Being heckled by my dad… and four other things I learned doing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

[Reblogged from Thirty-Fifth Century Romance and written by Amy Burge, who performed at the 2016 Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas]

I love public engagement. Broadly defined as “engaging the public with research” (as the RCUK puts it), public engagement has been pretty extensively embraced by universities as a way of highlighting the relevance, importance, and impact of academic research beyond the university. In other words, it’s a great way to show that the research we’re doing as academics can make the world a better and richer place. While we might be the experts in our own research areas, talking to non-academics – professionals, local communities, governments, charities, and multinational organisations – about our research can be incredibly rewarding (and challenging).

Photo credit @edbeltane

This summer, I dived into public engagement by getting involved with the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. The Cabaret (or CODI for short) is organised by Beltane and is basically an opportunity for academics to present a ‘dangerous idea’ from their research (e.g. exercise is bad for you; we should get rid of zoos) and discuss it with a non-academic audience while standing on a small wooden stage in a yurt at the largest arts festival in the world. Piece of cake.

I’ve previously written a bit about the content of my show (that we should take romance novels more seriously) and if you’re more of an audiophile you can listen to a slightly clumsy radio interview where I talk about the show and my research. What I want to talk about in this post is more generally about my experiences of doing public engagement in case it’s of use to any other academics who might be interested in sharing their research more widely. I’m certainly no expert in public engagement, but I’ve definitely learned some things this summer.

So, in no particular order, here are five things I learned doing an Edinburgh Festival Fringe show.

1. Talking to the public is scary (the first time). 

I don’t mean talking to people at the next table in the pub, or chatting to the lady on the bus. Talking one-on-one to people in non-work environment is easy. But when you’re up there on that stage, with 40-odd people staring up at you, and they’re expecting you to be both clever and funny (it is the Fringe, after all) it can be quite intimidating. I’m not scared of public speaking. I remember being nervous before my first seminar as a postgraduate tutor, and I was slightly intimidated when giving my first lecture to 200 students in the week of my job, but I’ve taught for so long now, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have your stomach in knots, your thoughts scattered, and your hands shake visibly.

Doing a Fringe show reminded me of all of that. I felt that I needed to apologise to anyone I spoke to in the hour before the show started because I’m not sure I was in any way coherent. My stomach was tied in knots and my hands were shaking so much I was sure people could see it on the stage. But, after the first ten minutes or so, as people started to laugh and to contribute thoughts and questions, it stopped being so scary. About half an hour in, it even started being fun. And the minute it finished, I wanted to do it again. I suppose anything is scary the first time you do it, and sometimes that nervousness is a good thing – it gives you adrenaline that gets you through it. Personally, I’m looking forward to the next time, when I hopefully won’t be scared at all.

2. You will get heckled by your dad (if he’s anything like mine).

I think the scariest thing about talking to a public audience is that you’re not sure how they’re going to react. When you give a paper at an academic conference, you know roughly what’s going to happen. More often than not, three people will give twenty-minute papers, followed by a half-hour Q&A session. Generally, people don’t  interrupt, they’ll ask (hopefully) polite questions at the end and you might exchange email addresses afterwards in case you want to build a new research relationship. There’s a code. There are rules.

With public engagement, there are no rules. Well, there are rules, but they’re different to the rules you get at an academic conference. For one, talking at a Fringe show meant that people were much more likely to shout things out in the middle of the show (to be fair, I did encourage them). Begging my friends and family to come also meant that one of those hecklers was my (lightly refreshed) father.

But actually, I found the more informal atmosphere energising. Like a teaching session where students are really engaged I had to think on my feet, but because the audience contributed so many comments and ideas, it meant that my role was far more facilitatory, rather than managerial. Being able to riff off and refer to content from the audience meant that I had to spend less time talking, there was less attention and pressure on me as the ‘sage on the stage’ and I enjoyed myself much more.

So, I suppose, thanks for the heckling, dad.

3. You won’t get asked the questions you expect.

When I was a PhD student preparing for my first conference paper, I was advised by a friend to practice for the Q&A session by trying to think of all the possible questions I could be asked. As it happens, this was good advice; as academics, we know what other academics might ask us because they’re the kind of questions we would also ask.

