Science is definitely for everyone: meet Hannah Wallace

Hannah Wallace is a PhD candidate in Dr. Rod Russell’s Lab in the division of Biomedical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University. Hannah’s project is called “Pyroptosis: A Pathogenic Assault or a Mechanism of Protection?” which she likes to call “Viruses and the Cells they Kill” for short.

by Hannah Wallace

My initial interest in science was peaked by an older cousin talking to me about dinosaurs. The Parasaurolophus was (and, honestly, still is) my favourite dinosaur. From age six to about 13, I always told people I wanted to be a palaeontologist. Meanwhile, I was taking regular ballet classes and performing in musicals.

When I started Grade 11 Biology, I thought I was going to hate it but my teacher took the time to answer my many, many questions and cultivated my curiosity; I finished the semester loving biology! With that, I decided I was going to do a science degree after high school even though I really wanted to be on Broadway. I figured biology would be a safe backup plan.

My interest in viruses developed during my undergraduate years at the University of New Brunswick – Saint John thanks, in no small part, to my professor, Barb Dowding, MSc (Memorial University alumna). I enrolled in Barb’s Introductory Biology. It was the winter of 2014 and the Ebola outbreak in west Africa was just beginning. Who would have thought that world events and a class at a small university would conspire to produce a virologist?  Barb incorporated the Ebola outbreak into the course as a dynamic model to illustrate the power and importance of science in the fight against emerging viruses that had the potential to decimate the human population. At the time, there were no drugs/antivirals or vaccines to work against this virus. In retrospect, I was hooked on viruses.

In my fourth year, after taking several other of Barb’s courses, I arranged to do an independent study with her (which involved writing a large review paper). I could choose any topic related to biology that I wanted. I was torn between radiation-induced health problems caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster or the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in west Africa, the largest Ebola outbreak to date. If you read the title of my project, you can probably guess which one I finally picked. The tipping point for the decision was a book that I read over my Christmas holidays – The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. I am not the only virologist who was inspired by this book to pursue a career in understanding viruses and how they interact with the cells that they infect. The Hot Zone describes the events in 1998 when a filovirus (the family of viruses of which Ebola is part) was discovered as the cause of death of monkeys in a primate housing facility in Reston, Virginia. The book is a bit dramatic and not totally accurate but I was captivated by the world of virology. Even though I was concurrently doing an honours research thesis on sturgeon physiology, my Ebola review catalyzed my decision to study virology in grad school.

The most fascinating part of my current research is being able to study viruses and how they use cellular pathways to their advantage. I also love being able to contribute to the field of virus research, helping to understand how a virus can go from infecting a single cell to causing systemic disease. By contributing to our understanding of how viruses induce disease, I hope that we can figure out a way to block the progression of disease during viral infection.

 It has been very strange being a virologist during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. I have been doing more science communication than I ever dreamed and answering tons of questions from family and friends.

Research on SARS-CoV-2 is moving at an extremely fast pace and it has been challenging and rewarding to keep up with the newest developments. The biggest thing I have learned during the pandemic is that virology is even more crucial than I thought. It has been cemented in my mind that I absolutely want to continue to research viruses. The pandemic  has also instilled a drive to better communicate science to the general public because science is definitely for EVERYONE.  The pandemic highlighted, once again, just how important science itself is and how important science communication is for the general population. My hope is that the pandemic, despite its many negative effects, will inspire more people to become involved in science, to be curious, to ask questions, and to follow their dreams.

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Plastic society: from a Soapbox Science talk to a contract with an international company

By María Piquer-Rodríguez, Organizer of Soapbox Science Tucumán

This year was the first time that Soapbox Science celebrated an event in Latin America and in Spanish! Tucumán, a province in the north of Argentina held a Soapbox Science event in Spanish for the first time, where around 400 people attended. The event had huge media coverage and thanks to the great efforts of the media and organizers the particular case of a worm that eats plastic went viral and the main researcher received an offer from an international petrol company to further fund their research.

