Students describe their research in a limerick


Credit: Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Doctoral students at the University of Bath have been challenged to use their rhyming skills to describe their PhD research on social media in the form of a limerick.

The challenge, which used the hashtag #PhDlimerick, was started by the University's Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) and has attracted entries on topics from sustainable plastics to sea lion conservation.

Students from the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training were invited to take part via a limerick on twitter by the CSCT's Director Professor Matthew Davidson:

"I reckon that now is the time
To render your research in rhyme
Haiku's too pretentious
And might work against us
But something like this would be fine"

The challenge was taken up by students from several other institutions and even went overseas, leading to the Centre awarding prizes to the best limericks.

Professor Davidson said: "At the CSCT we provide our doctoral students with a variety of opportunities to think broadly about improving their communication and public engagement skills, from condensing their research into three minutes with the Three Minute Thesis competition, to working with policy makers and doing hands-on science demonstrations to the public at the Cheltenham Science Festival.

"We thought that challenging our doctoral students to write limericks would be fun but both the level of interest and the rhyming skills displayed have been amazing. I hope students from other institutions will continue to get involved and use the hashtag to show us what they can do."

Isabel Thomlinson, a second year postgraduate on the Integrated PhD in Sustainable Chemical Technologies, won the first prize for internal contestants. Her research is to develop sustainable plastics from biological alternatives to crude oil.

She said: "I might be a scientist by day, but I like to do creative and artistic things too. Even so, I never expected I would win a poetry competition!

"Limericks are a fun kind of poetry, and it's a challenge to try and sum up complex ideas in only five lines – not to mention making it rhyme too.

"I've really enjoyed reading everyone else's PhD limericks. There were some great ones on Twitter.

"I'm not sure how successful my limerick was at explaining the ideas to non-specialists, but hopefully it will at least have intrigued people a bit.

"I think working with renewable and biodegradable plastics like polylactide is a really interesting research area. Lots of researchers in the University of Bath's Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies are currently working on many aspects of bio-based plastics. Since we all use so many plastic products all the time, these sustainable replacements are really relevant to our everyday lives."

The researchers are encouraging others to have a go at the challenge, and hope that next year's limerick competition will attract even more interest.

Winners of the competition

1st prize (CSCT): Isabel Thomlinson
Sustainable plastics are trendy,
But when hot, polylactide gets bendy
Helping molecules lie
Tucked in side by side
Can make bio-based cups coffee-friendly

1st Runner up (CSCT) – Jasmine Lightfoot
If we could use sugar and CO2
To make plastics from things we grew
We could develop the tools
To avoid fossil fuels
Planet Earth might just pull through

2nd Runner up (CSCT) – Andrew Hall
For reaction kinetics to know
Then to flow you surely must go
For in-situ reactions
Despite their attractions
May cause your results to plateau

1st prize (External): Theo Sanderson (Sanger Institute)
There one was a bug called malaria
There couldn't be many things scarier
We've sequenced its genes,
But what do they mean?
Well, that is my general area.

1st Runner up (External): Tom Smith, Centre for Digital Entertainment, University of Bath
Game level design is an art
And the software we use could be smart
If with AI and rules
We can build clever tools
That handle the tedious part

2nd Runner up (External): Shannon Leone Fowler
If sea lion mothers must forage
At depths that their babies can't manage
Pups diving alone
Where fishermen roam
Risk being collateral damage


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Vicky Just
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