Members of the public won’t ask these kinds of questions. During my show, the suggestions and questions asked were sometimes far more basic than I’d usually be asked and often more unexpected: “is the bible a romance novel”? I realised how much, as academics, we rely on a base level of research knowledge as a shorthand; we don’t, for example, ask about the story content in the Canterbury Tales because the assumption is that we already know it. Members of the public don’t always have this base knowledge and so you might find yourself answering questions that (to you) seem obvious, but to your audience are not.

4. Public engagement support exists (and it’s for people like me too). 

Before this summer, I was aware that organisations like Beltane existed, that my university had a whole office devoted to helping academics with public engagement, and I knew that colleagues were involved in public engagement activities. I just never really thought that it could be something I could do. Not just because I research books that are either really old (it’s hard to do a panel discussion with a medieval romance author) or really uncool (as I said, we really need to take romance novels more seriously). It was also because as a teaching fellow who wasn’t being paid to do research, I felt that I fell somewhat outside of the structures.

Talking about sexy books in a yurt (photo credit: Beltane)

Most funding council or bodies now require some public engagement as part of any research they fund. Equally, the Research Excellence Framework (a roughly five-yearly census of research outputs in all university departments) now also requires universities to submit case studies of public engagement or research impact. So for most academics, public engagement is definitely on the radar.

What’s more, as a PhD researcher, I had several opportunities to engage wider audiences with my research. I took part in the 3 Minute Thesis competition (where you have 3 minutes and one slide to explain your entire PhD topic to a non-academic audience) and helped to organise events where academics talked to and alongside professionals, artists, and writers.

Universities have clearly done a lot to help academic staff and research students to do public engagement. But as an early career researcher who wasn’t employed to do research, I found myself somewhat in limbo. Many of the fellowships and pots of money made available to support public engagement are not available for teaching-only staff. In addition, while my department were super supportive, I get the sense that in other places, researchers like me (who are, effectively, independent researchers who happen to work at a university) might miss out on research mentorship and guidance that they might otherwise receive from a line manager.

But, things have changed. While there might not be as many opportunities for a non-research staff member, there were still opportunities out there. By going along to some of the public engagement events supported by Beltane and by getting to know some of the staff who work for Beltane (it helps that we share a building), by following their activity on social media, and by signing up for their mailing lists I realised that there are opportunities for me to get involved in events where I can talk about my research and to get support for it. It was just a question of asking.

5. Once you pop…

At first it was just the one Fringe show. But then there was the associated Tweeting and blogging, the radio interview, the social media connections (this has been great for my Twitter follower numbers, guys). I’ve since been invited to speak on a panel at the Sheffield Festival of the Mind. I get the feeling that once you’ve started getting into public engagement, people start to recognise you as someone who can communicate their research well to non-academic audiences. You begin to be publicly associated with particular research areas. You get invited to more events and activities and, through networking and working with other publicly engagement academics, you learn how to be better at public engagement yourself.

Catch you later CoDI

For those of you who don’t know, I’m Alex the CoDI 16 intern. 

When I applied for the job I admittedly didn’t really know anything about CoDI, or what I was getting myself into, however the greatest surprise of all was just how rewarding it would be.

Looking back to my first day at Morgan Lane now feels a life time ago, despite actually only being a mere 14 weeks. If you had told me then that by the end of the madness I would be able to recite our CoDI 16 programme backwards I would have laughed, a lot. If you had told me that I would be running the actual shows alone, with only a dwarf disabled weegie and a producer with severe RBF, I would have cried. Today however, despite it all I wouldn’t change a thing… okay maybe the rain and rocking up on 4 hours sleep, fresh off TransPennine’s delightful 7am Manchester direct train, with a 3 day hangover, having to do a mad dash across the city in 15 minutes for some A3 boob print outs, only to be heckled by aforementioned weegie… (see below). Needless to say that was the end of my fringe partying (Day 4 of 25).

team chatBefore CoDI, internships meant little more to me than ‘no summer holiday’. After being somewhat blackmailed into growing up by my parents however I now find myself finishing my 14th week of one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. CoDI has gone above and beyond any and all of my expectations. I had heard about internships where you just did paperwork and mundane tasks, where your bosses were always too busy for you and where you wouldn’t return if it was the last job on Earth. CoDI could not have been further from that.

