Kids need to see different role models: Meet Anna Veprik

Anna Veprik is a researcher in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics in the University of Oxford. She is trying to understand how various endocrine cells are sensing nutrient availability and translate it to hormone secretion. Meet her at Soapbox Science in Oxford and find out about the role of sugar in our body! Anna Veprik is funded by the Oxford – Novo Nordisk postdoctoral fellowship.

 

 

 

SS: how did you get to your current position?

AV: I am interested for quite a while in the diabetes research. I done my PhD in Israel working on beta cells (the ones that secrete insulin) and was very interested to look at additional cells and tissues involved in diabetes. I won this great fellowship that allows me to do exactly this and to do it in the University of Oxford.

 

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

AV: My Biology teacher. When I started secondary school I was selected to participate in science enrichment program. I got fascinated by the human body and the fact each cell can do so many different thing. My teacher enthusiasm was infectious.

 

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

AV: I have an opportunity to find new things that nobody in the world knows about them yet. If I will be lucky, these findings might translate in the future to treatments that will improve patient lives. And I get to do all this surrounded by amazing people, from all around the world.

 

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

AV: I love talking about science and not just to my fellows in the lab, but also to everybody. I want to share what we learn in the lab with as many people as possible. Moreover, I think there is an urgent need for people, especially kids, to see different role models and to know that they can do whatever they can dream off.

 

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

AV: I am so thrilled. Can’t wait to be there.

 

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

AV: Funding. This is the biggest obstacle. I wish more funding was available, allowing us to focus more on producing a good science and not just chasing for the next grant.

 

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

AV: If you love it, go for it. I can promise it will not be easy, or relaxed but when you see this amazing result, it will worth everything. And just remember, it is a marathon, so you need a lot of patience and a lot of support.

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Scientists shouldn’t be hidden away in their labs all the time: Meet Jacqueline Gill

Jacqueline Gill (@jacquigill001), is taking part in Soapbox Science Oxford 2018 with the talk: “The antibiotic apocalypse: How bacteria become antibiotic resistant and why we aren’t finding new antibiotics”

 

 

 

 

 

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

JG: I research antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the past, before we discovered antibiotics, bacterial infections were extremely deadly. Once we had discovered antibiotics in the early 1900s, we were able to use them to treat bacterial infections. However, bacteria have the ability to evolve extremely quickly, which means that over the past 60 years they have evolved the ability to evade antibiotics, and our antibiotic treatments are becoming much less effective. Therefore, research is extremely important!

The most fascinating part for me is how all of this research is being done by so many scientists around the globe, and it is all coming together to try to solve this one problem and prevent it from getting out of our control.

 

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

JG: During my GCSE history, I completed a project on the history of medicine. I was fascinated to hear stories about how scientists throughout history had made ground-breaking discoveries, which had tremendously improved the lives of people around the world. In particular, Lister’s discovery of germs and Jenner’s invention of the vaccine completely transformed public health. I thought that one of the best careers would involve building on these discoveries, and so I decided to pursue a career in science.

 

 

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

JG: I heard about Soapbox Science during the first year of my PhD through OxFEST (Oxford Females in Engineering, Science and Technology), where I organised a conference for female scientists. We heard from some really inspirational speakers who discussed the major challenges facing females in STEM, which opened my eyes to how important it is to make sure females scientists are heard and supported throughout their careers. I’ve always had a keen interest in science outreach and communication, and so during my 3 years at Oxford I’ve been involved in running Oxford Hands-On Science, a student-led science outreach society. We visit schools across the UK, showing kids loads of interactive and hands-on science experiments! It’s always great to see how many of them are interested in the science we have to show them, and that they realise not all scientists are the stereotypical lab-coat-wearing, bushy white-haired male! These experiences have really built up my confidence in talking about science, and hopefully they will help me on my soapbox!!

 

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? fear? thrill? anticipation?

JG: Keen!

 

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

JG: Scientists shouldn’t be hidden away in their labs all the time. They should be able to prioritise getting out there and talking to people about science, answering their questions, and showing them what real science actually involves! I’m so lucky that my PI is supportive of my outreach, and I wish that all supervisors and funding bodies would actively encourage scientists to get involved in communicating their research.

