How did I end up becoming a Soapbox Science organizer? Natalie’s story


Natalie Cooper is an Assistant Prof  in Zoology at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

She is the organizer of Soapbox Science Ireland, which will take place for the first time this Saturday 26th April, 12 noon til 3pm, in Trinity College Dublin’s Front Square.

You can follow Natalie on Twitter, at @nhcooper123



Excitement is in the air as we prepare for the inaugural SoapBox Science Ireland next Saturday 26th April from 12 noon – 3pm. We have 12 inspirational speakers who are all preparing to wow passersby with intriguing stories, mad props and amazing science! My inbox is full of emails about mummified bats, witches capes, Dracula costumes, and liquid nitrogen. But before I go back to the madness of all the arrangements I thought I’d share with you my reasons for bringing this event to Ireland.

I didn’t really get involved in “Women in Science” activities until I joined Twitter in 2012. I began reading blog posts and research articles about the problems facing women in science. The more I read, the more concerned I got. My eyes had been opened to a whole new world, but it wasn’t a nice world at all. I thought back to my PhD years where, although everyone was extremely supportive, there were very few female role models at all and even fewer who had balanced academia with family life. In my first postdoc I was the only woman in a lab of eight people, something which now seems a little odd. I thought about my science role models and realized they were all male. I looked over my publications and realized that I hardly ever publish with other women. I thought about the confidence of many of the men I know and compared it to the crippling imposter syndrome suffered by many of the women. All of this made me quite depressed, and it only got worse when I realised that the media portrayal of women was an even worse problem than the issues faced in academia.

All of this led me to make a New Year’s Resolution at the start of 2013 to be more of a feminist! Amusingly it’s probably the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept, and it’s probably been quite annoying for my friends, family and colleagues who would say I was already too much of a feminist beforehand (I had a huge argument with my mum at Christmas over the sexualisation of Disney princesses)! At times it’s been depressing, but it’s also been empowering to actually try and tackle some of these issues. I’m on a Gender Equality committee at Trinity College Dublin as part of the FP7 funded INTEGER project, and we’ve made great progress over the last year. I organise our Evolutionary Biology & Ecology seminar series where we had 50% female speakers this year for the first time ever. I’ve also organized a symposium at Evolution 2014 and made a great effort to get 50% female speakers even though the topic is in an extremely male-biased field. But the event I’m most excited about is SoapBox Science Ireland!

I’ve known Nathalie and Seirian since they were inspirational female research fellows at the Institute of Zoology and I was just a lowly PhD student! A number of my acquaintances were involved with the first SoapBox Science in London so I’ve been aware of it’s existence since the start and always thought it seemed like a great idea, and lots of fun, even before my feminist revolution! When they asked me if I’d be interested in bringing the event to Dublin I jumped at the chance. Ireland has so many incredible female scientists, and also so many passionate science communicators. For me the most amazing part of this whole experience has been meeting the speakers and our wonderful volunteers. Everyone shares a common enthusiasm for science, but also the understanding that if we don’t communicate our science to the public, and explain to them that science is not just for white-haired men in labcoats, then we have failed. I want people to come along to the event and be inspired by the science and the enthusiasm of our speakers. But I particularly hope we can inspire young women to take up science subjects and to not think of science as something only men can succeed at. If we can change even a few people’s perceptions about what science, or a scientist, is then we’ve won.


So just a final reminder: SoapBox Science Ireland is Saturday 26th April, 12 noon til 3pm, in Trinity College Dublin’s Front Square, and is FREE to attend! I hope to see some of you there! It’s going to be great fun! Our speakers are:

  • Professor in Genetics, Aoife McLysaght, Trinity College Dublin (“Evolutionary insights into how genes work”)
  • Professor of Zoology, Yvonne Buckley, Trinity College Dublin (“Lights, fertiliser, herbivores, action!”)
  • Assistant Professor in Geography, Dr Mary Bourke, Trinity College Dublin (“Snows and flows on Mars”)
  • Associate Professor in Pharmacognosy, Dr Helen Sheridan, Trinity College Dublin (“Nature’s pharmacy: therapeutic gifts from flowers, fungi, frogs and ferns”)
  • Research Fellow in Chemistry and CRANN, Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, Trinity College Dublin (“The little things matter”)
  • Ussher Assistant Professor in Microbiology, Dr Kim Roberts, Trinity College Dublin (“What’s the big deal about bird flu?”)
  • Associate Professor in Biology, Emma Teeling, School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin (“Batty ideas?”) 
  • Lecturer in Veterinary Science, Dr Erin Williams, School of Veterinary Medicine,  University College Dublin (“Healthy milk from happy cows”)
  • Lecturer in Biology, Dr Fiona Walsh, Department of Biology, NUI Maynooth  (“Antibiotic resistance hunting in the bacteria jungle”)
  • Senior Research Fellow, Dr Geetha Srinivasan, School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Queens University Belfast (“Ionic liquid – liquid salts”)
  • PhD Candidate, Karen McCarthy, Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork (“Microcompartments – Mini Factories for us!”)
  • Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr Lorna Lopez, Department of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (“Clues to understanding your brain”)

We would like to thank the Trinity Equality Fund and WiSER (Women in Science Engineering Research) for providing the funding for this event. I would also like to thank our speakers and volunteers for giving up their time!

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