A review of February’s PubhD

Considering the weather warnings, traffic problems and a pre football crowd making grabbing a pint fiendishly difficult – props and kudos to the hardy souls who made it to PubhD #2!

Following the success of PubhD #1 we didn’t play around with the format too much, but we did try and move the tables around abit, and everyone seemed to be more comfortable and had enough places to put their drinks down. If anyone does have any other suggestions, please leave a comment below.

A big thanks must also go to the fabulous @archibarb for redesigning our “Primark” logo into something a little more “Gucci”:

New PubhD Logo-200x200-by Barbara Griffin

Due to the football traffic, the running order was closely allied to whether or not the speakers had managed to arrive at the pub…

So, first up was Ricardo Rato Rodrigues who is a second year PhD student at the University of Nottingham. He has not only cultivated a fine beard, but he has also been researching how literature can be used in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a non-medical professional, Ricardo was part of a group of arts researchers working with medical practitioners to help them understand how the use of books can help them empathise with the patients. Ricardo focused on the Portuguese writer António Lobo Antunes – a neurologist who was conscripted into the Portuguese Colonial War and wrote about his experiences.

Ricardo Rodrigues

Ricardo Rodrigues – using literature to help PTSD patients.

Ricardo struck a chord with an audience member, Jason, who introduced the group to the fine work they do at Books on Prescription. We also had our first challenge to a speaker when Ricardo was asked how he could be certain that the books did help if he wasn’t contacting the patients directly. Ricardo’s answer provided an insight into how controls and safety mechanisms play just as large a part in academia as the rest of life.

The next speaker was Stephanie Smith who took time out from the third of her PhD to talk about her research into cell signalling in roots. Plant growth is caused by a single hormone (auxin) – how that travels from cell to cell controls what grows where and how big that thing grows. Stephanie is hoping to better understand this so that plants can be encouraged to use the soil better to retrieve nitrogen (long deep roots) and phosphorus (wide shallow roots) depending on their environment. Steph also waxed enthusiastically about Norman Bourlag, who until two months ago I had never heard of – he saved a billion lives but hardly anyone has heard of him.

Like Althea and Donna she's "Strictly Roots"

Steph Smith explains how roots can be encouraged to use soil better.

Speaking to Steph after her talk she was most worried about there being an “anti GM nut” in the audience. She stated that being pro- or anti- any tool is wrong; after all, metalwork can create a gun but garden gates are useful too. Thankfully, a PubhD crowd likes its anger evidence based!

The final speaker of the night was Julian OnionsJulian works in the astrophysics department of Nottingham University using model simulations of Universe creation and hoping to better understand why, when we look up to the skies, it looks like it does. Simplifying the models so that gravity and dark matter are the only ingredients can produce pretty good models for the big stuff in the Universe, but, as Julian gracefully conceded in the Q&A, the small stuff like supernovae and black holes complicate things.

Julian was also happy (almost cheerful) to admit that no one really knows what dark energy really is. However he did draw an interesting analogy with neutrinos – they were originally predicted in order to make the maths work with out but were not observed until quite some time later.

..and let it cool for a gigayear...

Julian Onions draws the Universe on the whiteboard and then “…lets it cool for a gigayear…”

A personal high point of the night was that Julian was the first person I’ve ever heard use the word “parsec”, and it not be in a Star Wars conversation. I must be growing up!

So, with two meetings successfully under our belt, and with new faces each month, along with other groups now meeting as well, PubhD is definitely here to stay!

We look forward to seeing you all next month – which has already been arranged!

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]