Alice Gray is a neuroscience graduate from Cardiff University, who since graduating has been committed to the cause of improving the representation of women in science and scientific engagement. She runs the Mind-ful blog, which discusses a variety of topics surrounding the issues that face women in science, and is currently developing these discussions into a book, Women in White Coats. Alice volunteered for Soapbox Science Swansea, allowing her to merge her interests in scientific engagement and increasing the profile of female scientists.
“…Currently, 70% of the population still associate being a scientist with being male…”
Showcasing top female scientists
Soapbox Science is a grass-roots approach to taking science public, the scheme showcases the talent of the top female scientists in the UK and their research. It is an annual public communication project that utilises public spaces to create an arena for debate, allowing participation in current science research in an approachable and interactive format.
The Soapbox Science Swansea event held on the 5th of July was the fourth part of the Soapbox Science 2014 series, which had previously visited Bristol, Dublin and London’s Southbank. Joining forces with Swansea University, the Soapbox Science team transformed Swansea bay into a space for science learning led by some of Wales’ leading female scientists, who raised a variety of pieces of current research from a plethora of research areas.
Tangible insight into women scientists
The event aimed to not only engaged the public with science and actively encourage participation with current scientific research, but to raise the profile of female scientists in the public eye. Currently, 70% of the population still associate being a scientist with being male. Thus, by giving such accessibility to the research of female scientists in the UK, Soapbox Science Swansea provided a unique opportunity to both give the public a tangible insight into science research in Wales and to combat the negative light cast on female scientists.
Soapbox Science Swansea 2014 was held in Swansea Bay, converting the seafront into a hub for scientific engagement. Some of Wales’ leading scientists got onto their soapboxes surrounded by the idyllic scenery and discussed a plethora of scientific topics and research.
They drew in people in with their intriguing props and activities, achieving their goal to encourage active participation in science, with the audiences asking questions and chatting with the scientists throughout the event. The speakers covered a wide range of interesting topics, including:
Professor Julie Williams, Professor & Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales from Cardiff University: “What can genes tell us about dementia?”
Professor Siwan Davies from Swansea University: “Explosive, unpredictable, microscopic but powerful: how tiny pieces of volcanic ash can help us to understand the climate of the past.”
Dr. Geertje Van Keulen, Associate professor from Swansea University: “Microbes are shaping life on Earth as we know it now – from good to bad bacteria and back again.”
Leah Johnstone, a Ph.D. student from Bangor University: “Everybody knows a left-hander…nobody knows why they’re left-handed.”
Dr. Yamni Nigam, Associate Professor at Swansea University: “There’s a maggot in my wound!”
Relaxed approach to scientific engagement
The speakers and the event were really inspirational; the relaxed approached to scientific engagement allowed the public to approach science by themselves, providing a less formal and intimidating format.
Inspirational female researchers
I felt honoured to not only work closely with some of the leading scientists within Wales, but with such inspirational female researchers, who through their efforts are actively contributing towards a cause I feel incredibly strongly about.
The approachable nature of the event meant that the crowds warmed to the potentially intimidating content quickly, and were eager to ask questions and challenge the speakers, showing their interest. It was really encouraging that families were enjoying the event together, even with small children, giving them an opportunity to form a bond with science and connect with science alongside their parents.
Transforming public spaces into places to learn about science
Soapbox Science is beginning to expand in its transforming public spaces into those of science learning all over the UK, providing more women in science the opportunity to get on their soapbox and discuss their research. Hopefully, the event and its messages will spread, increasing both the participation with science and the profile of female scientists.
Looking around the event, you could see that it left an excellent impression on the audiences of the day, and it definitely made one on me as a volunteer too. It certainly has introduced a new format of science communication to me, one that works alongside the audience to lead the discussion.