Last weekend I attended my second Soapbox Science event of the summer in Newcastle.
The aim of Soapbox Science is to engage people with scientific research and promote the visibility of female scientists. It was interesting to attend this event in the aftermath of Nobel prize winner Tim Hunts misjudged comments about women in science, which sparked the ‘distractingly sexy’ trend on twitter. Many members of the public asked if this event was in response to his comments, though we explained the event had been planned well before the media storm.
We had some fantastic female scientists standing on soapboxes explaining aspects of their research. The range of science portrayed was vast, we had the topic such as the importance of gut bacteria to the composition of meteorites explained and much more.
The speaker I helped was Dr Cathleen Thomas from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust http://www.nwt.org.uk/
She was speaking about species invasion (think grey squirrels out-competing our traditional red squirrel) and why it’s important to preserve native ecosystems. This topic allowed for some fantastic props, there was: a paddling pool with a selection of plastic pond life, a bubble machine, a giant ladybird and some stuffed squirrels. If that doesn’t draw a crowd I’m not sure what would! It was lovely to see how fascinated children were about the natural world and Cathleen successfully managed the challenge of engaging and educating both the children and their parents.
It was interesting to contrast the Newcastle event with my London experience of Soapbox Science. Both events were very busy and successful (19,000 people engaged in Newcastle) and both happened on lovely sunny days. The differences came in the form of each individual speaker, they were all talented scientific communicators but with varying styles. I really enjoyed observing this aspect, for example, some people had engaging scripts and particular points for audience participation and others opted for a more audience led dialogue, which can work well with an engaged group. It gave me an education in how to enhance my science communication skills and got me feeling creative about participating in future outreach events.
I would really encourage scientists of both sexes to get involved and volunteer next year. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to communicate your science effectively and allows you to network with other scientists who are all passionate about raising women’s presence in STEM. It’s a long day of standing but it’s fun and in Newcastle’s case there was free wine and hot dogs at the end of the day!