Raising the Bar

What are the most in-demand events in Auckland at the moment? Katy Perry, Rodriguez, Dire Straits?

Try free university lectures.

Yes, tickets to 20 talks by University of Auckland lecturers on August 28 are a hot item.

To be fair to the music superstars it is not a legitimate comparison – the lectures are free and they are being held in pubs and bars.

Following the success of last year’s series of Raising the Bar, the university is embarking on a second round of talks by academics who are swapping “tower for town”.

“Last year succeeded beyond our wildest expectations so it was kind of a no-brainer to do it again.” Director of alumni relations and development, Mark Bentley told Newsroom.

With just under two weeks to go, more than half of this year’s talks are sold out and the others are filling up.

Bentley puts the demand down to two things – talent and venues.

“The speakers are bloody good, a lot of them are the up-and-coming stars of the future.

“Why do we do pubs? Because they are good fun. It’s the same reason that pub quizzes work. People go to the talks because there is good company and a bit of stimulation. If we held 20 talks like these on campus or in a lecture theatre we wouldn’t get half the interest.”

But Bentley (for the second year in a row) stresses that “you don’t have to drink” to enjoy the night.

The talks attracting strong interest include Professor John Morgan on the economic value of education. Universities are quick to reassure students that a degree comes with a hefty financial reward. But is that the case? Students often graduate with a large personal debt and enter an economy where wages have not increased for decades. Morgan poses the question “Why bother with education?”

Dr Cathy Stinear will talk about how to keep your marbles as you age (no, it’s not Sudoku) and examine whether digital addictions are rotting our brains and whether you need 10,000 hours of practice, like Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball, to excel at sport.

The neuroscientist says her head is “full of cocktail party chatter about the brain,” but it is her job to sort the myth from reality.

Miriam Seifert will discuss how the slow movement is taking hold in the world of fashion as we move from an era of over-consumption to anti-consumption. Originally from Germany, where she worked in marketing, Seifert wants to leverage her research for positive societal change and convince us that “cheap and cheerful” clothing is now passé.

Other topics range from blockchain – bigger than the internet, sleep sex to insomnia, and the connection between lasers, milk and sperm. There is also one on the global refugee crisis for those wanting a weightier issue.

Mixing education with drinking has become a popular way to keep past students connected to universities.

Raising the Bar has spread around the world from New York, where it started, to San Francisco, London, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Auckland.

Bentley says Auckland has stuck to the franchise’s original “playbook” developed by a group of students in New York.

“It is actually still run by a group of students and they really understand what kind of talks people want to hear and how to market them.”

“The other thing that makes these talks work is that the speakers get excited by the prospect of going out in the public and they tend to give really good performances.”

Most of the pubs and bars involved in last year’s talks have signed on again. Each of the venues hosts two talks – one at 6pm and another 8pm. Their reward is a capacity crowd on a Tuesday night.

Newsroom asked reporter Teuila Fuatai to look at the options for people who don’t already have tickets.

A talk on sustainable technology by Dr Eva Hakansson caught her eye.

Dr Eva Hakansson. Photo: Supplied

Self-described “tree hugger” and motorcycle enthusiast Dr Eva Hakansson is breaking stereotypes in more ways than one.

The mechanical engineer landed at the University of Auckland earlier this year. At the time, she was the only female academic staff member in her department. Also on her CV, a hair-raising speed record of 434 km/h clocked on her electric motorcycle “Killa Joule”.

“I simply found my own way of trying to save the planet and that is that I race electric motorcycles ... that are insanely fast,” Hakansson says brightly.

“That is my way of trying to grab people’s attention and get them interested in low-emission technology.”

The Swedish native’s speed-driven interest is a neat combination of her environmental and engineering passions, she explains.

“Before Tesla, electric vehicles had a really bad reputation. People thought they were boring and slow, something that your neighbours would laugh at.

“My idea was to try change people’s impression of electric vehicles by racing an insanely fast electric vehicle. I chose a motorcycle because that’s what gives me the most bang for my buck.”

Hakansson says while people are generally more enlightened in their attitudes towards electric vehicles than in her earlier career days, other biases still need to be addressed.

“Now, commercial interests are catching up and making really sexy electric cars, but I’m also trying to get more girls interested in engineering technology.

“They’re well-paid jobs. They’re challenging and fun, and in that way women are missing out on a lot of independence they could gain from well-paid jobs.”

Saving the planet - at 400 km/h!

Who: Eva Hakansson (Engineering) Where: Birdcage When: 8pm

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