Tuesday 28th June was Exeter’s first ever PubhD event, where speakers have ten minutes to explain their PhD topics to a non-specialist audience in return for a drink or two. I first came across Exeter’s PubhD by following them on twitter, and I was really excited when I was contacted by the organisers and invited to speak at the first event! Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the experience I thought I would sit down and write a blog post about my latest foray into public engagement.
Planning my talk
This event isn’t three minute thesis, nor is it the ‘Ground-Breaking Research’ showcase we run in archaeology (5 minute talks). I found ten minutes quite a hard time-frame to prepare for – shorter than a conference paper but longer than a whistle-stop tour of your thesis plan. I settled on describing my general methodology rather than going too much into my results, focusing the main part of my talk explaining the types of data that can be gained by looking at animal bones, and what this could mean for studying past societies.
Being a student of a practical science and a firm believer in studying stuff, I decided that I would of course need some props for my talk! So during the day before PubhD I raided the bone lab for a horse and cattle humerus, the largest (least smelly) bones that we had! The rest of the day was spent working intermittently whilst furiously advertising the evening on social media, flooding facebook and the twittersphere with bone related puns.
The event was held in the Speakeasy above Oddfellows, a perfect sized room with a relaxed, chairs-everywhere atmosphere that was exactly right for the amount of people who came. I was so pleased when I saw not only many of my archaeology colleagues in support (bribes may have been used) but also a much larger audience than I expected – I counted 28 people! I was speaking last, so I was treated to two really interesting talks beforehand. The first talk gave a fascinating account of a spiritual experience in the landscape and discussed people’s relationship with the land in “you are the land; the land is you” by Sian Taylder. This was followed by a discussion of Milton’s philosophy and how it influenced and intertwined with his works by Phillipa Earle. Two talks and one G&T down, it was getting close to my turn.
I was nervous before my talk, but once I began (in true Emily fashion, by waving some bones about) I really settled into the rhythm of the presentation and enjoyed myself immensely. The title of my talk was “Milking it? Changes in diet in the European Neolithic”. I began by introducing the time period and explaining the emergence of farming societies in 5500BC (the LBK culture). I also introduced the NeoMilk project, which my PhD is attached to, and talked about their project aims in finding where, when and why milking emerged in this area. Following this, for the main part of my talk, I ‘expertly’ drew a humerus on the flipchart and explained all the useful characteristics that can be used to better understand past diet, from basic zooarchaeological identification to carcass processing practices. More bone waving followed, and a brief description of some of the results to date.
Questions followed, and rather than being related specifically to my area of archaeology they focused on archaeology itself. I found myself at the front of a room of people teaching Archaeology 101, using the flip chart to demonstrate how archaeological sites are found, what they look like, how they are buried and how stratigraphy works. While it wasn’t what I had expected it was great to see how interested non-archaeologists were in archaeology, especially one group of biologists who were soon nicknamed Question Corner! I was really chuffed to see how fascinated people were.
This sort of positive atmosphere was shared by the whole room throughout PubhD. The audience was engaged, interested, curious and humorous. Questions were not critical but genuine, and there was a certain sense of comradery based on the less-than-a-week-old referendum result which particularly affected the European projects! It was rewarding and enjoyable, and I would definitely do it again! If it sounds like something you would like to do too, they’re always after speakers for the next sessions – and if you’re not in Exeter, google your town + PubhD!