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


Talking rodents at Liverpool Light Night and PubhD

Guest post by Nicola Davidson, PhD student in the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool

I recently took part in two, quite different, public engagement events. The first was PubhD on 12th May. PubhD is a new event for Liverpool organised by Kat Ford. PubhD takes place in The Vines pub near Lime Street station and runs for about an hour and a half once a month. There are three speakers each night talking on a variety of topics. Apart from my talk on rodent control there was a talk from IIB’s Rebecca Donnelly on mathematical biology and Samuel Mercer on social and political science. Each speaker is given 10 minutes to present their PhD without any slides, followed by 20 minutes of questions. I really enjoyed talking without having to rely on PowerPoint. It made me really think about how to get my research across to a non-academic audience. The question session afterwards was really interesting. As my PhD is on trying to solve a practical problem (stopping non-target rodents from getting poisoned by rat poison), there were lots of ideas on how the problem could be solved. I think PubhD could be a good forum to get some fresh ideas and perspective for your research. The audience was small (~15) as the weather was too good to tempt many people indoors. However, this gave the event a nice intimate feel and I think encouraged more people to ask questions. I would highly recommend this event, especially for PhD students who want to practice communicating the premise of their thesis. You can contact Kat on or have a look at the twitter page @PubhD_Liverpool.

The second event I took part in (on 13th May) was Liverpool Light Night. This was a much bigger event and was directed more towards families. Light Night is a one-night arts & culture festival. The University opened several venues for this event, and I was stationed in the Guild. The event ran from 5pm to 9pm. There were around 150 people coming through the Guild in that time. I was in charge of a stand based on my research group’s work on rodent control. I had two posters: one on rodent control and the other on rodent species in the UK. I also had videos of some wild rodents, a demonstration of a rat bait station and a make your own mouse book mark for children. I made plenty of bookmarks with children, and some adults too! As well as learning about rodents from my stand, attendees could visit other stands where they could have an ice cream made from liquid nitrogen, power a solar car with a lamp and learn how to fight cancer. It was a really good opportunity to talk to people about the realities of rodent control and try to convince them that rats aren’t that bad. Overall I really enjoyed taking part in this event, especially getting the chance to inspire children with the kind of research we are doing at Liverpool.