Dr. Carolina Monmany ( @CMonmanyGarzia ) works at the Institute of Regional Ecology (CONICET-UNT) in Tucumán, Argentina. She is the coordinator of a project that studies the usage of plastic in the world, the spatial expansion of plastic usage and recently registered a worm that can digest plastic. They were collaborating on a different project that studies pollinators and when collecting some of the beehives they found out that one of the plastics that covered one beehive had a hole. Looking carefully, they found out that there was a worm that could have potentially eaten the plastic. After doing some tests with these worm they discovered that they actually can eat different types of plastics (they even have a preference for some of them!), and what is more promising, they can digest these plastics! This does not mean that producing many of these worms could save the monstrous environmental problem plastic is causing on the planet, but it may be a first step towards rethinking solutions. As Carolina says, the first step towards solving the problem of plastic-waste is reducing its usage and production!

Caro Monmany “in action”, taken by Cecilia Gallardo

Carolina presented their interesting findings at Soapbox Science Tucumán in September, where media picked the story and viralized it during the three weeks after the event, to the point that several companies contacted their team interested in working with them further in the great potential their discovery could have towards reducing plastic waste. Currently the team of Carolina are closing a 1-year contract with one of these companies that will further fund their research line and will potentially bring more interesting discoveries.

Something like this does not happen every day, and without the great support and framework of Soapbox Science it would not have been possible. The story of Carolina and her team can hopefully inspire new generations of Soapbox Science speakers and motivate researchers to continue working towards finding environmental solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

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We should demystify the misconceptions that science is only for “geniuses” and “crammers”: Meet Olukemi Titilope Olugbade

Dr Olukemi Titilope Olugbade (@titikemi2010), African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) / Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Platforms of Expression: Science, Soapbox and Social Media in Disease Surveillance” 

How did you get to your current position?

Thank you for your question. I got to my current position, by the personal decision I took to combine my expertise and interests, and advance my career. I am currently a physician-researcher and medical epidemiologist.

What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

My inspirations were childhood curiosity, the passion to develop solutions, seeing things differently, recognising trends & patterns, and being observant. Also, my Mum was an educational administrator, so naturally she guided and encouraged my science interests, invested in my science education and subsequently supported my science career.

What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

Everything about my field of practice is interesting. I work in the hospital, in the community, in the laboratory and remotely. I get to manage, solve and provide health interventions and solutions related to populations, public health and pathogens. 

What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

What attracted me to Soapbox Science is the surreal feeling I got when I found out the inspiration and motivation behind the idea. I connected with the vision immediately, because it represents three concepts I believe in: science, education, and inclusion.

I see how much Soapbox Science has grown, how it is spurring young people to love science, and lets them know that science is not abstract, but that it’s real, applicable to everyday life and that it’s exciting and fun. 

Sum up in one word your expectations for the day:

I expect interesting engagements and questions from the public and the non – science community.

I look forward to making new friends, meeting new potential collaborators, discussing what I have worked and I’m working on in my field of practice, mentoring people and encouraging young ladies to consider science as a career path.

If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

What I would want to improve would be the way science is taught. Science should be taught in an interesting and exciting way that makes it easy to relate to, appealing, practical in its application and hands-on.

In primary, secondary and even at the tertiary levels there’s the impression science is for nerdish, boring, anti-social or introverted people, also that STEMM is difficult, abstract, and boring. Many science students are not encouraged and there’s little reward or recognition for breakthroughs in our environment, compared to music, acting and entertainment. 

Many brilliant, innovative and creative people have left science, mid-stream, or even after graduation because of the rote way science is taught and delivered in our academic institutions in Nigeria. We should demystify the misconceptions that science is only for “geniuses” and “crammers”. These narratives and stereotypes should change. and we celebrate and motivate our own. 

Another thing I would like to see is the practical application of sciences and STEMM to solving problems in Nigeria. Young people are designing applications, software, medical devices, agricultural solutions, energy and power solutions and using genomics, data science and artificial intelligence to solve myriads of problems globally. We have a lot of persons in STEMM, however these interventions are not applied to our country specific problems. We have not optimised these skills, in the STEMM fields, and our STEMM gurus keep leaving as there’s no environment for them to thrive.

