A Pint of Science
17 June 2019
I have given many presentations about my research during my career, but this was my very first in a pub. Being introduced in front of a sold-out, and somewhat grungy bar full of expectant paying members of the public – it’s fair to say I was a little nervous! Would what I was saying make sense? Had I pitched my talk right?
Pint of Science is an international science festival, taking place in May each year, that aims to communicate contemporary scientific developments to the public in an interesting, engaging, and approachable way by bringing scientists to the pub. Members of the public with an interest in science can buy tickets to attend – with a typical evening including three speakers giving 20-30 minute talks about their research, interspersed with breaks for trips to the bar.
I had been approached several months earlier by one of the organisers who felt my research would be a good fit for one of their events on the topic of the immune system. While unconvinced anyone would really want to pay to hear me talk about my research, I agreed – not least because for a long while I’ve had the nagging feeling that we, or at least I, do not communicate research widely enough.
I spent quite a long time preparing my talk in the weeks preceding the event, even though it was a reasonably short talk. Unlike most academic presentations I’ve given – we were strongly encouraged to use ‘image-only’ slides, remove graphs, and even use props or visual aids to help bring our research to life. The audience, we were advised, would be made up of members of the general public with an interest in science, but with likely little or no formal involvement in science since they left schooling. The challenge was to convey complex research to a lay audience, without boring them to tears!
Without the comfort blanket of my usual bullet points of text on my slides to fall back on, I felt the need to script out and rehearse my talk more than I would otherwise. I’m glad I did. It struck me how easily I fell into talking in ‘academic-ese’ – drawing on words and phrases I’ve never heard outside a University context and certainly not down the pub. But with some careful crafting and a number of practice runs in front of obliging family, friends, and colleagues – I had a talk I was happy with.
The event was a really enjoyable experience. The other speakers gave fascinating talks on really complex topics relating to immunity. Although, I did not envy them having to explain a wide variety of immune cells and components with less than approachable sounding names to a room full of non-immunologists. My talk was also well received, judging by those who came up to speak to me during the breaks. People seemed genuinely interested in the work currently going on at their local University and wanted to know more. Ultimately, while preparing my talk had involved a significant time commitment, it was one of the more gratifying talks I have ever given. Also I got a Pint of Science pint glass to keep – which is more than I’ve got from any conference talk! I’m glad I got involved and I would strongly encourage anyone thinking of getting involved Pint of Science in the future, to do it.