Nerd Nite is like ‘The Discovery Channel With Beer’
For the last decade, a group of self-proclaimed “nerds” has been gathering in and around Boston at various bars to tackle topics like biology, the merits of intellectual property, and the most popular methods of birth control.
Known as “Nerd Nite,” the monthly get-together first kicked off at the Midway Café in Jamaica Plain in 2003, and has since grown into an international concept that puts people interested in absorbing new information in the same room for a series of lectures and in-depth discussions with industry professionals. “When this first started out, it was sort of focused on biology, but more recently we have been doing a lot of social science talks. It’s interesting to see what people are into … and there are a whole bunch of neat [discussions] in the works,” says Tim Sullivan, host and “co-boss” of Boston’s group.
Described as “the Discovery Channel with beer,” the nerds “gather, drink, and listen to presentations on subjects that are ostensibly of great interest to nerds everywhere,” according to the group’s website. Sullivan says their latest gathering, on March 25, brought in experts from two different fields to speak with close to 100 attendees.
Claudia Kilbourne Lux, a sexuality educator and reproductive health activist, was one of the featured lecturers who took on the taboo topic of adult sexual education with a group of strangers huddled together at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, the group’s current home base.
Prior to the event, titled “Honest Sex Ed for Grown Ups,” organizers anticipated attendees would hold back while discussing sexual topics, but the atmosphere was comfortable and interactive. “Our presenters have been fantastic. They have been passionate about trying to get something out there and speak publicly as best they can,” says Sullivan. “We were worried people wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about [sex], so we had this grand scheme with an anonymous question box, but nobody was worried about it in the end.”
With no exclusive membership, newcomers are welcome to pop in and join the monthly conversations, which run the gamut depending on the volunteers willing to lend their expertise for the evening, alongside what a past presenter called “information addicts.”
“People come to them because they want to hear more about things they don’t study in their daily lives,” says Mary Lewey, one of the group’s head organizers and the brains behind the group’s social media content. “And to let people talk about what they enjoy doing, in front of a bunch of people drinking beer, it’s probably a big weight off their shoulders.” In April, Lewey is bringing in several professionals with a background in design to discuss their experience in the field, and to teach the crowd about design concepts in modern society. The 20-minute talk will be coupled with a look at the 3D printing industry.
While Sullivan admits that the crowd is “largely academic” and “there are probably more Ph.D.’s than otherwise,” those interested shouldn’t be shy about joining the ranks of the nerds. “You don’t have to be an academic—you just have to be curious,” he says.