website. PHD Comics have been adapted into two films, “The PHD Movie” and “The PHD Movie Two: Still in Grad School.” His comics have also been released in five book collections.

“Whether it’s satire dealing with lack of email responses from colleagues or stakeholders, circular conversations, or seeking out free food or swag, we usually can picture ourselves or someone we know as one of Dr. Cham’s characters,” Vanderfold said.

Cham will give two talks to the students and faculty of the University of Kentucky on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. “Communicating Your Research” will be from 10-11 a.m. in the Worsham Cinema inside the Gatton Student Center, and “The Power of Procrastination” will be from 4-5 p.m. in Memorial Hall. Book signings will follow each presentation.

Tickets are available here