Soapbox Science: the Berlin experience
By Dr Carolina Doran and Dr Ana Faustino
Whilst navigating the complex roads of academia in a foreign country, two Portuguese female scientists embarked on a new mission: to organise a Soapbox Science event in Berlin. We were motivated by the idea of communicating science undertaken by women in a free, public outdoor format, and saw that it would be the perfect setting to promote scientific literacy whilst at the same time increasing the visibility of female scientists in their fields. We were particularly inspired by the very unique design of Soapbox Science events and how they referenced a time in the UK’s history when people protested for civil rights. We immediately connected with this idea – We want better gender equality in science!
We couldn’t fulfill this mission alone, we needed a team of motivated people. That was the easy part, after just a few emails we had a team of people eager to get involved. The team, composed of five biologists – four women and a man (see photo above) – met for the first time in October 2016. After that first encounter we started meeting regularly so that we would be able to cover all tasks required to organise an event like this in Germany. We faced several challenges.
The language: Would the speakers want to speak in English or in German? Would non German speakers feel comfortable giving their talks in English only? Would Berliners be open to an English only event? How would we attract a younger, possibly non-English speaking, audience? – Our talented speakers rose to the challenge without even blinking. With such a diverse, international environment in Berlin we were even able to talk to passing Italian tourists in their mother tongue!
Finding sponsors and a venue. Would we be able to find sponsors to fund the event? How could we convey our enthusiasm and passion for this cause so that funding would no longer be a question but a certainty? How much money would we need? What type of location would be best – park, train station? What to do in the case of rain (a big problem – rain is unpredictable in Berlin, even in the summer!)? – And again, of course, challenge overcome, we were able to secure very generous sponsors that certainly helped us guarantee a highly successful event.
Finally, and this was certainly a big challenge – Our personal expectations. Would the speakers be able to enjoy their experience? Would the event be able to accomplish its goals? Would we be able to attract a broad audience in terms of age and background? Would the audience go home just a little bit less biased in their idea of who a scientist is? We truly hoped so! The point is we made it all the way to the first Soapbox Science event in Berlin (1st June 2017, Tempelhofer Feld (see picture)- a former airfield now a huge public park) and we were so excited! ~150 participants showed up, despite the horrible weather (torrential rain and horrendous winds, followed by even more rain and more wind). Everyone seemed hungry for newly found discoveries and to learn from the 12 amazing women scientists in topics ranging through ecology, neuroscience and engineering. At our networking dinner for the speakers and volunteers after the event, all we heard were complements from the speakers, alongside the question “How soon can we do it again?”.
The sense of accomplishment the five of us felt was immeasurable! This event was such a success that the Soapbox Science Berlin team was invited to organise another event integrated into the Berlin Science Week 2017 (see picture). This time most of the initial challenges had disappeared – we had found ways to maneuver the language difficulties, had fixed sponsors and had experience in meeting our expectations. We all felt confident we could handle everything!
However, we had a new challenge: time – we only had two months to organise everything. Once again, despite the tight deadline, we put together another very successful event. Soapbox Science Autumn Edition took place in the modern Sony Center commercial centre (Potsdamer Platz) on 7th November 2017. Eight female scientists stepped on soapboxes and talked about their work in the fields of neuroscience, structural biology and ecology. This time we had 256 visitors with ages ranging from 12 to 89 and we couldn’t have been happier. Our female scientists were able to motivate and inspire high school students in pursuing a scientific career and show them that women can also be scientists! Now, with two events under our belts and another one to come (1st June 2018, location TBA), we are proud to be a local organiser of such a fantastic initiative and would like to end this post with a word to all the local teams around the world: “Soapbox Science would not exist without you and we feel very inspired to bring science to the streets and raise the profile of women in STEMM alongside all of you.”
If you have been inspired to be a Soapbox Science speaker for the Berlin event in 2018 and want to take your science to the streets, you can apply here!