Creating the Next Overeducated Cartoonist

Header image featuring comic clippings by Jorge Cham. Center cell features the article title, "Creating the Next Overeducated Cartoonist" in a speech bubble.

Creating the Next Overeducated Cartoonist

By Roger Slavens | Comic by Jorge Cham, ME 97 | Originally published September 2016.
Updated June 2017 to include information about Cham's recent book release.

Georgia Tech alumnus turns procrastination into a lucrative career as a comic strip creator.

Throughout his academic career — including his time as a Mechanical Engineering major at Georgia Tech — Jorge Cham found himself faced with an obstacle most students know all too well: procrastination.

But instead of completely wasting his time while he put off his studies and class projects, Cham often found himself doodling and making cartoons.

PHD Comics creator and Georgia Tech alumnus, Jorge Cham.

Piled Higher and Deeper creator and Georgia Tech alumnus, Jorge Cham

Procrastinating and Creating

And then during his first term at Stanford, where he pursued his doctorate in robotics, it all clicked.

“Grad school was basically kicking my butt every day,” Cham says.

“While hanging out with friends and procrastinating about doing my coursework, I had an idea to turn my grad school experiences into a comic strip.”

Cham created his first strip in October 1997, and quickly his irreverent and insightful takes on academic life were picked up by the school paper, The Stanford Daily.

A comic-style yellow arrow pointing downward   See Chan's comic strip below for the full story.   A comic style arrow pointing downward

Cham continued to draw and write comics while earning his Ph.D., and eventually named the strip PHD: Piled Higher and Deeper to reflect its unique focus.

After graduating, he landed a job at CalTech, where he worked as a robotics instructor and researcher for a few years.

However, Piled Higher and Deeper continued to build in popularity — with many college newspapers across the country, including The Technique, picking it up in syndication — and Cham decided to focus on the comic strip full time in 2005.

Putting Technology to Work

Unlike old-school comic artists, Cham does all his work electronically.

“I create the comics on my computer,” he says.

“They don’t actually see paper until they are published by print publications.”


Jorge Cham signs his newest book, "We Have No Idea."
Cham signing autographs for fans. Photo credit: Rama

Piling it Higher and Deeper 

Today, he runs his own website, lectures at campuses worldwide about the power of procrastination, and has made two PHD movies.

In addition to publishing several anthologies, Cham recently teamed up with particle physicist Daniel Whiteson to co-author the book, "We Have No Idea." 

His strips have appeared in publications such as Nature, Science, The Chronicle of Higher Education and more, and have been referenced by the likes of USA Today, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Cham publishes on average one to two comics a week on and has archived more than a thousand of them, all of which you can read for free.

It’s a perfect place to visit when you want to be distracted from your work.

Read More

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, as a part of the "Make It Work," feature story. Read about all nine brilliant ideas brought to life by Tech engineers, designers and makers.