Pint of Science - Sharing science, over a pint!
by Nikki van Teijlingen Bakker
Pint of Science (PoS) is a global phenomenon by now, with events taking place in May each year. PoS was founded in the UK and has since then spread to more than 23 countries, including Brazil, Thailand, South Africa and of course … Germany! PoS Germany started in a couple of cities, like Munich and Heidelberg, and included 12 cities this year. The goal of PoS is to bring science to lay people in a casual environment, like a pub. In this way we hope to engage locals with the science being done around them and try to encourage visitors to ask questions and engage in discussions with local scientists about their work.
My PoS career started in 2014 during my MSc at Glasgow Uni, Scotland. As the neuroscience team leader, my team and I were in charge of organizing 3 nights of psychology and neuroscience talks in a local pub. In parallel talks on two other topics were organized in the city as well. So, when I came to Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg for my PhD, I immediately noticed a gap in the engagement of local scientists with the public, and decided to introduce the PoS brand to Freiburg. I reached out to the German national PoS team, and they assigned me to the post of City Coordinator in Freiburg. With the help of fellow MPI scientists, we organised the very first PoS event in Freiburg, in 2018. Our first and foremost challenge was that we had only one native German speaker in the organising team, and therefore decided to organize the event entirely in English. We then realized that the ‘public’ part of public engagement was kind of lost, but it worked out very well for a pilot event!
For the most recent event held at 20-22 May 2019, we decided to organise two events in parallel, one in English and the other in German. This meant that we organised events for 3 nights, in 2 bars, with 2 talks on 1 topic per night per bar. This was quite a step up from the last year, where everything was confined to 1 location, 1 language, 3 topics. After extensive promotions with 1500 flyers and 60 posters, both our events were successful, the bars filled with attendees, and one event was even sold out the night before we kicked off!
Now, although our events were successful and enjoyable, there are a couple of things that someone organising scientific engagement events has to look out for. First of all, finding the right speakers and ensure that they are informed of the goal of the event is crucial. Less data is usually better data. You are looking for someone who can talk about their research in the perspective of their field as a whole. Someone who is comprehensible and entertaining at the same time. Speaking about your work to someone with a different background in science is already difficult, but imagine explaining immunology to someone who doesn’t even know what a cell is, or cancer to someone who has no idea about DNA. That is tricky and requires skill and training. As a broader perspective, I believe that it is important that scientists at any level are educated on how to talk to lay people, which is as much a useful soft skill as scientific presentation. Additionally, it is important to attract the public. The reality is that, usually mostly university students show up to these kinds of events. But, with the right advertisement, you might be able to recruit at least one grandma from the münsterplatz to attend the event - that was our goal at least. Of course, you might run into the language barrier that we experienced in 2018, but this can be worked around and circumvented.
In the end, I believe that events like Pint of Science are not only important for science and scientists, but for society as a whole. Society is essentially paying for most of our research. Glasgow Uni had many public engagement events with a lot of focus on speaking to lay people about your science. In my opinion, the information flow from scientists to non-scientifically educated citizens was very good. I believe that this was in part due to the information provided by various non-profit organisations that also fund research. Take for instance Cancer Research UK, which has an excellent website where anyone can find information about various types of cancer, treatments and clinical trials. On the other hand, their previous problems with animal ethics and rights activists have forced UK research institutions to become more forthcoming with information about their experiments and research. This has shown to be very beneficial for the acceptance of animal research and research in general. Lastly, one of the reasons why I am so passionate about public engagement as a whole, is that I hope that disseminating information through more general channels, in a pub, on tv, on youtube, in books etc, will combat misinformation and ‘fake’ news and teach people to think critically about published studies. This is of course challenging, but I hope that we, as the young scientific community, can use our creative minds, step out of our comfort zone and talk to lay people... Ideally over a pint! ;)