PhDs – Portugal has Doctors: A Visualization of Academia Achievements in Portugal from 1970 to 2022

PhDs – Portugal has Doctors is an interactive installation that depicts the doctorate theses held in Portugal from 1970 to 2022. The installation attempts to promote greater recognition for doctoral holders and foster discussion about the number of such achievements. In light of recent studies on aesthetics that have shown how it can improve the way we perceive and engage with data, we have incorporated these findings into our visualization approach. The objective is to broadcast the academic contributions made in the last decades through a data visualization system and a permanent installation in the general public surroundings, namely at academic and tourist sites. Moreover, the nature of the data and its presentation/installation in places close to the context to which they refer is precisely one of the added values defended by the area of casual information visualization in which we insert our work.



PhDs – Portugal has Doctors is a web-based interactive installation that depicts every doctoral thesis from 1970 to 2022 either done in Portugal, at a Portuguese university, or conducted abroad with further equivalence attributed by a Portuguese higher education institution. The data used in this work is available on the at RENATES platform, which results from of an official information collection by Portuguese higher education institutions and the General Directorate of Higher Education.
The dataset provided contains 48,234 entries. Each entry represents a doctorate, containing the author’s name, gender (containing only feminine/masculine identifications), thesis title, country and university where it was granted, course name, scientific domain and year of completion.


In a very simple way, a doctoral thesis involves creating new knowledge, validated by scientific publications and/or by obtaining patents. This creation of new contributions results in an incremental evolution of knowledge, building on top of already consolidated prior knowledge in the respective research areas. In order to represent this aspect of incremental contribution of knowledge with each new doctorate, we used an algorithm based on the Breadth-First Search Algorithm but with a random selection to obtain a visual representation like the one depicted in Figure 1.


Figure 1

Visual process of the algorithm implemented to represent the evolution of doctorates held in Portugal.


The entire visualization display is imagined as a grid of cells with which a single doctorate can be associated. Each university in the dataset has an anchor point, an initial center cell unit from which the corresponding PhDs are added. For each new doctorate placed in the visualization grid, the free adjacent cells (small black dots, Fig. 1) are added to a list of possible new positions. The position of the next doctorate to be placed is defined by randomly selecting one of the cells in this list. Next, the new free adjacent cells are retrieved, the list updated and the algorithm repeated until there are no more doctorates to be added to the visualization (Fig. 1). The implemented algorithm leaves some gaps, and generates longer and shorter paths, as a metaphor for what happens with the diverse scientific areas throughout the years, for example, some subjects are further explored than others or some topics lack research about something leading to a “hole” in the field yet to be solved.
In our visual representation, each doctorate is represented with one out of two simple visual elements. Squares are used for masculine’s doctorates and circles for feminine’s. The color of the element represents the doctorate’s fields of study (i) Green for Arts and Humanities, (ii) pink for Social Sciences and Law, (iii) red for Science and Mathematics, (iv) blue for Engineering and Industry, (v) cyan for Agrarian and (vi) yellow for Health. The classification of these six fields of study is defined according to the CNAEF – National Classification of Education and Training Areas, which is responsible for the classification assigned to the courses and cycles of studies taught by higher education Institutions that can be consulted at When a doctorate takes place partially or entirely abroad, the corresponding element acquires a black inner outline to indicate such information in an immediate but not too predominant visual way (Figure 2).


Figure 2

Visualization displayed in the intended video wall.


The initial state of the visualization shows us the doctorates aggregated by the university in which they were carried out (Figure 2).
This way, we have a complete view of the national panorama across the years depicted in a single display. It is possible to see the evolution and distribution of doctoral contributions across the entire country as the visualization iterates over the years and, in turn, the forms of each university get bigger and bigger (Figure 3).


Figure 3

Snapshots of the visual evolution of the doctorates held at the University of Porto from 1985 to 2005, depicting the contributions in 1985, 1995, and 2005.


Along with the forms of the universities, the audience is presented with some statistics such as the total number of doctorates carried out to date, doctorates by domain, by gender, and place of achievement.
The audience also has at his disposal some mechanisms to filter the visible doctorates, being able to consult the doctorates for a single university. By doing this filter, a new view is presented to the user, where the same form of the selected university is deconstructed and all its doctorates are arranged vertically by year (Figure 4).


Figure 4

Snapshot of a single university view where all doctorates are distributed and arranged by year.


When individually selecting a doctorate element, its details such as the name of its author, the thesis title, field of study, and year of completion are presented accompanied by an abstract representation generated with those same details as textual inputs (See video). The name of the doctorate’s author is represented either by purple squares, if masculine, or by pink circles, if feminine. Outlined squares are used to represent the doctorate’s field of study and colored with the same color coding as previously enumerated. The title of the thesis is represented with black glyphs and it is where we can distinguish national from abroad doctorates. If done abroad, the glyph takes the same black outline used in the initial visualization. Lastly, the year is represented with black crosses