From the very start my wonderful bosses have trusted me and all my ideas, given me full responsibility and been incredibly approachable and appreciative. So a humongous thanks to Heather and Sarah for enabling me to grow as much as I have. A second thanks goes out to all 33 of the amazing CoDI performers this year, who have been a delight to market, and who have taught me about all sorts of dangerous ideas from more plastics to mechanical hearts. Seeing everyone’s hard work come together for the Fringe was incredibly rewarding, which was over before it begun – as the saying goes ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. More thanks to the wonderful Stand team who met all my last minute demands and kept us going each and every day. Last but not least, Susan and Stephen, my other two bosses who gave me a real run for my money when it came to sarcasm, demands and business skills. Each and every day was filled with entertainment thanks to your loving relationship and unique characters!

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas by definition is ‘debate, discussion and discourse in the company of some of the fiercest intellects that Scotland has to offer – all within a yurt!’. As someone who has been behind the scenes for the last three and a half months however, I can tell you it is much more than that. CoDI is driven by public engagement, and getting researchers to provoke the public into thinking, questioning and debating what they hear. At CoDI the audience is just as crucial as the performer. Getting to sit and watch the shows, and not only hear about the researchers’ dangerous ideas, but the public’s too, was incredibly thought provoking.

In the run up to the Fringe CoDI hold a number of bootcamps for performers, and something that really stood out to me was the sense of community. Everyone who takes part in CoDI is in it together, instead of seeing each other as competitors they see them as team mates. Veterans of CoDI are always there to offer advice and support to newbies. Those who are social media savvy are ready to promote those who confuse grindr and snapchat, you get the picture. So in some ways I was the marketing mother of my 25 CoDI show children, with a grumpy uncle Stephen, that aunt Susan who you’re always surprised to see hasn’t been put in a home yet, granddad John and his Barry White Collection, and grandma Sarah and Heather who are always nagging you to take a day off.

To say that I will miss CoDI is an understatement. Between emails, tweets, designing adverts, transporting signs, rogue presenters (looking at you Thomas – flyering til the very last second) and Susan’s ability to morph from Tiger to Satellite to a (literally) pig headed shop assistant, there was never a dull moment. I have learnt a lot about marketing, running a show and surviving the fringe, and I’ve come to love my dysfunctional CoDI family, but the time has come to say good bye, good luck and thank you so much for everything these last 14 weeks!

(Day 25, not sure if I’m about to cry or die)


Behind the Scenes at CoDI 2016

Five shows in and everyone knows their place. Here we are in action:

Young woman with iPad and dark haired man at sound desk

Alex Oates, marketing guru (especially social media), and our faithful sound man John. John has done sound for CoDI for three years and even matches the show intro music to the show titles






man in yurt
Producer Stephen Wright keeping an eye on the first show






Emergency sign-making on day one. (Alex has a very handy boyfriend with access to wood, and she is a rather talented artist herself.)

team chat

Pre-show chat in a break between rain showers


25 Days of CoDI: Day 25

 On the final day of CoDI, Dr Haddow came to me, with her one-stop-body shop of animal transplants, mechanical implants and biofabricated organs…

Dr Gill Haddow: One-Stop-Human-Body Shop

 Gill Pig

What is your background?

Varied!  I have previously worked in a chip shop, in a hairdressers, and as a children’s shoe fitter, before heading to University in the nineties to pick up other qualifications.  I came to Edinburgh from Fife to study Sociology. I loved my under-graduate course so much I failed to notice that it was actually polite to leave (as the other under-grads had done). As no one pointed this out I just stayed until I gained my PhD in 2002. It was challenging but immensely rewarding doing the research for the thesis as I was interviewing bereaved relatives about the decision to donate organs.  These people were so generous in giving their time and sharing their stories with me in truly awful circumstances. 


Since then I have been based in Science, Technology and Innovations Studies doing what I do best. What does Gill do best you ask?  Well researching patient experiences and views of the public about new and emerging medical technologies, obviously (no wearing a pig head was not the answer). This has included telemedicine, DNA databases, xenotransplantation and, more recently implantable smart technologies.  As a sociologist I am really interested in how technology shapes our individual/social and bodies/life.  I currently have a Wellcome Trust award called ‘Animal, Mechanical and Me: The Search for Replaceable Hearts’. Additionally I am writing a book (no really!). It is titled ‘Embodiment and the Everyday Cyborgs: Technology of an Altered Life.’  More about the project is available at and folks can find me on twitter @gillhaddow.

