Why I Love Science by the Pint

… because I love science and I love beer, obviously.

I had a great time moderating Science by The Pint last night! It is always awesome to be reminded how enthusiastic non-scientists often are about science. I find events like this incredibly refreshing when I have been stuck in a science rut or simply less enthusiastic about my work than usual.

I had participated in one of these events last year, when an upper level grad student was speaking. I wandered from table to table talking about how cool hydrothermal vents are, and why we think its important to study them. People asked interesting, important, tough questions, and I was really impressed with the quality of the dialogue. You don’t need a strong, or even any, science background to have a great conversation about science.
This time around I saw it from a different perspective. Being the moderator, I saw it from a few steps back. I tried to make sure every table had a scientist to talk to, and that things were going well with the restaurant (insert plug here for the awesome folks at Tavern by the Square, Porter Square who made sure last night ran smoothly and have been very supportive of Science by the Pint this year). My favorite part of my new role last night was hearing from the speaker and his colleagues afterwards how much they got out of the event. Like me last year, they were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the science discussion, and seemed to enjoy it more than expected.

This type of venue is different from what most scientists are used to. We are used to giving prepared talks and fielding tough nitty gritty questions afterwards that may or may not be trying to poke holes in the research (aka our blood, sweat, tears) that we have just presented. We are not accustomed to (unless we spend a good deal of time teaching) informally discussing our research with a large group of non-scientists who are genuinely curious. It is good practice for us to make sure we can explain our research and why we do it without discipline-specific jargon or over-complicated explanations. It is also good to get very different types of questions than what we are used to answering from our colleagues.

I had a thought last night… that this format would be a great way to talk to students. Not the beer part, obviously – although that certainly would get kids thinking science is cool, but I generally try to stay away from the dark side. Anyhow, I think that rather than a scientist going to a classroom, presenting their research, and answering questions from the students who ask them, I think a scientist going to a classroom with a few colleagues, and breaking into groups and having discussions with the students in smaller groups one on one might be a very effective way to reach these students and get them thinking about the possibility of becoming a scientist themselves.

So, in conclusion, I really like the science café format. I am now re-enthused to go into lab and get my science on!