The government should partner with universities, academic institutions and young scientists to rapidly scale up these solutions, and adapt them to improve our economy and STEMM strengths.

Post graduate STEMM programmes and research should be grants funded and invested in with good mentorship, transparency and accountability. This will encourage Nigerian scientists to do more research, gain global recognition, reduce brain drain and improve our rankings.

What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

My topmost recommendation is Start Early! Science is a lifetime commitment and it’s a demanding journey.

So it’s important one gets on the journey with clarity of purpose in good time. In between the journey, will be school, work, more school, work, more school, marriage, spouse, family, more school, research, more school….. 

You keep learning and growing, and the learning never ends. You need a good support system and be able to ace self and time management.

For a woman considering a PhD, Know which STEMM field you’re interested in, Identify mentors, Identify a good institution whose culture, traditions, location, methods and modules fit what interests you and what you want to major in as either a researcher, scientist, academic or all of the aforementioned. Be available to learn. Volunteer to participate in events and activities related to your areas of interest and expertise, as this increases your value and visibility. 

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Surround yourself with a dedicated doctoral community who will support you: Meet Hannah McGivern

Hannah McGivern, Cranfield forensic institute, Cranfield University, took part in Soapbox Science Reading on 8th June 2019 with the talk: “Getting older is no Humerus matter! Myths about our skeleton and ageing”

How did you get to your current position?

My name is Hannah McGivern, and I studied for my undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter in Archaeology with Forensic Science achieving a BSc with Honours and accolades including a Dean’s Commendation for outstanding academic achievement and the Lady Aileen Fox prize for the best finalist dissertation. These achievements allowed me to pursue my interests and specialise in musculoskeletal anatomy through the study of my MSc in Forensic Osteology degree at Bournemouth University. My postgraduate research concerning the mechanical properties of a synthetic biomaterial in compression and tension compared with the competency of human bone, was worthy of a distinction and in turn was recognised by expert researchers in bone biomechanics at Cranfield University. I am now pursuing a PhD investigating the effects of ageing to the structure and mechanical properties of the clavicle and rib bones as part of the Cranfield Forensic Institute.

What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

My fascination with learning how things worked and why persisted from a young age. This initial inquisitiveness stemmed from my grandad who was an engineer in the Royal Air Force. His passion for disassembling and understanding the scientific processes we experience in everyday life, from the gravitational pull affecting family members on the other side of the world, to the micro-organisms in bread-making ignited my scientific curiosity. My interest in the sciences then took flight through my high school and college education as I elected to study for the triple sciences award, as well as biology and chemistry A-levels, respectively. If it was my grandad who nurtured this love of science at an early age, it was the work of Professor Alice Roberts who later propelled my interest in musculoskeletal anatomy to new heights. The way in which she continues to communicate her enthusiasm for the study of the past together with human anatomy through her documentaries is very compelling. Having a prominent female scientist in the public eye gives me, and the next generation of young scientists, someone to aspire to.

What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

The lessons instilled from my grandad still resonate with me today, and I still consider the most fascinating aspect of my work to be dismantling the complex, hierarchical structure of bone and understanding how all of these different structural components, many of which we cannot observe without recent technological advances, work together to give this composite its dynamic, mechanical behaviour.

What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

I was attracted to soapbox science because the event provides a platform that enables me to challenge the common preconceptions about what a scientist looks and behaves like, as well as demonstrate the enthusiasm I have to drive my research field forward and make a difference. I also thrive on opportunities that allow me to present my research to the public, outside of academia.  

Sum up in one word your expectations for the day.


If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

The one thing I would change is the persistent pressure on young researchers to publish lots of journal articles, and secure further funding in order to publicise and continue with their research pursuits. This often detracts from the research itself, which can affect our enjoyment of our journey into a career in academia.

What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

Surround yourself with a dedicated doctoral community who will support you, outside of your review panel or supervisory team. I would not be in the position that I am now without my fellow PhD students, who have become life-long friends, as they are the ones who will fully understand the situation you are in, as they will likely experience something very similar.

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What did our speakers think of Soapbox Science Lagos, August 2019?

