Bringing Soapbox Science to Brighton: Meet Katy Petherick

Katy Petherick is part of the team from the University of Sussex who have set up Brighton’s first Soapbox Science event. Katy spent 6 years as a scientist in cancer research, investigating the cell’s recycling mechanism, autophagy. Autophagy increases in cancer cells, aiding their survival by providing new building blocks as the cells rapidly divide. In her postdoctoral position, Katy investigated options for developing treatments that stop autophagy as a way to prevent cancer cells growing.  During this time, she became increasingly involved in public engagement, and realised that she preferred explaining science more than doing it, and so made the transition in 2015 to her current role as Public Engagement Coordinator for the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your work?

KP: I really enjoy working with researchers and seeing the impact public engagement can have on the scientists, as well as the audience. It is great fun to work with scientists and break down their complex research into something that is accessible to anyone without a science background.


SS: What attracted you to set up Soapbox Science Brighton?

KP: Brighton and the local area have quite a few ‘nerdy’ events that take place, so we’ve already got an ‘interested’ audience for a lot of evening events. I like how Soapbox is different, bringing that knowledge out on to the streets, so everyone and anyone has the chance to hear a bit of science directly from the researchers. A lot of people within the University of Sussex had heard of/taken part in Soapbox Science and felt passionate about setting up a Brighton event, and so our team was formed.


SS: Tell us about the Soapbox Science Brighton team

KP: We are a range of researchers, staff and students based at the University of Sussex, who have all come together to work on this event. Two of us are Soapbox Science alumni (Kathy and Kayleigh), and their experience has been really useful in shaping our event. Everyone is bringing their own expertise to the team and I can honestly say that this is the most positive and cohesive team that I have ever worked with, at the moment anyway!

Brighton team:







L to R in photo

Dr Natalie James, Research Staff Officer, Doctoral School

Miss Kate Basley, PhD student, School of Life Sciences

Dr Beth Nicholls, Postdoctoral Researcher, School of Life Sciences

Dr Darren Baskill, Outreach Office, School of Maths and Physical Sciences

Miss Kirsty Bridger, Researcher Development Coordinator

Dr Kayleigh Wardell, Postdoctoral Researcher, Genome Damage and Stability Centre

Dr Leanne Harris, Postdoctoral Researcher, School of Life Sciences

Dr Katy Petherick, Public Engagement Coordinator, School of Life Sciences

Miss Fiona Hurd, Head of School’s Coordinator, School of Life Sciences

Not in photo

Dr Maria Clara Castellanos, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow, School of Life Sciences

Miss Katie Ptasinska, PhD student, Genome Damage and Stability Centre

Professor Kathy Romer, Professor of Astrophysics, School of Maths and Physical Sciences



SS: Were you pleased with the applications you received for your first event?

KP: We were so happy with how many applications we got; Universities in the South-East and local companies really got on board, although it made decision making all the more difficult. We received a total of 37 applications, and I believe that was the third highest for a venue in 2017, not that we’re competitive of course!


SS: How is planning going?

KP: Now that our speakers have been selected, it’s all go on the planning side. We have been very fortunate to receive such generous support from the University of Sussex, local companies and learned societies. Our sponsors are listed on our event page and we are very grateful for their backing.

We’ve been keen to keep the event as local as possible, and are pleased that a team of female makers (Cult Milk) will be building our soapboxes, and catering on the day for speakers and volunteers will be from the Real Junk Food Project Brighton. We’ll also be working with companies around the venue to make sure they feel a part of the event.


SS: Where is your event being held?

KP: We are very excited about the venue; we will be on the seafront, right next to the beach, sailing boats and the i360. It’s an area called The Deck, and gets a lot of footfall, especially in the summer, so we expect the speakers to have a decent audience come rain or shine. Brighton-folk won’t hold back on asking those controversial questions, so we’re looking forward to the discussions that take place.


SS: Why should people come down to your event on July 29th?

KP: We have a fantastic range of local speakers, from PhD student to Professor, who will be talking about a variety of topics including the latest tech innovations, climate change, black holes and drug development. You can read all about our speakers on our event page. We want the afternoon to be really informal and to get the audience involved in discussions as much as possible, so it will be a relaxed, friendly and inclusive atmosphere – anyone is welcome to come along and ask some questions or just take a seat and listen.



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