What do the speakers get out of PubhD (apart from free beer)?

The first PubhD event went very smoothly and the audience seemed to enjoy it. The format worked and it was a very interesting evening.PubhD-Icon

But what did the speakers think?

Well, we asked them for feedback and here are their responses:


I really did get a lot out of the PubhD event last week. It was not only fantastic practice with my own material as I’m working on tweaking this at the moment, but also I wanted to do it for confidence reasons (as I’m preparing for my viva exam later this year). The audience was really great with their interest and questions, but I appreciated the level of the presentation because academics get too caught up in their own world. The idea of having the talk alongside a pint sounded best to me and I’m sad that tomorrow evening I’m not likely to be repeating this although my presentation will be held around the corner from a pub. Drats!


It was good to chat to a slightly older audience than I normally do with my outreach activities, which are often family focussed. This allowed me to relax a bit and present in a style closer to how I actually am. I don’t normally get to do that, it scares the kids 🙂


The first PubhD event went down as smoothly as the free beer I was plied with. The set up was well suited to the concept – a back room in a pub crowded with interesting folk. All three talks seemed well received by the audience and it was great to see so many questions (of such sophisticated content) being asked. As a speaker, I particularly liked seeing how the other speakers chose to present their subject areas and this has given me some ideas in terms of how I might present in the future. Presenting such isolated and specialised research to ‘lay people’ is helpful in terms of building confidence and learning how to transfer knowledge in different ways to diverse audiences. It is my belief that a true specialist – an expert – should be able to successfully inform anybody of their subject area. Being able to do this represents a real closeness and an intricate understanding of the subject area. PubhD represents a forum for experts to truly test their knowledge, to gain experience presenting, and to be witty, sophisticated, and drunk all at the same time. No complaints from me!

So, no complaints from the audience or the speakers!

We also recorded a 10 minute chat with the three speakers for The Pod Delusion. It starts about half way in (on 31 minutes):

[Direct MP3 Link] [Podcast Feed] [Add to iTunes]

Can you explain your PhD in the pub?

As you can see from the blog header, we’ve rebranded! PubhD-Icon

Quite a few people have commented that they love the idea of PubhD, but could we do something about our tagline? They didn’t like the word “layperson” in the original tagline: “Can you explain your PhD to a layperson?”

To be honest, we didn’t really think too long about the original tagline, just knew that we needed one. We’re not that attached to it!

This comment perfectly explains what is wrong with “layperson”:

About the layperson thing – I guess I’m concerned most that the term is a little antiquated and still a bit of a mildly loaded word like ‘blue-collar’ or ‘working class’, especially when preceded by the abbreviation of ‘PhD’. I wouldn’t want anyone to perceive your fantastic initiative as this being an ‘US’ vs. ’THEM’ kind of event in the way that academia used to be (& still is) dominated by upper-middle class and upper-class people.

A very good point.

We had noticed that a few people had been Tweeting about PubhD, but changing the tagline to “Can you explain your PhD in the pub?”

We like that.

It doesn’t presume anything about the audience. And it also sets the scene: this is a friendly chat amongst friends in a pub, not a Powerpoint led presentation.

Request for feedback!

We think the first event on Wednesday 22 January 2014 went very well, but would welcome your feedback to improve it.PubhD-Icon

A few things we know about:

The Room

The room was essentially full (it holds about 60 people). Some people have suggested we need to move to a bigger place. The thing is…we love the “small back room in a pub” feel to it. We’re also unsure about moving to a huge room as we’d be concerned about putting a student new to public speaking in front of a 200 capacity room…

Perhaps the first one was so well attended as it’s new and exciting? And as we had been plugging it for 2-3 months?

We understand that it was uncomfortable sitting by the door, as people were moving in and out of the room throughout the evening. We may have inadvertently created that problem! We’ve been pushing furniture forward to create that space. What we actually need to do is reduce that space to a minimum so that it is not a seating area, and instead “move” that space to the front of the room. That should help a lot. The advantage of not having a projector is that it doesn’t matter how close you are to the speaker at the front of the room.

We’ll see what happens in February, and then re-evaluate the situation. If it still looks too small, we’ll investigate moving to a different venue.


Yes, we know we weren’t very strict with our timings. Hence, we finished at about 10:05 pm. This was too late for some people who had to catch last buses.

We will attempt to be a bit more organised.

For February we will try:

  • 3 x 30 minutes (strict!) for the talks and Q&A.
  • 2 x 10 minute breaks.
  • 10 minutes contingency (applause, introductions, etc.).

This should ensure we finish by 9.30 pm.

People can then leave at 9.30 pm if they have to, or stay and socialise. At the last event, our speakers stayed until closing so there was plenty of time for asking more questions.

Speaker Clock

None of our speakers knew how long they had been speaking for! Sera suggested that simply pointing out the clock at the back of the room is all that was needed (“OK, you’re starting at 7.35 pm, we will be starting the Q&A at 7.45”).

Perhaps we’ll be more snazzy and provide a countdown clock on a Tablet. Gadgets are good! 🙂

Q&A (and Q&A Control)

On the Facebook group we had a question about the length of the Q&A – why was it twice as long as the talk?

We purposely made the Q&A longer than the talk – this wasn’t an arbitrary decision, it was intended. Q&As are often fun! We also thought a longer Q&A would provide the opportunity for the audience to ask questions important to them – questions that a PhD student may not have realised was important to the public.

And note that the Q&A is up to 20 minutes. If the questions dry up, we’ll obviously start the break early.

We’ll continue with this policy unless, of course, it seems to be not working. We thought all three Q&As on Wednesday were fascinating with excellent questions – and the speakers certainly thought so. (Hear an interview with all three speakers on this week’s episode of The Pod Delusion – we specifically asked them about how they thought their Q&As went).