Egbedi Brakemi

Being shortlisted for the 1st ever Soapbox Science event in Nigeria, was the beginning of my #soapboxlagos journey. August 22nd seemed very far yet as the days flew past, I realized I did not have all the time in the world to prepare for my presentation.

The most difficult aspect of this wonderful task I had was preparing for my presentation. I didn’t know who my audience would be nor the questions to expect from them. To me, this meant reading almost anything I could lay my hands on. After studying for heaven knows how long, I decided to make a mock presentation in front of my colleagues: Preciou Aluta and Dr. A. Z. Aderolu. Through their constructive criticisms, I realized I wasn’t communicating as I ought, to my intended audience. Through their help, I was able to simplify my presentation such that even a child could understand it.


The second challenge I had to overcome was deciding on the props to use for my presentation. I wanted props that were easy to make and props which on looking at, would embody the scope of my presentation. I finally came up with something simple which the audience loved.


When I started the presentation, there were few people present. This made me a bit disappointed but I didn’t let that deter me. In the middle of my presentation, more people started trooping in and I found myself going over the presentation several times in a span of an hour! I was glad to see how interested people were in the topic.


The audience asked a lot of questions and this made me happy because it confirmed that they actually listened to my entire presentation. It also made me realize how interested they were about my research topic. Most were interested in learning how to actually utilize fish by-products for economic as well as nutritional gain.  The questions the audience raised made me realize how interested people are in knowing what we scientists are always up to.


I was thrilled to hear them reiterate what they had learnt during my presentation. Through the props, they were to use the hash-tags provided to support the sustainable use of fish by-products. I was moved to see their various comments on the different images provided them. All who stopped by to hear me speak were convinced of the need to utilize by-products and wrote in favour of the #zero waste and #end hunger hash-tags among others.


Yes, I would love to speak at a Soapbox Science event and probably join others in organizing one at any location close to me. It boosted my confidence as a researcher and as a speaker.

Thank you Soapbox Lagos for this experience; It was worthwhile!

Deborah Aluh

The Soapbox event was an amazing experience which gave me the opportunity to share the research I have been doing overtime with the public. My talk was titled ‘Unmasking the silent killer’. I talked about depression, ways to detect it, and seek for help. I got a lot of ideas from the audience on the possible causes of the rising incidence of depression in Nigeria. It was also an opportunity to show people how good female scientists can be and debunk the negative stereotypes about women in science. I also got to network with other female scientists especially Miss Brakemi Egbedi with whom I now communicate with regularly. 

Barr. Kemi Omodanisi (Mrs)

As a pioneer event which availed women in science the opportunity to relate their areas of interest, passion and experiences with members of the community, Soapbox Science to me is an innovative programme in Nigeria which should continue in perpetuity.  It was well organized, timely managed with good resource persons who were able to engage the audience bearing their experiences in the simplest, comprehensible way.

Soapbox Science not only granted free access to members of the community to listen to vital topics that bothers on their daily activities, but also gave them the opportunity to engage the discussants, probe and receive clarifications on cogent issues raised by them. The serene, open and lovely environment makes this more admirable as well as the rich content of the discussants. Comments and expressions from members of the audience show their satisfaction of the programme.

Akinyemi Esther Ifeoluwa

Great event bringing science closer to people. It will encourage women and girls to pursue a career in science.

I sincerely appreciate the founders and organizers of Soapbox Science for giving women another route of EXISTING. I am indeed excited to be part of this year’s programme. I look forward to the continued enjoyment of my existence in the scientific world, through participation in the Soapbox Science Lagos August session.

Surv. (Mrs.) Funmilola Ogunlade

It was a great experience organizing the soapbox science event for the first time in Lagos where I met very intelligent soapbox science speakers.  I had a field day with so many interesting discussions on various topics. Personally, I think it was a very successful event.

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Creating a new path…becoming a marine biologist: Meet Natasha Karenyi

By Natasha Karenyi, who is taking part in Soapbox Science Cape Town on 28th September 2019

I’m originally from Paarl and growing up in the Boland, as a young girl, my visits to the ocean were limited to once or twice a year with my family. I remember fishing with handlines off a pier with my grandfather, splashing in the waves with my brothers and desperately trying to avoid the hermit crabs nipping at my toes – there were all sorts of creepy crawlies in the ocean. So, when I finally announced that I wanted to be a marine biologist, my family’s reaction was … ”WHAT??!!??!!??!!”

