Since they were working on Parkinson’s and motor-neurone diseases, recalled Dr Paul, their first thought was to find ways to “meet the people we were trying to help” by inviting patients into their labs.
Yet they also discovered that friends were keen to learn more about their research, so in 2013 they launched their festival of 45 events in 15 pubs in 3 cities.
The idea has now developed to the point where teams of organisers in 22 universities, usually postgraduates and post-docs, have contacted academics and pubs to create this year’s festival.
From 18 to 20 May, there will be a choice of 205 events in 70 pubs covering everything from “mystical materials” to “the power of perception”, “worm tales”, “robots on the loose”, “inequality street” and even hangovers. Total audience numbers of 10,000 are expected.
Most involve a pair of presenters speaking for 15-20 minutes, which often gives PhD students a rare opportunity to showcase their research alongside a more senior colleague.
The guidelines they give out, said Dr Paul, include: “avoid acronyms; make talks interactive; use simple slides; incorporate an experiment or other strongly visual material; and always include a Q&A session afterwards”.
“Academics report getting questions which make them think again about their research or put it in a wider context. Taking part is also good evidence of the public engagement now expected of them,” she added.
Tim Thompson, professor of applied biological anthropology at Teesside University, for example, will be speaking on forensic science at O’Connells in Middlesbrough on 18 May.
He has long been interested in talking to societies and schools as a way of making accessible “some quite complicated biology, chemistry and physics most people don’t engage with”, and relishes the chance to “get our science and research out to different people to different means”.
Given that some of his pub audience may have had a few drinks, he is “looking forward to a very dynamic event”.