If you’re a PhD student, postdoc or early career researcher, don’t miss your chance to present your work at the annual Pint of Science Festival! Caroline Wood explains why…
I’ve never been a big fan of public speaking…
At school I was too terrified to even speak in front of my classmates. So WHY ON EARTH did I volunteer to talk about my research to a whole pub full of strangers at the 2018 Pint of Science festival in Sheffield?!
Reason one: Public engagement is a cause I truly believe in. Science has a major role to play in helping us overcome urgent, global challenges from feeding the world to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Big decisions will have to be made collectively, and the public need to feel able to engage with the evidence.
Reason two: Having been involved in the previous Pint of Science festivals in Sheffield, first as a general volunteer, then as part of the organising committee, I know it’s one of the best science festivals out there. The basic idea is that researchers bring their cutting-edge science to the public in perhaps the most open, accessible venue – the Great British Pub. This creates a brilliant dynamic and a real connection between the audience and the speaker. Without the formality of the lecture theatre, the audience feels empowered to ask questions. Plus, it’s exciting to be part of something taking place all over the world over the same three days: this year, Pint of Science took place in 300 cities across 21 different countries.
Reason three: I am in the final year of my PhD, so it’s my last chance to talk about my research and earn an official Pint of Science speaker’s pint glass!
This year, Pint of Science took place on 14-16th May. And now, having come out the other side, I can assure you that it is a brilliant experience and one every researcher should consider doing.
If you are worried about your research being too ‘niche’, rest assured: there really is a place for everyone. Pint of Science events are divided into six themes that cover everything including astrophysics, the natural world, technology, chemistry, health and medicine, psychology and even science in society. So your work will definitely fit in somewhere!
And you needn’t fear about being left on your own. Pint of Science events typically feature talks from two or three speakers, with short breaks in between for quizzes and interactive activities. This format also means that bringing along props and demonstrations is positively encouraged, allowing you to put a unique spin on the event.
There’s also plenty of support to help you prepare your talk. The Pint of Science central team in London offer lots of advice about speaking for a public audience who don’t have specialist knowledge in your field. The organisers in Sheffield also do a brilliant job of sorting out all the logistics including the venue, activities, promotion and hosting on the night. All you have to do is literally turn up and talk!
But it’s not as straightforward as an academic conference, where you can simply present all the graphs and figures from your latest experiments. Translating your research into a language anyone can understand is a real skill: you have to focus on the story and purpose behind your work. This is what makes speaking at Pint of Science such a valuable experience in terms of developing your science communication skills. Much of your talk may very well be ‘setting the scene’ and explaining key principles before you even get to where your research fits in. The less text you use the better – many of my slides only contained a single image.
Because I research ways of stopping parasitic plants that destroy food crops, it was fairly easy for me to describe why my research is important. Nevertheless, I still felt nervous that I wouldn’t be able to explain my project to the audience. It was a sunny evening when I arrived at the Sentinel Brewhouse, and a crowd of people were congregating on the patio, enjoying the extensive range of artisan beers. The relaxed, friendly atmosphere gave me courage, and I managed to present my talk without stumbling too much, although I had no idea whether my audience found it at all interesting. But then the floor was opened up for questions, and they came so thick and fast that I was overwhelmed! With such intelligent, curious questions it was clear they had been listening. But I wasn’t quite prepared for this one: “Did I think my research was ‘interfering with Mother Nature’s way of controlling the human population’?”. It certainly put me on the spot, but being made to give a justified answer in public was an immense confidence booster.
Even if you are nervous of public speaking, I thoroughly recommend the Pint of Science speaker experience. Do it to inspire a new audience with your research; do it for the incredible high you will get afterwards; do it to join the international alumni of Pint of Science speakers. And of course, do it for the official Pint of Science pint glass!
Pint of Science returns in May 2019 – look out for the call for speakers which will be announced in January 2019.
For more information about the Pint of Science festival, please visit www.pintofscience.co.uk