Sniffing infected insects at PubhD Liverpool

PubhD is a new event that originated in Nottingham and has recently started up in Liverpool which aims to bring scientific research to the general public. At each event, three PhD students have 10 minutes to explain their research to a pub audience in exchange for a couple of pints. This is then normally followed by 20 (or so) minutes of friendly questions. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the first event but was then ‘head hunted’ on Twitter to speak at their second event which took place on 14th April.

I showed up to The Vines pub near Liverpool Lime Street station where I was met by Kat who runs the operation. There were three of us talking, one on biodiversity and another on infant feeding. After securing my first drink and listening to the first speaker I was up. At the events no powerpoint slides are allowed so I took along a couple of petri dishes of waxworms that were either infected or uninfected with the parasite Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, my study system.

I kicked off with a brief description of how parasites manipulate their hosts in order to increase transmission before delving into the parasites I study.

I was then able to talk about how the parasites I study utilise a number of different methods to avoid predation such as glowing in the dark, smelling and tasting really bad and even turning red. Infected individuals smell quite bad so people had to get quite close to have a sniff!

After my talk I had a lot of questions from the diverse audience of about 30 individuals and returned to my seat. However, upon returning to my table, I discovered that one of the petri dishes was now empty and it turned out my work colleagues had eaten all my uninfected waxworms!

I would recommend this event to other PhD students in IIB and beyond as I had to tailor my talk to a non-academic pub audience, as well as not being able to use slides. I really enjoyed the event and was able to discuss various aspects of my PhD further with interested individuals.

If you’re interested in giving a talk in a friendly atmosphere and challenging yourself not to use slides then check the event out on Twitter: @PubhD_Liverpool and facebook:


by Rebecca Jones

The Quest for Immortality – @livuniIIB’s @jpsenescence @WidnesScibar

Guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Integrative Biology

A SciBar is literally science in a bar (or pub).  After giving a presentation at the Liverpool SciBar in November, on Wednesday 13th January I gave a presentation at the Widnes SciBar.  It was a rainy winter night, with Liverpool FC playing Arsenal at the same time, so I must admit my surprise that the room was packed for my talk with over 40 people in attendance.  Although there were a few young people, it was mostly an older audience.  I gave my usual presentation on ageing and potential implications to society of retarding human ageing, and we had an excellent discussion.  Questions varied from basic (“What is this ATCG you keep talking about?” was my favourite) to quite knowledgeable questions like “You’ve spoken about protein-coding genes in ageing, but what about the role of non-coding RNAs in ageing?”

Overall, I had a wonderful time and, later, I also received some feedback from the organiser (Bob Roach), who told me that one person commented:

That talk was perfect in so many ways. His covering of the subject was “deep” enough for everyone to understand and yet still get over the core points of his message. He was relaxed and entertaining and left us awakened to the vast philosophical and scientific importance of the subject. I left the meeting with a feeling of contact with another front line branch of science.

The Quest for Immortality @merseysci with @jpsenescence

Guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães, Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Integrative Biology

Pedro Sci BarJP Scibar

Liverpool SciBar is literally science in a bar (or pub).  It takes place in the first floor of the Ship & Mitre.  I gave a presentation on ageing and potential implications to society of retarding human ageing.  There were ~25 people in attendance (the maximum capacity is 30), so it was a good house.  The audience was a mix of young and old, University students and non-experts, men and women.  There were loads of excellent questions, from concerns about the implications of longevity therapies, to questions about diet and health, and even questions about what is possible to learn nowadays about ourselves from genetic testing.  (As an example, I told of how my dislike of coriander has a genetic basis.)  My presentation ended up being almost an extended discussion, which made it thoroughly enjoyable.

TEDxGhent: Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality

This is a guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”. In addition to the main TED event in North America, TEDx are independent TED-like events, which can be organized by anyone who agrees to follow the TED principles. TED and TEDx events address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. The speakers are given a maximum of 12-18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. TEDxGhent in Ghent, Belgium, has now been organized for five years running. It aims “To bring great ideas from all over the world to Ghent and to present local ideas to a larger audience.”

So I was excited about giving a TEDx talk, knowing it would be very different from a normal scientific talk. I was assigned a mentor, to help me prepare my talk. This was very useful because he advised against some of our hardwired scientific instincts, like resist the urge to explain and be cautious about conclusions, have more pictures than text in the slides, give the talk a more personal angle and include many anecdotes and metaphors.

The event itself last weekend was really interesting, with music, poetry, science, art and comedy. Its 700 tickets were sold out. My talk was entitled “Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality”, and I tried to give an overview of what we know about genes regulating aging and longevity, from genetic manipulations in worms, genetic determinants of human lifespan and genetics of long-lived species like naked mole rats and whales. Feedback after the talk was really good. Even though I have given many talks for general audiences, including in schools, I definitely learned a lot about giving talks to the general public.

The video  of my talk will be available on YouTube in due course [update Aug 2015: now available]. In the meantime, here is a beautiful sketchnote summarizing my talk.