Can you explain your PhD with just a whiteboard and some coloured pens?

In the previous post, we asked a question: Projector or no Projector? Should PubhD events provide a projector for PowerPoint presentations.

There have been lots of Facebook comments, Tweets and comments added to the original blog post.

Summarising the responses from students that have volunteered to speak to us, we get the following:

  • I don’t need a projector to explain my PhD: 11 speakers (65%)
  • I need a projector to explain my PhD: 6 speakers (35%)

It was generally thought that complex concepts would be easier explained with a PowerPoint, but the majority of speakers said “no projector”.

Throughout the discussions, however, a common theme did emerge: it was thought that a whiteboard or flip chart would be useful.

So, at least initially, that is what we are going to go for. For the first few PubhD events we will only provide a whiteboard and coloured pens (for optional use). And then we’ll see how it goes.

There are a few reasons behind this decision:

  • We like the low-tech approach. It fits in with the “this is an informal chat” look and feel we are after; this is not a lecture or a presentation to peers at a conference. This is a friendly chat in a pub. This is backed up by a comment from one student: “we should avoid things like PowerPoint, etc. that give it a university feel.”
  • One comment likened PubhD to explaining to someone at a party what you do. You wouldn’t have access to a projector in this situation – but you would have a napkin to scribble on.
  • Logistically, with 3 speakers getting just 10 minutes each for the actual talking bit, the no projector option is far simpler.
  • It’s different: providing a whiteboard rather than a projector could be a distinguishing feature of PubhD. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a talk in a pub where there was just a flip chart. I’ve been to hundreds with PowerPoint presentations – but never one with a flip chart.
  • It might actually provide a useful skill for the students. One comment stated that this would be a “useful exercise in developing public speaking and brevity skills”.
  • We want a well defined format that anyone can quickly reproduce. We hope PubhDs start appearing around the country. Having a simple low tech format means someone can quickly set a PubhD up in another city.
  • Errr….we don’t own a projector! Yes, we could buy or borrow one, but let’s see how we go without one first.

Of course, if it looks as though this format isn’t working, we’ll change it. Or perhaps we will just have “one-off events” and group the students that need a projector together into one evening.

Very shortly we will be contacting our speakers to find volunteers for the first event on Wednesday January 22nd 2014. We’ll stress that there will be no projector.

Then we’ll see how many students are willing to explain their PhD to a pub full of laypeople with just a whiteboard with some coloured pens.

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