First Virtual Pizza Talk Attracts an International Crowd—Even Without Free Pizza

The first virtual Pizza Talk was held April 15 and attended by an audience of 79 who enjoyed “Methone—The Movie,” introduced by John Papadopoulos, professor in the Department of Classics and a core faculty member of the Cotsen Institute. The movie was filmed at the site of Methone in northern Greece and explained the history of the archaeological work in the area.

Guests were welcomed to the Zoom meeting by Deidre Whitmore, manager of the Digital Archaeology Laboratory, who explained that all participants other than the presenters would be muted until after the movie, when questions would be taken by those indicating with the “raised hand” icon that they had a comment or a query. During this Q&A session, participants had the option of activating their video or being identified only by their alias. Whitmore was followed by Baisakhi Sengupta, representing the graduate students responsible for the Pizza Talks this Spring quarter.

Historically, the Pizza Talks include pizza and soft drinks while featuring presenters from UCLA and nearby campuses, who address a gathering in Room A222, the seminar room of the Cotsen Institute, each Wednesday at noon. The disadvantage of remote presentations may be the lack of free pizza, but the advantage is that both speakers and the audience can now participate from anywhere in the world, only hampered by time differences and not by Los Angeles traffic or finding parking on campus. The first event had a number of international participants.

Every quarter, two second-year graduate students from the Graduate Student Association of Archaeology, an affiliate of the Cotsen Institute, start planning the Pizza Talks about six months in advance. Sangupta and Maryan Ragheb were the organizers this year. The Graduate Student Association includes students from both the Archaeology and the Conservation interdepartmental degree programs within the Cotsen Institute, as well as from other departments such as Anthropology, Art History, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.

In a conversation with Sengupta and Ragheb they explained that although the process involves a lot of work, it provides them with the opportunity to meet many people in their field and thus create a relevant personal network. They start out with the list of scholars that was compiled by students who previously organized the talks and get input from professors affiliated with the Cotsen Institute. At the same time they do their own research, primarily of relatively nearby universities, to find scholars with relevant research interests. If a potential speaker accepts their invitation, the speaker gets to choose the topic on which he or she will talk. Several weeks ahead of the talk, the organizers solicit an abstract and an image to use for promotion. Originally there was a full complement of Pizza Talks planned for this quarter, but the closure of the campus because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the transition of the Pizza Talks to a remote format resulted in a shorter schedule.

A schedule of the upcoming Pizza Talks, which will all be recorded, is available here.

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Published on April 20, 2020.