Let’s put this reaction into context. My family had educators, medical professionals including doctors, receptionists, carpenters and mechanics – all useful professions and trades. I had good marks at school, which meant that I could choose to become a medical doctor or a lawyer. Positions with status in my community. I could be a nurse or a teacher. Any of these careers were possible and if I had pursued them, I would probably have made it work, but my mind was set on marine biology.

I first realized that I loved biology in high school, where we learnt about some of the BIG and small creepy crawlies that live in the ocean. The same creepy crawlies that had frightened me as a child were now fascinating. I also loved swimming having been a swimmer for about 12 years by then – I had never really swum in the sea much though.

When I was 16, I had to do a research project on my future career of interest for Guidance (now called Life Orientation I think). I, of course, chose marine biology. I had to find out what a marine biologist does and where they can work, and then interview an actual marine biologist. I did some research at the Career Research Information Centre (CRIC) in Athlone (this was before we had access to the internet – giving away my age LOL). But I didn’t know any marine biologists. So now what… I called the University of Cape Town (UCT) and asked to speak to a marine biologist. They put me through to the most internationally known marine biologist, Prof George Branch, who literally wrote the book on the marine life of South African rocky shores. After THAT conversation my mind was made up.

The barrage of questions from my parents and grandparents started… What is this thing… marine biology? What do they do? Where do they work? What job would you get? Can you make a living doing that? How long do you have to study? And on it went.

I blame my parents for my tenacity. They taught me to always rise to a challenge, to work hard and to be willing to grow and develop. My mind was shaped during a time when it was clear that apartheid was at an end, and there was hope for a new beginning. Hope is one of those things that makes you think beyond the limitations of what’s come before; to imagine a different future.

I love learning about marine ecosystems, figuring out how the different parts interact and influence each other. And I now LOVE working with the small creepy crawlies that I once feared, to understand how our BIG ocean functions. Passion is what drove me forward for many years. I had great support from my husband, parents, family and friends, my lecturers and mentors. And though there were some obstacles along the way, I completed my PhD in 2015. You develop resilience and perseverance on any career path you choose, but these are imperative characteristics for Women in STEM.

During my PhD I decided that I wanted to be a lecturer at a university; it combined my love of sharing knowledge with my love of learning new things. My mentor, Dr Kerry Sink helped me to develop in the areas necessary to reach that goal. Last year I finally reached it when I became a lecturer in marine biology at my alma mater, UCT.

Since then, I have met other young women from conservative cultures who faced similar reactions from their families and communities. They all faced versions of this rhetoric… “Why extend beyond the known? Choose the safe option. Choose the path that has already been carved out.”

I am happy that I chose to follow my path. And I am even happier that I have been able to provide some opportunities for others to come along with me. Creating a path is not easy but having people who support and encourage you along the way makes the journey easier.

A spin-off of this journey that I did not consider at the start, is this… My daughter and sons think that it’s normal for a mom to have a PhD; to train future scientists and do research. My children know that I love being a wife and a mom, and I love my work. For my daughter, the future is filled with a plethora of paths and opportunities and none of them are closed to her. She will make the choices that are right for her. And my children see no difference in the abilities of girls or boys to do science. This makes me very happy.

I’ve created a little path through the unknown, but my association with Soapbox Science is about helping others to realize that they can carve out their own paths as well. Perhaps by creating your own path you will inspire a young person to imagine a different future for themselves.

Natasha working on a ship collecting creepy crawlies (i.e. the snails, worms and “insects” of the sea) with a grab sampler.

