Bringing SoapBox Science to sunny Palermo

Hi! I’m Cristina, one of the local organisers of the upcoming Soapbox Science event in Palermo. I’m a marine ecologist interested in the study of community patterns induced by disturbances (including environmental and human driven changes) and the effects on seabed biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. I completed my PhD in 2014, studying the effects of fishery disturbance on benthic communities. I then moved to the University of Palermo’s Experimental Ecology Laboratory as a postdoc in the framework of a regional research project at the Italian Research Centre (IAMC-CNR). Here I have lead a systematic review process to produce an inventory of regional (Sicilian) biodiversity conservation which is among the most common spatial management measures of protection (now extended to a global scale). During both my PhD and postdoc, I’ve spent long periods of time in the United Kingdom learning new techniques which can be applied to a Mediterranean context. Recently I’ve started to explore the role of species interactions in the marine ecosystem; invasive species monitoring and the study of ecology of invasion; the study of multiple stressors on marine habitats; climate change effects on marine resources management; and models for sustainable exploitation of marine resources.

Working at sea, in close contact with fishermen, I’ve started to realize how hard it can be to be a woman in a “sea of males”. Stereotypes mean that you are expected to prove that you can be strong enough to do everything: that you can help with fish discards; that you are not scared about being sea sick; that you can go weeks without a mirror and manicure; that you can cope with being covered in mud all day, not to mention fish scales, blood and sea salt; that you are loving your work, needing it, dreaming about it and missing it.

As a woman and marine ecologist, in a world of lab coats and waxed jackets, spending hours both at sea and in front of a screen waiting for a good result, I often think that if you learn something you must communicate it; your good experience can inspire someone in the future. Last summer, after a long night’s work, I found a little violet woman (the Soapbox Science logo) in a newsletter and started to research this big community who hold the same beliefs as I do: explain your science to the public and highlight the role of women in science.

On the Soapbox Science website I read the story of wonderful women researchers, engaging people on the streets to communicate the joy of working in science. There was lots of good scientific content, colours and happiness… I was so inspired!

I went to sleep very excited, thinking “We must bring Soapbox Science to Italy- to Sicily!”

I’m a very enthusiastic person and a little hardheaded.  If I have an idea I can talk about it for hours. Travelling back to the laboratory after a long sampling day with my supervisor, Prof. Gianluca Sarà, I told him about Soapbox and he suddenly said “YES”. We started to imagine how the event would work and planning how to involve the University. Even though men are more numerous than women in STEM fields, this is a problem that affects everyone who values the work that female researchers do and we have had great support from people such as Prof. Gianluca Sarà. That same evening I wrote to Nathalie and Seirian, at Soapbox Science.

And now here we are! Rector Prof. Fabrizio Micari at the University of Palermo has offered us complete support. The Scientific Council of the University (coordinated by Prof Anna Maria Puglia) is also involved and they share our ideas and passion.

We are working to bring top female Sicilian scientists to the streets as soon as possible! We are so excited about the idea of engaging the public with our research and inspiring the next generation. More soon we hope!


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