 

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

JG: As a female PhD student I can only say go for it! If a career in academia appeals to you, then don’t let anything stop you!

 

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We should be able to share knowledge freely and without fear: Meet Liliana Pedro

Liliana Pedro, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases e. V. (DZNE), is taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on Saturday 7th July with the talk: “Looking inside our brain…”

 

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

LP: When I was little adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I got older, to everyone’s surprise my answer was “I want to be a marine biologist and study Orcas”. Honestly, I think the reason why I even knew what a marine biologist was, was because every Sunday before lunch I would be watching the wild life documentaries. So, in a way I always knew in the back of my mind that I would go for a more scientific career. The idea of that scientific career as changed along the years with my academic formation, scientific projects and internships. I would still like to one day swim with the wales, but I do believe that for my professional career, brain research is the best fit for me.

 

SS: How did you get your current position?

LP: At the moment I am PhD student, but honestly, I did not always wanted to be one. I always loved research and laboratory work: mix some solutions, create a new compound and see the physical evidence that something microscopic is happening; but when I finished my Master I had to face a big decision: do I commit for four years to do a PhD in a single field, knowing that in my country my chances of getting a job will be highly diminished? Or do I stay with my Master’s degree and find a research assistant position and see where that leads me? I went with option number two and found a position in an institute in the UK. After three months I realized that that job was not enough, I needed more independence, a bigger challenge, a say in which direction my research should go. From that moment on the decision was made and I started looking for open PhD positions in Neuroscience.

 

SS: What do you do in your everyday work life?

LP: That is a hard question, as my days are never the same. Maybe a better question would be what is the work of a PhD? You start with one big question and you read a lot of literature hoping it will give you an indication on how you should approach that question. Then you create an hypothesis or model of what you think the answer will be to your question based on the information you read, this will also help you idealize what experiments you can do to answer prove your hypothesis and ultimately answer your question. Finally, you start doing said experiments. As you are doing them and analyzing your results you will realize that some answers are not what you were expecting and they no longer fit the hypothesis you had in mind, this means that you need think of a new hypothesis that makes sense with the results you have. This cycle of creating an hypothesis, doing experiments, analyzing results and creating new hypothesis is the bases of all PhD work. It is never static and it can be quite frustrating, but when you get your hypothesis right it is a wonderful feeling.

 

 

SS: What is the most exciting aspect of your research?

LP: The most exciting aspect of my research is also the most frustrating one: we know very little about our brain. It is exciting because there is still a lot to find, there are still many pieces of the puzzle missing and I always loved solving puzzles. However, it is also frustrating, because when we are constructing our hypothesis we have to assume as correct, a lot of information that we are unsure off or that we only have partial or circumstantial evidence, this increase the chances that your starting hypothesis is wrong and make you go in circles with your experiments.

 

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

LP: I believe the biggest challenge is the poor sharing of information between groups. In a perfect world groups should be able to share their knowledge freely and without fear: knowledge about the details of the techniques they are using, knowledge about the failed experiments that they have already tried and knowledge on experiments that are happening right now. I do not know how to make it happen, but I do know that science can develop further and faster when we share our knowledge with our fellow scientists and the public.

The sharing of our scientific knowledge with the public is one of the reasons why I wanted to participate in Soapbox Science Munich. I believe this event is a great initiative and I love the concept. And even though the structure is a bit intimidating (no powerpoint, no slides, just myself), I am super excited to try it out.

 

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I always wanted to know how things worked: Meet Dr Nisha Ramkissoon

Dr Nisha K. Ramkissoon, is a planetary scientist working on a project on habitability in the Solar System, which involves recreating planetary environments in the lab and then determining if microbial life live there.  These experiments also enable her to identify any non-biological clues that microbes may leave behind to help us figure out if life exists or existed on bodies like Mars or Europa.

 

You can see Nisha on a soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 30th June where she will talk about: “Searching for life, where should we start?”

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

NR: After completing my bachelor’s degree in earth and planetary science I worked for a few years as a science technician at a secondary school. During this time I also completed a master’s degree and decided I really wanted to work in research.  I completed my PhD at the University of Kent, examining the instantaneous chemical changes that can occur on rocky surfaces when impacted by a meteorite.  Since finishing my PhD I have been working at The Open University on a project that examines habitability in the Solar System.

