Dr. Nathalie Pettorelli is a research fellow at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, where she carries out research on assessing and predicting the impacts of global environmental change on biodiversity and ecosystem services. She has authored / co-authored over a hundred scientific publications and she’s currently working on her third book. In 2011 she set up Soapbox Science alongside Dr. Seirian Sumner as an annual public science communication event with a difference; they are currently overseeing preparations for the fifth series.
“It’s simply not fun to sit in rooms increasingly dominated by men as you get older, while losing female friends you made when you started your career… I was keen to help tackle the gender issue so commonly found in STEM fields, and help promote the cool work that women do all over the UK…”
Nathalie, please can you tell us about your career to date and what drew you into science, and your current field in particular?
I specialised in ecology while studying in France; after my Ph.D., I moved to Norway and then Canada to take on various post-doc positions. In 2006, I started at the Institute of Zoology and stayed there ever since!
What drew me into science is what teachers should tell kids about working in STEM: cool travel plans; no routine; collaborative spirit; independence; freedom to pursue whatever mystery you identify.
What drew me into ecology and conservation biology is a marvel for the world, with all its inhabitants – I do love diversity, in people, in languages, in cultures, in plants and animals. I am fascinated by how these co-exist and can continue to co-exist – so conservation biology was the logical choice for me.
How did you meet Seirian and what gave you the idea to work together to create the concept for Soapbox Science?
Seirian was a research fellow at the Institute of Zoology when I moved there from Canada. We both received the L’Oréal For Women In Science fellowship, and were both interested to do something about the lack of women in science.
It’s simply not fun to sit in rooms increasingly dominated by men as you get older, while losing female friends you made when you started your career. Seirian has always been passionate about science communication, and was keen to build on this interest; I was keen to help tackle the gender issue so commonly found in STEM fields, and help promote the cool work that women do all over the UK. The convergence of our interests led to Soapbox Science.
How did you set about organising the first event?
Our first event was quite an adventure. We convinced L’Oréal, who is the main funder behind the For Women in Science fellowship, to sponsor our Soapbox Science idea. This help meant we were able to secure a spot on the South Bank, a location we still use five years later.
We then contacted the women in science we knew, as well as some who clearly indicated an interest in the women in science issue through their association with the For Women in Science Program, and asked them to stand on our soapbox. We got lucky, they said “yes”; we even got the sun out that day!
What resources and support did you have access to?
We received support from both L’Oreal and the Zoological Society of London. L’Oreal helped with the direct running costs, while the Zoological Society of London helped with staff time, logistical support and dissemination / advertisement. At the end of last year we added STFC [The Science and Technology Facilities Council] as a main sponsor to Soapbox Science.
What are your plans for the 2015 series of events?
We have seven events running in 2015, in London, Bristol, Belfast, Exeter, Newcastle, Swansea and Glasgow. Our season will kick off in London, on Saturday the 30th of May, 2-5pm, South Bank. This year, we thus hope to showcase over 90 women working in STEM. This year is an important one for us, as this is our fifth anniversary and as this is the first time that we reach Scotland and Northern Ireland. You can find all the details for these events on our website. Information will also be available through our twitter account, @SoapboxScience.
How do the speakers feel after they have taken part?
It’s interesting to see how speakers generally start as being very nervous, and then can’t leave the soapbox at the end of their time! Response has always been positive, and we generally receive good feedback at the end of the season.
Taking part not only means that you have a chance to interact in a fun and non-intimidating way with the public, but you also get to meet other women in similar situations as yours. This makes the whole experience feel fun, social and hopefully agreeable.
Why is it so important to champion women in science?
We currently live in a world in which applications of female students are less likely to be perceived as competent and hireable as male students’ ones; in which female scientists earn less, are less likely to be listed as either first or last author on a paper, are less likely to review and write comments on papers published by prestigious journals, and are less likely to be asked to join editorial boards; a world in which female scientists’ achievements are altogether less likely to be celebrated. Given all of this, don’t you think women in science need a bit of championing?!
How can our readers get involved?
Come to our events! They are fun, and our speakers would love to see you there. If you are interested in our initiative, you can also visit our website and follow us on Twitter. And then if you feel like writing a post for us on anything relevant to women in science, just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – we always welcome new contributions!