A Paleontologist, A Former Writer And Some Nerds Walk Into A Bar. This Is Profs And Pints. | KERA News

A Paleontologist, A Former Writer And Some Nerds Walk Into A Bar. This Is Profs And Pints.

Nov 12, 2019

It’s 6:30 on a Tuesday night. Local brews, some cocktails, wine and food are filling tables at the Cambria hotel that looks out on Dallas’ still busy Elm Street. It’s lecture time. 

A budding business mixing spirits and scholars has come to Dallas. Profs and Pints is taking the traditional college class out of the lecture hall and into a bar. 

“Hello everybody, welcome to profs and pints… Thank you for coming out tonight,” says Peter Schmidt, who created Profs and Pints. His crowd of self-described geeks and nerds are especially into tonight’s topic – mosasaurs – giant sea creatures that swam around North Texas 72 million years ago.

“Mosasaurs are actually one of my favorites,” said Shea Legters.

That’s why she paid the $12 fee for the event.

“So,” she continued, “any chance to speak with someone who has studied paleontology and anything like that, you don’t get to run into those kinds of people every day.”

The professor in charge is paleontologist Louis Jacobs, with Southern Methodist University. The world-class mosasaur expert has uncovered fossils from Angola to Mongolia, and here in North Texas. Jacobs was pleased he drew dozens of fossil fanatics to the bar.

SMU professor Louis Jacobs presents his talk on mosasaurs to an eager crowd at a downtown Dallas bar.
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

“I’m very grateful for being here. I think it’s a very clever idea,” Jacobs told the crowd.

That clever idea was launched in 2017. Peter Schmidt had just been laid off from his 21- year job writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, and wondered what next? 

“And I had the insight,” Schmidt said, “what if we went back to, literally, a Socratic model, where people gathered around the scholar as they gathered around Socrates, and paid a few bucks to hear what they had to say.”

Schmidt figured he had a supply of scholars. There are stars like Jacobs, but also struggling untenured, adjunct professors, some on food stamps. Next, Schmidt needed to find an audience. In his hometown of Washington D.C., the Profs and Pints inaugural lecture was called Science Fiction and Washington. That was two years ago. Earlier this year, a lecture on Alexander Hamilton – capitalizing off of the Broadway blockbuster – launched Profs and Pints’ national talks. Schmidt said some events have drawn 200 people.

“You know there are a lot of people out there who have interests who don’t necessarily wear their intelligence like a badge,” Schmidt said.

Back at the bar, Diane Tran just wears a hat with dozens of dinosaur pins on it.

“This is a baryonyx, there’s the mosasaur which is what this presentation is about,” Trans said. “This is my favorite dinosaur which is the micro-raptor. That’s an ankylosaur, brachiosaurus, that’s a dunkleos, ceratosaurus… we have a stegosaurus here, velociraptor…”

Tran said she’s loved paleontology for decades, and was so excited about the lecture that she brought some friends. She said they liked it, and so did she.

“I thought it was great,” Tran said. “Learned some things I didn’t know. This is much more intimate and I enjoyed it.”

Tran, like many at the event, heard about it on Facebook. Schmidt said the success of Profs and Pints will depend in part on the affordable advertising available through social media. In this case, he used words like dinosaur and paleontology, while targeting users within 10 miles of Dallas.

“I’m trolling through waters where I know I’ll find the fish I’m trying to catch,” Schmidt said.

That night’s catch? About 40 people. Not bad, said Schmidt, for his second Profs and Pints presentation in Dallas. It covered his cost for the professor, but he says he’s got more work to do to keep this venture from going the way of the mosasaurs.

Note: After the story aired, KERA received a comment citing a source in the story who called mosasaurs dinosaurs. Mosasaurs in fact are not dinosaurs. So we queried Professor Jacobs for more details. He emailed this:

“Mosasaurs are not dinosaurs.  They have a similar relationship to lizards as birds have to the classic dinosaurs.  Birds are highly evolved dinosaurs and mosasaurs are highly evolved lizards.  Lizards are not dinosaurs and neither are mosasaurs.  Dinosaurs are not mosasaurs and neither are birds.  Dinosaurs and lizards have been distinct from each other for a very long time.  Their common evolutionary ancestor goes way back. "

Our copy and audio have been corrected.