What do you do now?

I am Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow based in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh.  I am based in High School Yards at Old Surgeon’s Hall. It is a lovely old building where, rumour has it, the nineteenth century body-snatchers Burke and Hare brought their wares.  They also found a couple of knights buried in the car park last year I think:

How does your CoDI talk fit with your research?

Well my ‘One-stop-Human-Body Shop’ pretty much summarises the alternatives that are currently possible to repair, replace or regenerate our bodies.  As more of us live longer (so the story goes) then more of us will need more in us due to the requirement to maintain our aging bodies.  So my question to the audience is this ‘If you had the choice would you choose a high risk human organ; a genetically modified pig organ; a totally artificial heart or a 3-D bioprinted one?’.  Some are further in development than others so it’s a hypothetical question sure. Nevertheless, I think the answers raise interesting questions about human beings, being human.

Why are you participating in CoDI 2016?

I am really excited about taking this question about repairing, replacing or regenerating the body out there if you like.  I strongly believe that academics in this ‘day and age’ we have a responsibility to get off out of the institution and engage folks with our ideas. 

Having said all that I can’t pretend I am not nervous however. Although there is no denying being on stage appeals to my inner drama queen or actress.

What are you looking forward to most from CoDI?

Learning & laughing; asking the audience questions they may not have ever thought about and getting back answers that I had never considered! 


Gill’s show takes place on Sunday 28th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:

Gill Body Shop


25 Days of CoDI: Day 24

On the penultimate day of CoDI Clare was quick to warn me, of the antibiotic apocalypse I could never see!

Clare Taylor: The Antibiotic Apocalypse Threatens Us All!

So tell us, who is Clare Taylor?

I am a Senior MedicalMicrobiology Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University and currently General Secretary of the Society for Applied Microbiology. I’m also a Beltane Fellow (they tell me it is for life) and enjoy discussing science with pretty much anyone who will listen!

My scientific passion is for bacteria that invade human cells and cause infection, known as intracellular pathogens. In my lab we work on Salmonella and Listeria, two bacteria that are commonly associated with foodborne infection. We are trying to understand aspects of how these bacteria interact with humans during infection.

Furthermore, we are also trying to use our growing knowledge to effectively turn these bacteria against themselves. For example, by developing novel antimicrobial therapeutics that exploit some of the bacterium’s own ‘weapons’.  I’ve performed 3 shows at CODI during the Fringe in 2014 and 2015 and I am looking forward to some lively debate about my research this year too!

We always enjoy your CoDI appearances, what have you got in store for us this year?

Antibiotics are a type of therapeutic agent that are used to treat bacterial infection. We have been using them in human medicine since the 1940s but they are also widely used in veterinary medicine and to promote growth of livestock.  But why are we hearing more and more about the ‘antibiotic apocalypse’ (just Google: antibiotic apocalypse…)?

Experts, including clinicians and microbiologists are talking about antibiotic resistance more and more, but do you know what this actually means? When surveyed, almost a third of respondents described antibiotic resistance as “it’s the body becoming resistant to antibiotics”.CODI 13.08.15 Women, science is still not for you (credit Dee Davison)

Tell us more…

In actual fact, it means that antibiotic resistant bacteria can no longer be treated with a particular type of antibiotic. Therefore, if we get an infection with one of these bacteria, we can’t treat it with the antibiotic of choice. This means it is down to who wins the battle – body or bacterium – that determines whether you survive or not.

This all sounds very serious, doesn’t it? And what is this apocalyptic scenario that many are referring to? Come and see the show to ask questions to find out. In addition, I’ll tell you about some of the work we are doing in the lab to try and develop alternative ways of treating infection. Who knows,  you might even get the chance to do your bit for scientific research.

Clare’s show takes place on Saturday 27th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:

Antibiotic apocalypse


25 Days of CoDI: Day 23

Shhhhhh it’s a surprise….

On the twenty-third day of CoDI Beltane revealed little to me…

IndyRef2: The Rebellion Continues?23-brexit

We don’t want to give too much away but here’s a sneak peak:

A Tory victory at the General Election, the crushing of Labour in Scotland, chaos on the Opposition front benches, and, finally, England voted Leave, Scotland voted Remain. 