 

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

NR: I’m not sure there was one thing or a person who inspired me to pursue a career in science.  I always wanted to know how things worked, and would ask a lot of questions and was always trying to learn more about space. In school especially enjoyed learning about the planets and how rock and minerals formed, so I was very happy when I found a degree that covered both subjects.

 

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

NR: My work looks at the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the Solar System, using examples of microbial life that are found on Earth.   To do this we have to simulate the different environments we find on these other planets and satellites in a lab, it’s amazing to think that we can actually do that.

 

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

NR: Soapbox science seemed like a new and interesting way to engage with the public.  The way the event is planned means that you get to talk to people who may not specifically be there to hear about science.  It is also a great way to show people, young girls especially, that anyone can pursue a career in any STEM field they chose to.

 

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

NR: Excitement!  I’m very excited about talking to people about what I do, and hopefully I’ll get across why I love the subject so much.  I am also very excited to see some of the talks from the other researchers.

 

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

NR: I would say to stay positive. As with everything academia has its ups and downs, but if you just stay positive you’ll be able to get through it. On the same note I would also say make sure you take the time to reflect on your achievements on a regular basis.  Sometimes you can find yourself working to one deadline or another, and it is easy to forget about all the amazing things you have done over the

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Closing the communication gap between scientists and non-scientists: Meet Lisa Riedmayr

Lisa Riedmayr, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, is taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on 7th July with the talk: “Von der Mutation zur Behandlung – Gentherapie zur Heilung vererbter Blindheit; From mutation to treatment – Gene therapy as a cure for inherited blindness”

 

 

 

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

LR: I actually got into science quite late. I started studying Biology, because I wanted to become a specialized journalist. During my undergrad studies, I was fascinated by all these tiny molecular processes, all working in a coordinated system and making up a functioning human body. But I was especially amazed by translational research – by people using all this information to reveal pathological mechanisms and develop new therapies for to date untreatable diseases. That was what I wanted to do with my life.

 

SS: How did you get your current position?

LR: After my Bachelor in Biology I applied for the “Graduate School for Systemic Neurosciences” and entered the Fast-track program to be able to start my PhD right away. After completing the preparatory year, I looked for a PhD position in the field of translational research and applied for my current position at the Department of Pharmacy.

 

SS: What do you do in your everyday work life?

LR: I am investigating mutations, which cause retinal diseases like retinitis pigmentosa. First, I “manufacture” genes containing mutations that cause the disease. Then I try to detect the disease mechanism by investigating the effect of the mutations in cells in a petri dish. When I finally now what I am dealing with, I try to prevent the disease mechanism from taking place. I do so by using already established treatment strategies, but also by developing new ones for a more efficient or less invasive therapy.

 

SS: What is the most exciting aspect of your research?

LR: The most exciting aspect is that our research could eventually help people. One day, a drug for patients going blind might be developed on the basis of our research. This is pretty exciting. When I feel like I am losing my motivation, I think about that.

 

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

LR: One of the biggest challenges I encounter in science is failed communication. It starts with incomplete communication of data within the scientific community. The reasons for that are quite diverse ranging from limited numbers of words you are allowed to use when describing a method in a journal to no one being interested in publishing your “negative data”. But failed communication also expands to a non-scientific audience. Many scientists do not bother communicating their research to non-scientists as well, which is leading to misperception in the public about important topics like vaccination or climate change.

 

SS: What are your most promising findings in the field?

LR: Well, I just started my scientific career, so I am still trying to make a significant contribution to the field. But we are developing some cool methods in the field of gene therapy right now, which could enable us to prevent blindness in people with different inherited retinal diseases. Let’s hope it works out!

 

SS: What motivates you to give a talk in Soapbox science?

LR: I have two reasons, why I want to give a talk in Soapbox science. First, I want to communicate my research to the public wherever and whenever I can to contribute to closing the communication gap between scientists and non-scientists. Second, I want to motivate young women to start a scientific career as well. We don’t have a lot of female role models in science and I really think we need more of them.

 

SS: Do you have a few words to inspire other female scientists? What can we do to attract more women to STEM fields?

