Monday 16th March 2015 – History, Sustainability, Environmental Engineering

Tonight’s PubhD took us back to The Church Inn, which is turning out to be a good venue for these talks. Our three speakers were from diverse subject areas, but with some connections between the topics, as we will elaborate…

Victoria Stiles completed her Ph.D at the University of Nottingham, and has since moved to Manchester.  We’re a very welcoming bunch at PubhD so we’re happy to hear talks from non-Mancunians too.  She spoke about the way the British Empire was portrayed in the media and in literature during the Nazi era.  There were some interesting points and surprises – the Nazis didn’t have complete control over publishers and booksellers, so while they wanted to communicate a certain message, this couldn’t be done consistently.  The way that the British were portrayed changed over various stages under Hitler’s rule, depending on how the Nazis wanted to manipulate the information to suit the agenda.  Parallels were drawn with the ways enemy regimes were negatively portrayed by a powerful opponent during WWI, and some of the audience discussion alluded to similarities with the way different media handle current conflicts.

Marc Hudson spoke about a different topic, but also related to manipulation of the media.  His work is on the reaction of the Australian coal industry to climate change regulations.  He used the analogy of sailing ships to tell the story.  Sailing ships were around for hundreds of years with many people  making significant investments in their existence.  With the arrival of steam ships, there was opposition and all sorts of dirty tactics like highlighting a competitor’s shortcomings and badmouthing the opposition.  Which is analogous to the treatment of renewable technologies by parts of the fossil fuel sector, and explains why change has been so slow.  The withholding of access to information and resources, the over-reporting of failures, the right people in the right places. It all contributes to slowing the move from one technology to another.  This type of problem is called a socio-technical transition, whereby the social factors are entwined with the technical progression and hence one factor holds the other back.

Kat Gray spoke on a related subject; retrofitting UK housing to mitigate the effects of climate change.  As Marc noted in his talk, we knew about what we needed to do about climate change back in the 1980s. But we stalled, and are still dragging our feet.  Since then, further research has occurred and we have made more predictions about what is likely to happen to our future climate.  Because some time has passed since we started creating models, we can compare measured data against these models for the start of the curve and we’re seeing the pattern play out.  Even if we stopped all carbon emissions today, we would still have to deal with the consequences of what we have already pumped into the atmosphere.  And so we must seriously consider ways of altering our homes to cope with this inevitable change.  It is estimated that 70% of today’s housing stock will still exist 50 years from now, and we need to adapt those buildings or suffer the effects of poor quality ventilation. Kat will carry out simulations using Met Office weather files to compare current building performance with future scenarios, and take measurements from existing buildings to compare the results.

PubhD Manchester returns on 20th April.

Speakers: Monday 16th March 2015

Victoria Stiles, History:
Victoria recently completed a PhD in History at the University of Nottingham. Her research looks at nonfiction publishing from Nazi Germany, in particular the information on “Englishness” and the British Empire which was made available to German readers.

Marc Hudson, Sustainability:
Marc is doing a Ph.D in socio-technical transitions at the Social Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester. He is studying the drivers and limitations of change from fossil fuels to more sustainable technologies, and what this means for climate legislation. More specifically, how have mechanisms within the US and Australian coal industries affected national environmental policies?

Kat Gray, Environmental Engineering:
Kat is in the first year of a Ph.D in environmental engineering at the University of Manchester. Her thesis is in retrofitting UK housing for a warming climate, and considers the performance of existing housing stock 50, or 100 years from now, when climate change is expected to have noticeable effects on life in Northern Europe.

Conferences at Manchester University

Talking at events like PubhD is great for developing your skills in preparation for conferences.  There are lots of events at the Universities in Manchester, as well as external conferences in the UK and abroad.  There are generally lots of departmental conferences and posters days (usually school-specific but the University of Manchester held a multidisciplinary one in the Christie Building last year, with over 200 presenters).

Here’s a list of upcoming larger conferences at the University of Manchester: Events at the University of Manchester

Monday 23rd February 2015 – Health Economics, Cognitive Sciences, Musicology

Our first event set PubhD Manchester up for a great future!  We had three speakers, from very different subject areas, who all gave illuminating talks.  We chose The Church Inn for our event because it’s just cosy enough to feel warm and welcoming (they also do good beer and food!), but just large enough to comfortably accommodate an event like ours.