Britain’s on the edge of Brexit, so is the stage set for Indyref 2?

Was the referendum a once in a lifetime opportunity?

Which referendum?

Should there be IndyRef2?

Can we get to Europe on our own and who wants a job manning the Border Crossing booth at Gretna….?

Join us to hear what Tommy Sheppard and Nicola McEwen have to say – but more importantly, get your voice heard.

Watch this space as we reveal our other guest speakers over the coming weeks!

The show (inc debate) takes place on Wednesday 24th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:


25 Days of CoDI: Day 22

On the twenty-second day of CoDI Khadijah spoke up to ‘Let Extremists Speak’

Khadijah Elshayyal: Let Extremists Speak?


Tell us a little bit about yourself and the show Khadija Extremists

My name is Khadijah Elshayyal. I am a research fellow at the Alwaleed Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, at the University of Edinburgh. Here I conduct research and teach on the subject of Muslims in Britain. I am particularly interested in Muslim identity politics in Britain, and how this has evolved over time. Historically, freedom of expression has featured regularly in causes championed by British Muslim representative and advocacy groups. I argue that over the past few decades, there has been an interesting interplay between the development of British Muslim identity politics on one hand, and British Muslim perspectives on freedom of expression on the other.

How does your CoDI talk fit with your research?

One of the most pressing and controversial topics affecting British Muslims in recent times have been the impacts of counter-terrorism measures and securitization – many of which are acutely felt. Since 2000, successive counter-terrorism legislation has ventured further and further into the area of restricting expression. For example, the Terrorism Act 2006 introduced what are often referred to as ‘encouragement offences’ . These make ‘the glorification of terrorism’ a criminal offence. The government of the day, and successive governments, have justified this on the grounds that it is meant to address the threats posed by ‘non-violent extremists’ – those who may not commit acts of violence, but who’s rhetoric is considered to encourage or legitimize it.

Other aspects of government counter-extremism policy, for instance the controversial Prevent strategy, have also been criticized for arguably monitoring expression within communities or creating a chilling effect. People are inhibited from freely expressing themselves , for fear that they may be reported or prosecuted. Religion and politics, for example, are two particular areas where people restrict their speech . Worse still, extremist individuals and groups that have been banned have continued to operate ‘underground’ or regularly re-emerged using new names.

But freedom of expression is often portrayed as one of our most cherished values?

Indeed, David Cameron, and current PM Theresa May, have both championed ‘individual liberty’ as part of the ‘British values’ that we should all be signing up to. So how comfortably do these increasing restrictions on expression sit with our liberal, ‘British’ values?

Is the restriction of expression in the name of security a necessary trade-off? Or are we contradicting the very values that we hold dear?

Do aspects of government securitization policy affect Muslims and other minorities disproportionately? Are we creating ‘suspect communities’ as a result? What are the impacts of this on integration and social cohesion?

All of these and more are questions that I hope to discuss and unpack at my show.

Why did you choose to take part in CODI 2016?

I feel passionately that many of these issues have become victims of oversimplified and sensationalized media coverage. It often suits politicians and journalists to promote a black and white narrative around issues to do with national security. Often this can have serious real world consequences – such as surges in Islamophobia and hate crimes. Such consequences could be seen after the EU referendum.

The public deserve a more nuanced, in depth discussion around what the issues at stake are. A discussion away from irresponsible rhetoric, peppered with inflated, broad-brush statistics, that have been so generalized as to be bereft of any real meaning.

I hope that at CODI we can look beyond the tabloid headlines and the political soundbites to better understand the issues around extremism, security, integration and Islamophobia as they affect British Muslims and us all.

What are you looking forward to most from CoDI?

CODI is a great opportunity to engage directly with the public – to take academic debates outside of the lecture theatre and into the open where they can be interrogated, defended, critiqued, as well as mocked and ridiculed.

