Erika Degani is a PhD student at the University of Reading. Her research combines agriculture and ecology which is ideal as she’s equally passionate about both. She has been involved in a wide range of science outreach activities and is a firm believer that science should be accessible to everyone.
Catch Erika on her soapbox in Reading where she will be talking about “Food security: How can biodiversity help?”.
SS: Erika, how did you get to your current position?
ED: In my early 30’s I decided to change my career and did a part-time degree in Environmental Science while still working full-time. I had the opportunity to do my dissertation based on a research farm and got a real taste for research. Once I finished my degree I was lucky enough to be funded to do a MSc so I could quit my job. It led to a few local and international internships and by then, I knew I wanted to be a researcher. While on an internship abroad, I came across my PhD project which combined both my passions of food security and ecology. I applied for it, got offered the position and never looked back!
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
ED: It is hard to narrow it down. Many people, many events, but above all, science answers important questions and solves problems. Who is not inspired by that?
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
ED: On a general level, the fact that every day is different and that I have to be creative and come up with ways of answering the questions my research focuses on. On a more specific level, I love the idea that I’m studying crop rotations which is a concept that is thousands of years old. It’s great to be able to recover precious knowledge from the past and re-use it in a much more innovative and informed way.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
ED: It’s a great opportunity to be part of something bigger for the greater good and to showcase my work. Science should be accessible to everyone. I believe public opinion has a great impact on the decision making process so we need to make sure the general public is well informed. Soapbox science is a great platform for science communication as it doesn’t necessarily preach to the converted. The fact that it might inspire young women to continue closing the gender gap in science is the icing on the cake.
SS: Sum up your expectations for the day
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
ED: The “publish or perish” culture. There are other ways to measure people’s impact and progress and putting young researchers under so much pressure to publish is possibly detrimental in the long run. Besides it prevents risk-taking and researchers end up asking safe questions which can be answered relatively fast to guarantee they will get published. If we look at the history of great innovations and ideas, they were preceded by failures. Original thinkers have a lot of bad ideas before they have a breakthrough. If scientists are not allowed to fail, they will stop taking risks, which is a great shame in my opinion.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
ED: I’m lucky enough to work in a female friendly and gender balanced environment so I’m grateful to my predecessors who have made great progress in closing the scientific gender gap. So I’d probably say to any new comers: lets keep the trend going!