Learning while laughing

You would be forgiven for assuming that academics spend their days behind desks, writing, lecturing, and venturing out to the lab to test a hypothesis. Learning how to be a researcher undoubtedly requires years of dedication, multiple degrees and countless headaches. Engaging with the public and communities is an essential component of many research projects. Taking complex research ideas and creating something accessible and interesting to the public is a skill which many researchers develop over the course of their careers.

Brian Cox may be a household name, but what about the thousands of other academics? UofG alone has over 4000 – how do they develop their public engagement skills and gain experience?

One particularly innovative method, Bright Club, was developed by Steve Cross and Miriam Miller from University College London to promote public engagement by scientists, academics and others with specialist knowledge. Bright Club is a unique comedic experience, taking place across the country and allowing academics to share their research – and their sense of humour.

Bringing Bright Club to Glasgow

Bright Club Glasgow was created by Dr Zara Gladman who, after being part of the inaugural Scottish team who performed during the Edinburgh Fringe, decided it was time to take the show to Glasgow. Bright Club creates an environment where researchers in Glasgow can connect with the community in a unique way. Academics can share their research through humour, and the public are able to engage with the academic community in a local and welcoming space.

Today, you can find the Bright Club at The Stand Comedy Club in the West End of Glasgow up to four times each year. The academics you’ll laugh along with come from the University of Glasgow, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of the West of Scotland and from the universities of Edinburgh. Their fields of research are varied.

As Zara explains; “We’ve had philosophers, historians, zoologists; anything that you can do research on, you can perform a Bright Club set about.”.

Thanks to training and rehearsals in the month prior to the event and a good community atmosphere, academics are able to take their experiences of research and communicate them in a light-hearted humorous way to an eclectically mixed audience.

In reaching this audience, current organiser Dr Peter Murray explains that the partnership Bright Club has with The Stand is invaluable. “We could run a comedy night in a lecture theatre but that’s too close to just being a lecture or seminar. The idea is that we are taking the researchers out of their academic environment and into the comedy club setting, and The Stand are amazing and so supportive.”

Peter explains that the host comedians also play an important role, with well-known names such as Jay Lafferty, Chris Forbes and Susan Morrison both lighting up the stage for audiences and supporting nervous academics to become comedians behind the stage.

Community Engagement

Bright Club gives academics an opportunity to engage with the community and provide an insight into the research conducted at the University of Glasgow. It provides an inclusive environment for ideas to be shared, and knowledge to be exchanged. Zara explains how Bright Club can make the general public feel less detached from the university community.

"I think Bright Club helps show the public that researchers aren’t the stuffy characters they are often portrayed to be and they have a sense of humour. It humanises research.” Dr Zara Gladman, Public & Community Engagement Advisor, University of Glasgow

Perhaps this is why Bright Club has proved so successful beyond Glasgow borders, with successful shows in partnership with Edinburgh and Dundee Bright Clubs, performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and even, on occasion, reaching the Shetland Islands. Beyond this, from a personal perspective, the experience of performing stand-up comedy has made “any kind of presentation, whether it’s a big international conference presentation or a lecture… feel like a doddle” for Zara.

Bright Club gives researchers the opportunity to gain new skills and new experiences; and gives local residents the opportunity to learn more about the research being carried out on their doorstep.

Get Involved

If you’re a researcher and want to find out more about getting involved with Bright Club, get in touch with Peter Murray.