Improv classes came to the University of California at Irvine thanks in part to regional business needs.
In meetings with leaders from technology, finance, and health-care companies from California and other states, Frances Leslie kept hearing the same criticism of graduate students: They are hard workers and smart, but they have trouble explaining their deep knowledge. “Communication was one of the top things for them,” Ms. Leslie, dean of Irvine’s graduate school, says of the employers.
So in 2013, the university started offering Drama 227 to graduate students. The for-credit course has attracted 15 to 20 students per quarter.
To be sure, such classes won’t transform students into silver-tongued comedians ready to perform on Whose Line Is It Anyway? But most just want an edge for defending their dissertations and pitching themselves in a job interview.
Some foreign graduate students say the class strengthens their ability to speak English. Others, like Menglu Yuan, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in pharmacology, took the course to overcome their fear of public speaking. The course started out with a “fear exercise” that made many shy scientists squirm: Students were asked to pair up and stare at each other in silence. <Read more.>