Khadijah’s show takes place on Monday 22nd August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:

Extremists poster

25 Days of CoDI: Day 21

On the twenty-first day of CoDI Mcara and McVie called to me… ‘Let’s all hug a thug’

Lesley McAra and Susan McVie: Hug a Thug

Let’s all hug a thug!CODI (25.08.15) Hug a thug (credit Lucy Gibbons) (3)

In July 2006, David Cameron gave his famous ‘hug a hoodie’ speech in which he claimed that this archetypal adolescent fashion accessory had become “a vivid symbol of what has gone wrong with young people in Britain today”.  So what does the hoodie really represent?  Lesley and Susan dig deeper into adolescent deviant sub-culture and explain why we should all ‘hug a thug’ instead.

Tell us a bit about yourselves?

Lesley is Professor of Penology (that sometimes gets a snigger) and Dean of Public Engagement. Meanwhile Susan is Professor of Quantitative Criminology (bit of a mouthful).  We are both passionate researchers with an interest in youth crime and juvenile justice. Together (amongst many other things) we co-direct the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime. The Study is longitudinal, made up of around 4000 young people based in Scotland’s capital city.

We approach our work from a developmental point of view – in other words, we are interested in how people change as they go through life – and we firmly believe that people’s futures are not pre-determined by their past.  Everyone has the capacity to change, even those who get a really bad start in life. As a result of researching the lives of many young people, we can identify things that can help offenders to get back on track and desist from crime. Hug A Thug Lesley

What does your research tell us about ‘thugs’?

We have used the term ‘thugs’ to be provocative in our show. What we really aim to do however, is to show that young people who get involved in offending (not all of which wear hoodies, by the way) have many different dimensions to their lives. They are not all the same.  Many people get involved in a little bit of offending as part of their ‘normal’ transition from childhood to adulthood. Go on – admit it – haven’t most of us done something that we were not proud of while we were growing up?

A smaller number of young people will get involved in a more serious and long term pattern of offending. That pattern can often lead to contact with the criminal justice system and, in some cases, lead to imprisonment.  These people find it harder to desist from offending, for a variety of reasons. For this reason, it is important that we use our research to find ways of both preventing them from offending and reducing their offending once they have started.

Are some people just born bad?

There is very little evidence that anybody is ‘born bad’, although there have been some studies that show some genetic influences on behavior.  The research in this area tends to suggest that someone with particular genetic markers will only be at increased risk of offending if they are brought up in a damaging environment; for example, they are exposed to poor parenting practices and they are not nurtured as well as they should be.

Most of the research evidence shows a wide variety of social and environmental factors, that impact on people’s behavior. By minimizing the negative influences and promoting the positive ones we can help to change people’s behavior for the better.  The reality is that most young people who get involved in more serious and persistent offending are also very vulnerable. They come from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds.  There is a very high probability that they will have been victims of crime themselves. Often they are struggling to cope with life on a day to day basis.  They may lack the skills and support to tackle the problems that keep them in a cycle of offending behavior.

The difficulty is that there is no one ‘pathway’ that all people who offend follow. Tailored solutions are needed to meet individual needs.  But this can be expensive and difficult to target (especially because we don’t necessarily know who is going to be involved in the most offending).  The key is to identify ‘typical’ lifestyles and patterns of behavior. From there we must do our best to try and  support those in society who may be most ‘at risk’. Hug A Thug Susan

So what happens to young people who offend?

Evidence from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime shows that young people who offend tend to just grow out of it naturally – they mature and go on to lead normal, law abiding lives.  In fact, most adolescent offences are very low level. So much so that they do not come to the attention of the criminal justice system.  Some (although not all) young people who get involved in more serious or persistent offending will come to the attention of the police. It is their decision as to whether the person needs to be dealt with formally or not.  They may be referred to the Children’s Reporter or they may be charged and taken to court.

A small proportion of young people end up in prison because of their offending behavior.  However, there is increasing emphasis on using alternatives to imprisonment.This is due to the recognition that prison can have a damaging effect on young people. Moreover it can often make them more likely to carry on committing crime.  Alternatives to imprisonment include things like community service, electronic tagging and diversion to drug treatment programmes.

Why should people come and see you in CoDI 2016?

Everybody is interested in crime!  And our show aims to take a light hearted approach to challenging commonly held perceptions about offending and offenders.  The title ‘hug a thug’ is intended to show that we believe a compassionate approach to dealing with young people who offend is likely to be more productive than punishing them.

