Kevin Arbuckle is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour. Find him on Twitter @phylophile
I recently (3/3/15) gave a science communication talk at the Liverpool SciBar series, held in the upstairs room at the Ship and Mitre pub on the first Tuesday of every month. SciBar hosts a range of talks that provide an opportunity to engage the public in your field of research. The audience is varied but consists mostly of interested laypersons who have little background knowledge of your subject, forcing you to think carefully how to explain what might be technical aspects of your work. The challenge then is to give an enjoyable, understandable, but also accurate overview of your pet subject.
In my case, I spoke on the diversity of ways that animals use chemicals (such as venoms, poisons, and glues) to catch prey, avoid being eaten, or on members of their own species. My talk began with an easy-going introduction to the sheer variety of animals, types of chemical warfare, and uses of these chemicals illustrated with as many pretty pictures as possible. In the second half, I tried to introduce some slightly more ‘advanced’ concepts such as coevolution and how chemical arsenals influence the ecology, evolution, and conservation of animals. The event finishes with a wonderful opportunity to answer questions and chat with the audience about the subject of your talk.
The event seemed to go well, based on feedback received on the night and afterwards, and the audience appeared to be generally interested in my talk. Furthermore, I can honestly say that I personally found it a really rewarding experience and great fun to speak about all manner of venomous creatures in such a laid-back setting as a pub. The talk also led directly to additional opportunities for science communication and outreach as I have been invited to give it again to another branch of SciBar (in Widnes), and to give a similar talk at Reaseheath College. Finally, I would say that for researchers working on more basic (cf. applied) science, outreach activities are one way of increasing your impact and giving something back to society. They can also be a lot of fun, so I’d wholeheartedly advocate that people should do as much of this as they sensibly have time for, you won’t regret it.