Some of University of Auckland’s finest academics are leaving the “ivory tower” and heading to the pubs in Ponsonby … and a few other places around town.

Auckland is joining a growing list of international universities that have decided to mix education with popular culture (drinking).

On August 29, 20 leading academics will give talks in 10 Auckland bars. The topics range from the ethics of drone strikes to how pop songs are created.

The idea of turning bars into mini “think tanks” for a night came from a group of New York students.

RAISING THE BAR (RTB) spread from New York to San Francisco, London, Sydney, Melbourne and Hong Kong.

University of Auckland picked up on the idea while holding a function for its alumni in New York.

Director of Alumni relations and development, Mark Bentley, says: “We are always looking for ways to engage with our alumni, and the younger ones are harder to reach.

“So, we thought it would be great to go out and invite them to some exciting, punchy and provocative talks.”

Bentley then went hunting for some rising stars.

“We went around the departments and asked, who are your younger, more exciting academics?

“There is a lot of talent doing ground-breaking work, and we wanted to know who their up-and-coming superstars were.”

In the end, some of the University’s older staff made the cut and will also be giving talks. 

“They were too interesting to leave out, people like Professor John Montgomery, whose research on sharks’ brains can tell us a lot about our own brains.”

So how did they find the bars and pubs?

“We did it by footslogging – going around and talking to them – there were a lot of volunteers for that, “says Bentley.

“It is actually great for the bars, this will have them packed out on a Tuesday night!”

And, he says, they have tried to match the bars with the speakers.

For example, Godfrey de Grut will give his talk about the science of constructing pop songs at Ponsonby’s Golden Dawn, a bar known to attract a younger crowd interested in music.

Bentley says the University had no qualms about associating learning with drinking, “You don’t have to drink [alcohol] in a bar – they are places where people will come for a fun night, for the conviviality of it all.”

A quarter of the tickets have already been spoken for in pre-registration and the rest went up for grabs on July 20.

RAISING THE BAR turns bars into mini “think tanks” for the evening. Photo: Supplied

Not sure who to go and see?

Here are five speakers that piqued Newsroom’s interest.

1. Professor Alexei Drummond – Darwin’s computer.

A discussion on how computers can be used to reconstruct the history of our own species and help us respond better to diseases like HIV, Zika, Hepatitis and Dengue.

6:30 PM at Vodka Room | 5 Rose Rd, Grey Lynn, Auckland 1021

2. Professor Peter O’Connor – Why do terrorists want to kill us.

A talk on how and why people become terrorists and what can do to stop it happening.

8:00 PM at The Birdcage | 133 Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay, Auckland

3. Dr James Russell – Simply the Pests.

An explanation about what mad scientist projects are underway to make New Zealand predator-free.

8:00 PM at The Oakroom | 17 Drake Street, Auckland | Entrance over 18.

4. Jim Hefkey – Getting up in Space. How hard can it be?

The recent rise of Rocket Lab has created interest in space activities in NZ. Find out how the Auckland programme for space systems can have an impact across the country.

6:30 PM at Tom Tom Bar & Eatery | 27 Drake St, Auckland

5. Dr Siouxsie Wiles – From glowing grubs to superbugs.

Discover how ground-breaking work is being done to understand superbugs and find new antibiotics to kill them.

6:30 PM at The Oakroom, 17 Drake Street, Auckland | Entrance over 18

For tickets to these and other talks go to:

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

Leave a comment