A Comparison of Talks: UOB Arts and Science Festival and Three-minute Thesis.

By Thomas Hall

The reason I enjoy attending outreach events is for the transference of knowledge in a field with which you have an interest but without a prerequisite of understanding. Examples of events I have attended include the arts and science festival hosted by UOB and the three-minute thesis competition.

I found the art and science festival to have a broad programme, covering a range of topics from volcanoes to dinosaurs and scientific instruments to the origin of man. Over the course of the week there were nearly 70 different events in the form of talks, workshops and performances. As the majority of the festival ran during the week, I was strictly limited to those events that ran either during a lunch break or outside of working hours. One event that I attended was that of a talk by Professor Alice Roberts on the incredible human journey.

This event was a great example of effective public engagement. Professor Alice Roberts led a masterclass in the ability to communicate complex information to a lay audience. This was achieved by the use of high quality illustrations to help explain points or principles, videos to help the audience understand and gain perspective and by using language that everyone could understand. The talk was enthusiastic and dynamic which helped to keep the audience interested and engaged. However, the room that was used for this event was large as it needed to be to accommodate the large number of people but this very much limited the discussion and questions that could be asked. In addition, it was difficult at times to hear the speaker from the back of the room. To the best of my knowledge, evaluation of the event was not captured by the organisers.

In contrast to the arts and science festival I also attended the 3-minute thesis competition hosted by chemical engineering. This was a somewhat smaller event but the events did have in common the fact that the speakers were trying to explain and convey to a lay audience technical and complex information. The difference with the three-minute thesis competition is that the speakers had a significantly shorter time period in which to explain their research.

The three-minute thesis event was extremely engaging as lots of different research aspects were covered. I found that the smaller audience facilitated a more cohesive discussion around the speaker’s topic once questions were asked. It was also noticeable that those speakers which incorporated comedy into their talk were often better received by the audience. I did find that given the restricted speaking time this limited the ability to explain more complex ideas and thus lead to some speakers using jargon which was not always necessarily understood by the audience. This was often rectified in the question period. As this was a competition this event was evaluated by a judging panel comprising of academics and support staff. Feedback was given to each speaker with regards to how their talk went, what worked well and what could be improved.

Both events were highly successful and I would personally recommend attending them in the future.