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We Should All Be Talking About Vaccines: Meet Dr Edina Amponsah-Dacosta

Edina Amponsah-Dacosta is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA) based at the University of Cape Town. She is a trained Medical Virologist, with a research background in viral hepatitis, vaccinology and health systems. She is particularly interested in the interaction between national immunization programs and the broader health systems which deliver them. She is currently working on a research project aimed at assessing the immunity gaps among South African children and adolescents who should have completed routine immunization during infancy. The primary intent of this research project is to inform improved vaccination strategies. Her Soapbox Science talk for the Cape Town 2019 event is entitled “Vaccines are Us” and will focus on how vaccines work to protect individuals and communities from potentially fatal diseases.

Social media accounts:

Twitter: @eddiedacosta2
Instagram: @eddiedacosta2

By Edina Amponsah-Dacosta

All too often, conversations about vaccines take place without end-users being present. This gap in community engagement has been recognized globally as a barrier to empowering the general public with the accurate, unbiased information they require in taking ownership of their health and making evidence-based decisions where vaccines are concerned. For this reason, conversations about vaccines are no longer exclusive to specific stakeholders like global health agencies, health practitioners, scientists or the pharmaceutical industry. We should all be talking about vaccines as a collective and as often as possible. While engaging the general public in discussions about vaccines is a global public health priority, there are not enough forums that allow for this. There is a need to create spaces for open and on-going dialogues about vaccines in order to increase awareness among the general public, curb dangerous misinformation and strengthen vaccine uptake.

The idea behind engaging the general public in vaccine communication is to foster information-sharing; where members of the general public can share their experiences and concerns, and vaccine experts can provide reliable, evidence-based recommendations. Being one of 12 speakers selected to participate in the inaugural Soapbox Science event in Cape Town, I have the unique opportunity to showcase the remarkable diversity of women in science in South Africa. As a Vaccinologist at the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA), based at the University of Cape Town, I would like to invite you to an Indaba[1] on vaccines. I look forward to sharing my knowledge on vaccines and immunization, with a focus on the sub-Saharan African context.

Now more than ever, there is an urgency to step-up conversations on vaccines and immunization given that the field of vaccinology is rapidly evolving. As the field advances, we are beginning to think differently about vaccination programs and their target populations. For example, there is evidence to show that the lifesaving benefits of vaccines are not limited to infants and children but can be extended across the life course. While some assume that vaccination is a personal choice that one makes about their own health, the decision to vaccinate affects all those around you. The more people are vaccinated, the higher chances we have of being protected together due to a phenomenon referred to as community immunity. Essentially, vaccination is a matter of social solidarity or Ubuntu[2].

I look forward to engaging with you on concepts related to vaccinology at the Soapbox Science Cape Town event at the V&A Waterfront on the 28th of September 2019!

[1] A meeting, gathering, discussion or conference in isiZulu or isiXhosa

[2] In isiZulu or isiXhosa, Ubuntu encompasses all essential human virtues such as compassion and humanity

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Maintain your focus and allow curiosity: Meet Amarachukwu Vivian Arazu

Ms Amarachukwu Vivian Arazu, University of Nigeria, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Bioplastics and the environment!” 

I am a PhD student and a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I obtained a Masters degree in Industrial Biochemistry from the same university with a distinction and CGPA of 4.89/5.00. My MSc research project investigated starch modification processes while my current PhD project is focused on harnessing bioplastic production on a low-cost scale.

Soapbox Science: how did you get to your current position?

I got to my current position through hard work, determination, focus and God’s grace.

SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

My inspiration towards pursuing a career in science was simply based on my curiosity especially about science and technology-related issues.

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

Assessing the nature of bioplastics from single and di-culture strains of some microbial species in the production of bioplastics while considering the cost of production.

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

My attraction was simply the anticipation and excitement from the audience.

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

I hope to awe the audience in simple ways. I am optimistic the presentation will be an exciting one.

SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

I would start by introducing adequate functional science laboratories in every secondary school in the country.

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

Dear Woman in Science, the world is gradually becoming tolerant to women leading in different aspects. It is a great height that you are about to attain so maintain your focus and allow curiosity. Also, entertain errors as it is common in scientific research. You will be great.

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An Improbable Love Story!: Meet Ifeoma Maureen Ezeonu

Prof Ifeoma Maureen Ezeonu, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk:  “Bacteria: Friend, Foe or Both?” 

