Speech by Reuben College’s Vice President, Professor Esther Becker Freshers’ Dinner, 5th October 2022, on ‘Dining with Dinosaurs’

There are many things that make Reuben College special as you will discover during your time here, but one of the unique things about Reuben College is its academic enrichment programme that I would like to say a few words about.

Once a week, usually on a Thursday evening we (that is students, fellows, staff and guests) come together in the beautiful surroundings of the Natural History Museum. The evening usually starts with a seminar by one or more of our fellows or a guest speaker, who will talk about an exciting and timely topic, followed by a discussion between students and academics, first in the lecture hall and then continued over dinner. These events that are colloquially known as “Dining with Dinosaurs” are really special and as a result, have become extremely popular.  Lionel usually refers to them as “the hottest ticket in town”.

Just to tell you a little bit more about Dining with Dinosaurs…

The topics of the seminars span the breadth of interests and research areas at Reuben and they are organised by our four academic themes with input from our students, so Cellular Life, AI and ML, Environmental Change, and Ethics and Values, and also with our colleagues from the museums and the innovation fellows and PER fellows.

Importantly, the seminars are aimed at the entire College community and they are accessible to everybody, so you will hear really fascinating talks outside of your focus areas and I strongly encourage you to attend as many seminars as you can. Some of the most interesting events I attended last year were completely outside of my own research area, but have been extremely inspiring.

You will see on the term card that we have a really exciting programme lined up ranging from looking at ivory to explore how museum objects can inspire us to think about sustainable futures, human stem cells and brain organoids (a topic linked to my own research), 21st century geopolitics and tech challenges. To kick things off next week, we will have an evening about arts meets science. Also, one of the highlights is always the student takeover night, where our own students will be discussing their ongoing projects.

Importantly, we don’t stop thinking about these topics in the lecture hall, but we continue our discussions at the tables over dinner, where everybody is encouraged to participate and everybody’s views are welcome. Every table will then select a rapporteur to summarise their discussions and share them with the rest of the audience. And we will have different rapporteurs each week so that everybody will get the chance to speak.

I wanted to finish with a quote from one of our students last year, who commented on the remarkable tolerance they encountered when expressing controversial views and also how the discussion helped them to understand the views of others and reflect upon their own thoughts. The student further mentioned:

I can certainly testify that such discussions only served to bolster our friendships. It was this robust dialogue that made Dining with Dinosaurs so entertaining and constructive; constructive both of intellectual thought and of the close-knit community which has characterised Reuben College.”

This perfectly sums up the spirit of our seminar series and our College community.  I will end here and hope I have inspired you to engage with our Dining with Dinosaur evenings, and I hope to see and get to know many of you over the coming academic year.