One thing we will try next time is to control the Q&A a little better. For example, we can select audience members instead of the speaker doing it – let the speaker relax a little after their 10 minute talk and not have to deal with that aspect of the Q&A. This will allow us to emphasise that questions should be succinct, and we can also keep an eye out for questions turning into conversations! 20 minutes isn’t a long time and we want to get as many questions as possible into that 20 minutes.

Anything else?

We’d love to hear anything else you can think of – we want PubhD to be as inclusive and enjoyable for as many people as possible.

A review of the first ever PubhD

A full room at the first ever PubhD - 22 January 2014

A full room at the first ever PubhD – 22 January 2014

Like Christmas, the run up and organising of PubhD was almost as much fun as the event itself. Tweets had been tweeted, Facebook events updated, 3 PhD student speakers invited and the pub room booked.

Finally the night of 22 January 2014 arrived for us to have the first ever PubhD: three PhD students, in diverse academic areas, would tell a bunch of people in a pub about their research. We just had to provide them with beer.

And we’re pleased to say…the night went swimmingly well!

At a virtual sell-out for the room we were delighted to see so many new faces as well as some regulars from Nottingham Skeptics. The numbers were swelled by some lovely members of Lincoln Skeptics in the Pub, who made us deeply jealous with the marvellous logo that their burgeoning PubhD (Lincoln) group had produced:

PubhD (Lincoln) beer mat

PubhD (Lincoln) beer mat

To keep things simple, alphabetical order based on academic area provided us with our running order.

First up was Sera Bakera doctoral researcher in Archaeology at The University of Nottingham. She spoke to us about studying the small shops of Roman Pompeii before they were destroyed by the AD 79 volcanic eruption of Vesuvius.

Sera started by busting some common misconceptions about Pompeii, which included the fact that it wasn’t a fabulously rich city but rather ordinary, and that during the eruption at least half of the 12000 residents escaped.

Sera’s obvious enthusiasm for Pompeii was tempered by the surprising news that heritage contracts seem to be run by…erm…shadier members of the local community should we say. This can make research and preservation of the site difficult. She had to sadly report that the site is falling apart and, unlike nearby Herculaneum, there isn’t funding to maintain it. The Q&A demonstrated the popularity of Roman history and Sera’s humour (she doesn’t have any bits of Pompeii stuffed away at home…yeah Sera…we believe you 😉 ) made sure the subject stayed very human. As a Canadian, Sera had the misfortune of not being familiar with the seminal work of Frankie Howard on the subject.

The next speaker was Dave Farmer, who is a physics PhD student at the University of Nottingham. He spends his time studying the elastic properties of polymer films. He does this by hitting them with a stick and watching them wobble.  What made his talk interesting was that he actually uses powerful lasers on films 1000 times smaller than a human hair.

Dave’s style incorporated humour and half intentioned smut to put his ideas across. It’s surprising how easy it is to make alleged grown-ups giggle with the word wobble. Our portable instant whiteboard was put to good use with some good old fashioned diagrams, and despite Dave’s best efforts to destroy it, it worked well. How making something wobble can tell you interesting things about it was practically demonstrated by Dave playing the National Anthem on a musical ruler. Yes, really.

The Q&A clarified that not every-one who has a massive laser is a Bond villain, but he does sometimes refer to his laser as a Death Laser.

The final speaker of the night was Christian Perrin from Nottingham Trent University – he works in forensic psychology and his talk described the issues surrounding peer support groups in prisons and their effect on re-offending. Christian passionately described how meaningful activity while in prison can improve prisoner’s outlook on life and themselves. He was also clearly disappointed that the data that would help him measure the positive outcomes he was hoping to find was so difficult to obtain. This was further illustrated during his Q&A where Christian spoke about how dealing with humans with privacy concerns means that Psychology may not as scientifically rigorous as some may like, but its results are significant none-the-less. Most interestingly for us was the story about the bizarre paradox that The Samaritans will run mentoring with a prisoner to improve their self respect, but if that individual were to volunteer with them upon release, they would be turned down following a CRB check. It would seem meaningful options for prisoners following released are incredibly limited.

After the event, we chatted with all three speakers for the Pod Delusion podcast. All speakers thoroughly enjoyed their experience, and got something out of it too (and not just the free beer!). Christian pointed out that hearing people in other disciplines present their research had given him ideas about how to explain his own research in the future. The interview can he found on Pod Delusion episode 221.

Judging by the spontaneous and lengthy applause after each speaker, we think everyone present thought the night was a success. However, we’re looking for feedback – what can we improve? Let us know in our “Request For Feedback” blog post.

Learn more about Pompeii and Herculaneum

Herculaneum (image by Wiki Media user Mboesch)

Herculaneum (image by Wiki Media user Mboesch)

If you came to the first PubhD event on Wednesday, you would have heard Sera Baker’s fascinating talk about her archaeological research into Pompeii.

If you want to learn more about this subject, and see some photographs this time, Sera is doing a longer talk at a fundraiser for The Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington.

Here is Sera’s description of the event:

Come learn about life in Roman Pompeii & Herculaneum next Thursday 30 Jan 2014 at The Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington, Nottinghamshire in aid of their fundraising efforts to buy a historical cottage onsite and preserve a part of Nottingham’s industrial textile heritage!

There will be lots of pictures of Pompeii & Herculaneum in this illustrated one-hour lecture. Come ask me about working in the area for the last decade and what you’ve always wanted to know about being a Roman! Starts at 7.30 pm with a question and answer period as long as you’d like! Tickets are just £5 and I promise it will be exciting!

It certainly sounds interesting. And remember, it’s for charity!

See you there.

More info: http://www.frameworkknittersmuseum.org.uk/whatson_124512.html