Communicating research isn’t an easy task. If the subject of the research is interdisciplinary, you can find that you have to tailor your research communication to all the different disciplines involved. My PhD topic involves conservation, material science and statistics, all disciplines that have a language of their own.
Despite experience in translating between the disciplines, this new situation posed a fresh challenge. As my research is a collaboration between The National Archives and UCL, I not only have to cross disciplines but institutions too! It dawned on me that I needed to develop my skills in creative thinking – was there a way in which I could explain my research to all disciplines and engage everyone else, not solely in academia?
I came across the Bright Club at UCL, which has active for over five years all over the country. It turns (unlikely) academic researchers into stand-up comedians. What a great way to start thinking differently about communicating research! I signed up. I would be performing alongside a handful of researchers in an authentic dark and dingy London comedy venue, with professional comedians compering and closing the night: nerve-wracking, no?
Stand-up comedy is actually a precise art, it take a lot of work to make such a short set seem effortless. Starting off with a training session, we had a couple of months to go away to write our script and practice the delivery.
I approached the task with a fresh set of eyes and devoid of preconceptions, looking for potential puns in my work and weaving some fun and silliness into stories around everyday situations. I tested out my set with friends and colleagues, who actually laughed at me (although I’m sure that could be interpreted in many ways).
Then the day arrived. I trapped my finger in a door. The nerves disappeared when the adrenalin of being on stage kicked in – or was it due to the numbing sensation of my finger having had to be iced? It flew by and was really enjoyable, even the heckles. The jokes about statistics went down the best, oddly enough.
Was it worth it? I think so; it allowed me to look for meaning and inspiration in places I had never thought to look before, and to weave relatable stories into my work. It was such a rewarding experience I did it again, twice! And an added bonus is that I doubt I will ever be nervous about giving a regular presentation about my work in the future.