LR: We can show the world that women working in the STEM fields are just as qualified as men and try to motivate young women to follow our lead. All of us can try to be role models ourselves. So let’s show them how it’s done, girls!

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One step at a time, and never give up: Meet Mariana Avezum

Mariana Avezum, TU München, is taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on 7th July with the talk:“How will we get to work in 20 years?”

 

 

 

 

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

MA: To be able to join my research ambitions, while doing some teaching in the process. I really like to investigate new approaches to solve problems,  and working with students is always a very cool way to get in contact with new and creative ideas.

SS: How did you get your current position?

MA: I knew my professor from my classes as a student, and had always done projects at his chair. I thus knew the people there, and knew they were very cool to work with. When I was searching for “What to do next” I simply talked to the professor, showed him some of my previous work, paid him a coffee, and that was that!

SS: What do you do in your everyday work life?

MA: A typical day for me can be separated between teaching meetings, and my own research. For teaching, I am usually in meetings with students, giving them feedback on their work, going through preparations for the next steps, and thinking what could be improved. In my own research, on the other hand, I simulate urban traffic, and try to come up with different ideas how to make urban transport more efficient, such as what would happen if we were to merge everything together. Working on such different projects makes sure that there is never a boring day!

 

SS: What is the most exciting aspect of your research?

MA: Combining different modes of transportation in a single route. Because the most efficient way to get from A to B will never be just about cars, or any single mode, and you will always need to combine different approaches. The fact that the companies working on these are so different from each other, however, makes this integration very hard and interesting, but also presents a huge room for improvement.

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

MA: Mobility research can very quickly become very sensitive, and thus, data privacy is a huge concern. You need to make sure that when you are analyzing how to optimize a route from A to B, you don’t keep any confidential data in places it shouldn’t be, and that the user is always in control.

SS: What motivates you to give a talk in Soapbox science?

MA: A friend told me it would be cool! I also like motivating other people to join and stay in STEM, and hearing about the work that other scientists do is always very inspiring!

 

SS: Do you have a few words to inspire other female scientists? What can we do to attract more women to STEM fields?

MA: One step at a time, and never give up. Things are usually more doable than they seem, and perseverance goes a long way in making things actually work out. If you give up, you pass the message to other girls to do the same, and that’s never the correct answer. I know it seems like the men achieve things more easily, but the truth of it is, is that they simply hide their insecurities better. We all get lost sometimes.

 

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Solving Puzzles: Meet Maria Spletter

Dr Maria Spletter is a researcher based at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, who will be taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on  Saturday 7th July 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

MS: I have always been drawn towards science. I made my first plant taxonomy book with my Grandma when I was 4. My parents got me a real microscope (not just one of the pocket ones) when I was 10. Just for fun I would observe plants or pond water samples. My family always supported and promoted my curiosity, and so it was just natural to pursue a degree and then a career in scientific research.

SS: How did you get your current position?

MS: I did my postdoc at the Max Planck for Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany. I established connections with the university and when I started to apply for positions, I also sought out a group at the LMU that could host me for an Emmy Nother application (start-up funding from the DFG). I also had an offer in Sweden, and the chair of my department, Andreas Ladurner, made me a competing offer to keep me in Munich. I ended-up accepting that offer to be an independent group leader.

SS: What do you do in your everyday work life?

MS: A lot of my day is spent on the computer, either writing grants, writing papers, reviewing papers, correcting presentations and documents written by my students, researching or keeping-up with the literature. I also spend a lot of time mentoring my students in lab, demonstrating techniques, going through their data or planning the next steps in their projects. Finally, I teach Biochemistry I to medical students in the summer.

 

SS: What is the most exciting aspect of your research?

MS: I love discovering new things and solving puzzles. I my research we use genetics to try to understand how muscles are built and what goes wrong in muscle diseases. To use an analogy, it is the equivalent of first identifying the pieces in a computer and then figuring out how to put them together and how they interact with each other to make the computer work. We have one gene in lab we work on that we recently discovered plays a role in neurons as well as in muscles. No one knew this before, and now we have many new questions to answer, like does the gene have the same job in muscles and neurons, or does it have different jobs in those two cell types?