Our first speaker was Daniel Elphick, who spoke for ten minutes on Weinberg’s String Quartets.  We got to hear a brief history of Weinberg’s life, the society in which he grew up, and how the culture of the time reflected his music, and how his music is in turn culturally relevant. Some of Daniel’s work is about making Weinberg’s work available to present-day musicians, so that we can hear his music played again now.  Speaking of which, Daniel played exceprts from the String Quartets during his talk to illustrate the concepts he was presenting – this really livened things up, and thanks to the understanding nature of the landlord, we were allowed to play some more of this music during the interlude before the next speaker.  There’s a wealth of information about this little-known composer on Daniel’s blog, here.

Interesting fact of the talk: Weinberg composed the theme tune for the Russian version of ‘Winnie The Pooh’.  And in Russia, Winnie The Pooh is a more realistic, scary bear!  Here’s a YouTube video of “Vinni Puch” – delightful, but very different.

Our second speaker was Cheng Luo, from Manchester Business School, who spoke about the use of data mining to optimise the purchase behaviour of consumers.  Cheng’s research is based on real-world physical transactions (i.e. in an actual shop), although some questions were asked on the topic of e-commerce, which is an area for further research.  Cheng was the only speaker on this night to make full use of the whiteboard (our investment paid off!), which she used to illustrate the consumer’s typical purchase cycle, and described the changes in decision-making over time. Cheng’s research has applications right across the retail sector, as data on past behaviour and choices can be used to tailor the shopping experience, and promotions, to suit individual consumers.

The third, and final, speaker of the evening was Caroline Vass, who presented on preferences for breast cancer screening programs, and also fielded a number of questions on healthcare choices and the perception of benefit and risk associated with various testing regimes.  The notion of risk in screening programs refers to the likelihood that a patient will be referred for unnecessary treatment based on the test results, as opposed to the possibility of detecting a disease that does require treatment.  Economics is relevant to healthcare because our publically-funded healthcare system needs to prioritise treatment types based on the best value (i.e. those that improve quality of life by the greatest degree for a given cost).  Caroline’s research focuses more on the perception of cost and benefit from the patient’s perspective, which might affect the way in which a patient enagages with a service, or even chooses to attend for treatment or screening at all. An interesting discovery in her work was that if complex information is presented in a simpler format, the level of risk was understood more quickly (as expected), but the same conclusion was generally reached overall – it just took more time to get there if the complex version was presented (this wasn’t quite as expected).

The whole event lasted about two hours. 30 minutes each for the speakers – yes, we timed them – and a few short breaks in between.  We had a good audience turnout and they sure had a lot of questions; all answered eloquently and completely.  Well done everyone!


The original PubhD began in Nottingham in January 2014, and has now spread around the world (yes, really!) to places as far-flung as Aachen and Dublin.  @Capable_Kat  and @ViolettaCrisis brought it to Manchester in February 2015, and we hope to continue this fine tradition long into the future.  We have recently been joined by @TomTheEscapist.  Since we began in Manchester, PubhD has grown rapidly.  Here is a list of all the current PubhDs in existence:

PubhD Locations | PubhD

Manchester and Salford have three universities between the two cities, and there are numerous colleges and other universities in the Greater Manchester area.  There’s so much relevant and vital research happening here in the North West, and we want to tell as many people as possible about it. Have you ever wondered what really goes on in a research department? And how that might affect your life?  PubhD is all about communication between postgraduate researchers and the wider community, to inform, engage and discuss.

There’s some incredible, obscure, and world-changing research happening in Manchester, and we want to tell everyone about it!

And what better environment to do this than in the local pub? Not only is this about discussing research projects, it’s a great opportunity to foster good relations between the student population and local residents. Be you a student, a resident, or just passing through; join us for an evening of beer, conversation and wisdom.

So what do the speakers get out of it? It’s a great opportunity to present your work to a small(ish) group, without the formality and huge numbers of people you might expect at a conference.  It’s a friendly environment, so you can be a bit more creative and unconventional (but still academically rigorous!) if that’s your style.  Oh, and did we mention that we buy the speakers a drink in exchange for their imparted knowledge?