The Kapitsa Club

PlaceboSarah recently made a big post about The Fear of presenting or giving talks to people – anyone. It’s an interesting subject and there’s a whole load of advice (by words count, about 50% of which is from me) on the subject.

Paul Stevenson (of the excellent Blog of the Isotopes) made the comment that he often feels like he has Impostor Syndrome (difficulty internalising successes), and this raised an interesting thing as I feel some sympathy with that*. Many people seem to have some kind of apprehension of presenting. One can’t help but wonder whether more frequent practice (or at least same in front of a guaranteed friendly audience) might remove some of the potential pain.

Into the conversation now comes an interesting subject I’ve been mulling over for a while. In the biography The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo, I first encountered the idea of The Kapitsa Club. In a nutshell, The Kapitsa Club was there to break down barriers between younger Physics students and their elders. This was achieved by forcing as much interaction as possible in a friendly environment.

The club worked particularly well because membership was very strictly limited; the talks were engaging and fun, and membership was the only way one could gain access to them. Furthermore, one had to give a talk before one was eligible to become a member! This apparently created an atmosphere of both fun and motivated effort, which drove the casual society.

I really like this idea – it’s resonated with me for quite a while, but I’ve previously not been in a position where I would feel confident even suggesting such a thing, as it would require some kind of unique insight or knowledge. Luckily, since then I’ve been on placement and have become the seemingly space-brained Master’s student which baffled me so in my first few years at University. Now I feel more confident talking about such a thing – what shall I do about it?

Well, here’s my pitch. I want to form a Kapitsa Club. I want the Kapitsa Club to be a way of encouraging social engagement and fun to be associated with Physics and presenting. For me, the compelling aspect of the Kapitsa Club is that the members themselves drive both the social aspect and the scientific content – it sounds like a perfect opportunity to get people practising presentation with a friendly audience.

I think that a modern version of The Kapitsa Club has three core values:

  1. To remove barriers to casual discourse between older and younger members of the Physics community
  2. To provide a friendly atmosphere to which members can practice and develop their presentation skills should they wish to
  3. To promote the understanding of the work other people do and why they are interested and enthusiastic about it
  4. To promote the fun and engagement that science can bring – it’s not just the public that needs reminding just how cool some of our every-day work can be.

For this to be achieved, it’s important for the club to be self-motivating, as I mentioned earlier. I think an important part of that is the limited membership statement (also from earlier). Hence:

  • The club should meet regularly (on a monthly or 2-weekly basis) and discuss a small number (1 or 2) of short talks (10-15 minutes).
  • The club should have a maximum membership number which is exactly the size of the yearly number of talks.
  • Membership gives the right to attend the presentations and take part in the discussions.
  • Membership eligibility is earned by giving a presentation to the current membership.

Of course this brings about a problem, observed well by a friend of mine:

but then the first person would have to do a presentation to themself, and the second would just be doing it to the first person…

An interesting point that must be addressed. Setting up such a club would require some exceptions. First, let’s return to the Wikipedia article: “Members met in college rooms and Kapitza frequently opened discussions with deliberate howlers so that even the youngest would speak up to correct him, loosening the grip of tradition on their necks.” So here’s a thing; it would be good to have a host – someone to put the audience at their leisure. Hence, perhaps a steering body;

  • Chief Kapitsa (we need a better name) will be elected by the members each year whose job is to both kick off the new year with a presentation, but whose job in each meeting is to introduce and mediate discussions.
  •  Honorary Members can be named in special cases; either to promote the Club, or to initiate membership population. Honorary Members need not give a talk before their membership commences (although they are still required to give one during their tenure). Otherwise, they are identical to normal members.
  • Guests can be brought by members in the event that the maximum number of members cannot be met for a meeting.
  • Guests could also be brought for promotional purposes for the Club.

Perhaps with the above provisos, there exists a way that we could create our own Kapitsa Club. It could be fun – all we need is volunteers. Any takers?

Oh, and also the Kapitsa Club had “hearty meals”. I propose doughnuts.

* – I wouldn’t say I have entirely the same situation, but then I haven’t actually had any major successes yet so my sample size is too small for a reliable conclusion.
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About stoove

A physicist, researcher, and gamesman. Likes to think about the mathematics and mechanics behind all sorts of different things, and writing up the thoughts for you to read. A competent programmer, enjoys public speaking and mechanical keyboards. Has opinions which might even change from time to time.
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3 Responses to The Kapitsa Club

  1. unceasingtoe says:

    ME! ^-^

    Also, your statement of the principles makes this next comment obligatory;

    “First rule of Kapitsa Club…”

  2. placebosarah says:

    This is pretty interesting as an idea… You’d need plenty of keen people though. I’d like to see how it develops 🙂

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