I am a Professor of Medical Microbiology and Molecular Genetics with the Department of Microbiology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). My route to this included a B.Sc. in Microbiology from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1987 and an M.Sc. and PhD in Microbiology from Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., in 1991 and 1994, respectively. After which I joined the University of Nigeria, as a Lecturer I in June 2000 and rose to the rank of Professor in October 2010. My research interests include studies in medical microbiology and medical biotechnology, and I am the coordinator of the drug-resistant infections research group in UNN.

I eat Microbiology,

I breathe Microbiology,

I speak Microbiology.

What do I mean? I love Microbiology, but this love story is an improbable one. Who knew?

In my secondary school days, in the early 1980s, many schools didn’t have guidance counsellors. Even when they had, the counsellors did not know much about what they were expected to do, especially in the area of academic counselling. They were supposed to help students with their career choices, among other things. Well, guess what? In those days, career choices appeared to be pretty limited. If you were an art student, then you were supposed to be a lawyer; and if you were a science student, it was medicine or engineering, with pharmacy coming in a distant third. Then, if you did not get admission to these courses of study, you went into other less popular courses like microbiology, biochemistry and zoology. Students often studied for at least one year, while waiting to get accepted on the more popular courses. I also got accepted into one of the less popular courses – Microbiology, although, I had every intention of changing to Pharmacy after my first year.

My journey into the world of microbes had begun and what a fascinating journey it turned out to be. From the first introductory course, I wanted to know more. By the end of the first year in the programme, I was asking, “Pharma—what?” By the time I was in my third year, my mother had playfully banned me from practising microbiology in her kitchen as everything that was done at home evoked a microbiology lecture from me.

Four years of undergraduate studies led to another two years for a Master’s degree and another three years for a PhD, all in the fascinating and awesome world of microbes. Then came years and years of research, to become a Professor of Microbiology. I have loved every step of this journey and I am still loving it. That is why I never hesitate to invite other people to come and explore this exciting world. And that’s my love story!

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Mentor and encourage others to be people who can see themselves beyond their limitations: Meet Oluwatoyin Adebola Adeleye

Dr Oluwatoyin Adebola Adeleye (@OluwatoyinAdel), Hadassah Scientific Supplies, Lagos, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Try to imagine having your prescribed drugs modified to suit your genome”

Soapbox Science: how did you get to your current position?

As a postdoctoral research fellow, I completed a 4-year Bachelor’s in plant science from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, Nigeria. This was followed by a 1-year Masters in cell biology and genetics from the University of Lagos, Nigeria and afterwards, I finally, completed a 5-year Ph.D. programme in Genetics also from the University of Lagos. Being able to accomplish these feats required determination and persistence. Thus, my mantra has always been – “once you can dream it, you can achieve it”. Therefore, with hard work and dedication to that goal or dream, you can achieve the unimaginable.  

SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

My inspiration for science came through my mother who has the sickle cell disease. Therefore, by the tender age of 5 years (being her only child), I already understood what caring for someone with the sickle cell disease entailed as I would help administer her folic acid and other required medication. By the time I was 8 years old, I had read and known so much about the causes and management of sickle cell anaemia. Through reading about this condition and interacting with other people with the disease, I developed an interest in science. Upon further education, I developed a greater interest in pharmacogenomics, human genetics and drug discovery.

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

The most fascinating aspect of my research is the discovery of new findings such as the identification of a random amplified polymorphic DNA marker – OPC04550bp, which can be used to identify Sprague-Dawley rats with pregnancy-induced glucose intolerance. In addition, I derive joy from working with other researchers to achieve results, thereby contributing to science.

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

I went through the website and observed it to be a platform for encouraging and mentoring girls and women in science. I have learnt that the beauty of life is being able to mentor and encourage others to be people who can see themselves beyond their limitations. Therefore, I see the Soapbox Science as a platform to achieve this.

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

It would be the need to encourage collaborative ground-breaking research between Nigerian scientists and international institutions thereby helping to close knowledge gaps and invariably develop science in Nigeria.

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

Be focused.

Be determined.

Join international societies and attend conferences, which would increase your chances of collaboration with other researchers across the globe.

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