By Hannah Somers, University of Nottingham
I volunteered to take part in Soapbox Science for two reasons; firstly I think public engagement with science is key to moving research forward and applying discoveries to the real world. The more people understand, the more likely they are to accept, and even welcome changes and developments in healthcare and environmentalism. Secondly, as a female PhD student I see the problems women currently face whilst maintaining academic careers and finding their way to being top class researchers. I think that the STEM fields need more female role models and trailblazers who can change the stereotype of scientists from “old male professor”, to “anyone”. Soapbox Science is a great way to show the public that women do exist in scientific communities, and that they are excelling in their fields.
The glorious weather on Saturday, 27th June, helped us engage a lot of people out enjoying the sunshine. Over the course of three hours, many came to investigate Soapbox Science (we even broke a record!) and listen to female scientists talk about the research being carried out all over the country.
From understanding the physics of everyday things, to the wondrous world of soil and its ecosystems or what is a fish detective visitors were encouraged to take part in demonstrations and ask questions of the experts on their soapboxes. Despite the many other events going on around us, the scientists held their own, standing out to huge numbers of people and encouraging everyone to get involved.
One speaker was told by a visitor that “my daughter saw a female scientist for the first time at your event”. This experience will hopefully encourage this girl to pursue any career of her choice, and shows the importance of Soapbox Science events. We need to show the world that women are working hard in STEM and that these subjects can be pursued by anyone, regardless of gender.
I had a brilliant time volunteering with the Soapboxers. I was fortunate enough to be assisting Jasmine Black (a Dr once her corrections are complete!), learning about soil composition and the importance of sustainable farming in continual crop growth. As a molecular microbiologist, this work was new to me, but it was great to see Jasmine’s passion for her subject and how she shared that passion with the public.
Every speaker gave accessible, exciting talks and left people enthused and informed, completely fulfilling the aim of the day. Personally I got to see some incredible women at work, encouraging the next generation of female STEM researchers – very much outreach in action!
You might wonder why I specifically volunteered to join Soapbox Science in Newcastle. Firstly, it was one of the closest events to me and I really wanted to get involved with the project. Secondly, I did my undergraduate degree at Newcastle University, studying Medical Microbiology with Immunology. It is my favourite city, I think the people are the friendliest in the UK and I am always excited to travel back! The way many of them join in our Soapbox Science event shows that I was right, everyone was really friendly! I’m glad I took part and I’m sure I’ll take part in the future. Hope I’ve inspired you to join in as well!
Well done Hannah and some very pertinent comments. Sorry I was not able to meet up with you in person as I was on my way back from a meeting in Italy.