Scotland is a very progressive country. Many of the changes to our criminal justice system in recent years have moved in a positive direction – especially the increased focus on using alternatives to imprisonment.  We will give our audience a flavor of what it’s like to go to prison (including sight and smell) and discuss the advantages of alternative disposals, such as electronic tagging.


Lesley and Susan’s show takes place on Friday 26th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:

Hug A Thug BarsHug A Thug

25 Days of CoDI: Day 20

On the twentieth day of CoDI, Helen, Miguel, and Tilo ask whether Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, was a major discovery or a curious scientific distraction?

Helen Sang, Miguel Garcia Sancho Sanchez and Tilo Kunath: Dolly The Sheep

It’s been 20 years since the birth of Dolly – the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell.  The media frenzy that followed was a mixed one. There was both celebration due to the grand scientific achievement and fear because of the seemingly real possibility of human cloning.

Why was Dolly cloned in the first place? What did we learn from this almost futuristic experiment? Furthermore, was there any benefit to human society and human health? Cloning doesn’t seem to be widespread 20 years after Dolly, so what benefits, if any, have we gained from cloning.

Please join Prof Helen Sang, Dr Miguel Garcia-Sancho, and Dr Tilo Kunath for a lively discussion as they attempt to address these questions and hear your views.

Dolly the Sheep Cake

Dolly’s 20th Birthday Cake

About Prof Helen Sang

Helen has a PhD in genetics from Cambridge University. When Dolly was cloned at the Roslin Institute Helen was there. Her research involves applying genetic engineering in chickens, with a major aim to produce chickens that are resistant to bird flu. In addition, she has a keen interest in discussing the issues involved in genetic modification of foods.

About Dr Miguel Garcia-Sancho

Miguel studied History of Science for his PhD at Imperial College London. He is a Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests are in the history of contemporary biomedicine, with special emphasis on the emergence of biotechnology as a new form of knowledge production that is still shaping our era.

About Dr Tilo Kunath

Tilo is a stem cell biologist who obtained his PhD from the University of Toronto. He is a Group Leader at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine where he uses stem cells to model and understand Parkinson’s disease. He uses “reprogramming” technology to make induced stem cells from the skin of Parkinson’s patients.

Dolly’s show takes place on Thursday 25th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:

Dolly printed background

25 Days of CoDI: Day 19

On the nineteenth day of CoDI a crazy Canadian said to me “More Plastics = A Better World”

Mike Shaver: More Plastics = A Better World

More plastic?! Is he from Mars? Actually no he’s not…


Introduce yourself Mikemichael shaver

I’m Mike.

Okay very funny, now seriously, tell us a bit about yourself…

Well I’m certainly not from Mars… I’m a Canadian, first and foremost. I studied inorganic chemistry in Canada at Mount Allison University and the University of British Columbia. At the end of my PhD, I decided I wanted to develop chemistry with real global impact, so when I was awarded an NSERC Post-doctoral Fellowship, I made a big career change into polymer chemistry at (and my first trans-Atlantic journey to) Imperial College London.

Mike Map

From there, I moved back to Canada and started an independent career working in “green” polymer chemistry. In short this involved improving the sustainability of polymers (plastics, coatings, adhesives, materials). It was at this stage of my career that I also started to care passionately about public understanding of science. I began participating in a number of public engagement events, including multiple appearances on CBC Radio and Television (the Canadian equivalent of the BBC).

Mike CR LogoMike UOE Logo





In an effort to increase the impact of my research (and public engagement, of course), I took up the opportunity to move to the University of Edinburgh almost 4 years ago. This has been a big boost, as our group has been able to work with a diverse array of industrial partners to develop new products and explore improving different processes through designing new catalysts and new polymers. In addition, I’ve  expanded the scope of my public engagement events. I did a TEDx talk, numerous stand-up comedy shows through Bright Club, and lots of other talks and events. Much of this has been focused on demystifying what the word plastics means to the general public – taking what is a negative opinion and getting people to think a bit deeper about these essential materials.

Mike @ TEDOkay, so now that we have your life history, tell us where does CoDI fit into all of this? 

I think CODI is the perfect way to reach such an interested audience and build a conversation around plastics – the contentious statement of needing more plastics, not less, seems flawed at its core, but that’s why I chose it! Hopefully people come along with both a strong opinion AND an open mind!

Mike’s show takes place on Tuesday 23rd August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:

Michael Plastic