In our 5 questions series we talk to the people who run Pint of Science in different countries. Today we meet Dr Matt Robinson who directs Pint of Science Thailand.
1. What’s your background, who are you?
Hi, I’m Matt. I am Head of Molecular Bacteriology at the Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Research Unit (LOMWRU) in Vientiane in Lao PDR. Although I work in Laos, I’m Pint of Science Director for Thailand! I’m originally from the UK and started out as a marine biologist, but my interests evolved over the years and now focus on tropical medicine, in particular zoonoses (infections that are transmitted between animals and humans). I’ve been living in Laos for nearly 4 years now – still getting used to the heat and spicy food!
2. How did you hear about Pint of Science and what made you decide that you needed to bring this to your country / run this nationally?
I first found out about Pint of Science when I was working at University of Exeter back in 2015. I volunteered to be a speaker and had a great time. When I moved out to Southeast Asia I got talking with our head of Public Engagement who had never heard of Pint of Science before. As soon as I described it she was hooked and less than a year later we had it up and running in Bangkok!
3. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in Pint of Science?
Public engagement in science is still very new here, and we find it especially hard to target the public, but interest is beginning to grow. It’s always a challenge to find the right speakers – many scientists here are used to giving lectures or speaking at conferences, so it’s been very difficult to find those who can give fun and exciting talks to the public. Those who we have found have been fantastic. This has helped us build up Pint of Science in Bangkok year on year.
4. Tell us about a Pint of Science event or experience that really moved you and why?
It was actually our first event. It was a complete unknown – was anyone going to turn up? What were the speakers going to be like? Is the venue okay? Is the monsoon going to stop or are we just going to get wet? And did anyone realise the venue didn’t have any beer?! In the end it was amazing. The team we had with us were fantastic and got it all together, twice as many people turned up than we expected and we got some great feedback from both the audience and speakers. I think we were all on a buzz for the week following the event! (p.s. someone did end-up doing a beer-run to the local store).
5. What’s your favourite science subject and which drink would you pair it with?
My favourite talks are about parasites and their interactions with humans and animals. I always enjoy a nice local beer and we’re now getting lots of craft beers in Bangkok. But after hearing about some of these parasites you may be needing something stronger!
Bonus question: what do you do in your free time?
I’m part of the Mekong River Commission International Boat Racing Team in Vientiane, Laos. Every year we take part in the dragon boat race against the local villages. The Mekong is such an important river in this region and it’s an amazing opportunity and honour to be part of a national event like this. There are fifty of us in the boat (called Hong Mae Ya) and we race against different village teams on an 800m stretch of the Mekong. We give it a good go, but they always seem to have the edge over us…just.
Pint of Science Thailand can be found at pintofscienceth.com