 

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

MS: I feel I work with two main challenges. The first is finding funding. Much of the financial support in Europe is linked to a timeline, and if you come from a different system (I’m originally from the USA) or if you get unlucky and your project takes a year or two longer than planned, it can make you ineligible. You also have to learn how to spin your proposal to match the interests of the reviewers to get funded, which can be tricky.

Second, I find it a challenge to focus on a single topic and simplify my research questions. I am interested in many different things and many different questions, but we don’t have the time or the personnel or financial resources to investigate everything.

SS: What are your most promising findings in the field?

I just published a huge paper that is the culmination of 8 years of work. It is a resource paper looking at every gene expressed in a muscle cell at 8 different points in development and tracking how different groups of genes change their expression. We discovered a large change in gene expression in the middle of muscle development, much to our surprise, that lead us to a deeper understanding of how muscle fibers mature and achieve their specific contractile characteristics.

 

SS: What motivates you to give a talk in Soapbox science?

MS: I really love what I do, and I like the chance to share our findings with the public. I do basic research, and many people do not understand what that is or why it is important. I hope that talking in Soapbox science might allow me to reach more people to convince them that science is worth the investment, and to help them better understand the biomedical research and development process.

 

SS: Do you have a few words to inspire other female scientists? What can we do to attract more women to STEM fields?

MS: I find research a rewarding and fulfilling career. In my field it isn’t so much attracting women, as retaining women that is the problem. Work-life balance is difficult when you have a demanding career and children, but not impossible. The biggest thing is you have to believe in yourself, trust your own instincts and realize that you don’t have to do everything. At the same time, you need to be willing to dig-in, stick-it-out and compete with the boys when necessary. From my perspective, to help women you need to provide daycare that actually matches working hours and give support options to allow women to travel to conferences and attend evening events. Being flexible without lowering expectations and removing time limits or adding exceptions without penalizing women who use them would also help.

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From the telescope to the microscope: how the lunar eclipse made me be a microbiologist. Meet Laura Cutugno

I’m Laura Cutugno, young PhD researcher in the field of Microbiology at NUI Galway, Ireland, taking part in Soapbox Science Galway on 7th July. I’m from Italy, in particular from Sicily, a beautiful and warm island in the south of Italy. I graduated in Biotechnologies and am passionate about science and microscopic life! I’ll be one of the speakers during the Soapbox Science event in Galway and, in the meantime, I would like to tell you the story of how I became a researcher.

When I was a kid, I was sitting in my living room with my dad and someone on the TV was announcing the lunar eclipse. I asked my dad what it was, and he thought about it for few seconds and then ran to the kitchen. “I need to show it to you,” he said. He took a flashlight, an orange and a small lime. “The flashlight is the sun, the orange is the Earth and the lime is the moon,” he said, and he showed me what happens when the flashlight, the orange and the lime are aligned and the “orange” projects its shadow on the “lime”. That was the moment that I understood how interesting science is.

Figure 1. Lunar eclipse phases

Despite this romantic beginning, now I’m not an astrophysicist, but a microbiologist. How this happened is a really long story, made of books about the life of great women and scientists, like Marie Curie, Rita Levi Montalcini and Margherita Hack. My story is of a modest university in Palermo, Sicily, with good professors and a great woman that showed me the beauty of the microscopic world and increased my passion and curiosity for those small and invisible organisms called bacteria. She was a great lecturer who dedicated her whole life to science and to the University. She told me once “Laura, people think that a woman with an important position in academia is a weird exception, I would like this to be the rule.” She was a woman, a mother, a scientist and a lecturer. Her enthusiasm and her dedication to her students was always surprising for me and a great inspiration for my career. She is a fundamental part of this story, together with long hours of study and long hours of packing that brought me to Ireland from the south of Italy, to realise my dream of being a scientist.

Figure 2. From the top (clockwise): Rita Levi Montalcini, Marie Sklodowska-Curie and Margherita Hack.

And now it’s in Galway that I’m doing my PhD. Here I study the ability of bacteria to sense and respond to changes in the environment and how they can escape from potentially lethal conditions. The most interesting thing is that these small organisms possess something similar to a brain… yes, a brain in a microbe! This brain is called STRESSOSOME and it’s a small but great machine made up of small components, proteins. It has several “sensors-proteins” that can sense the changes in the environment; when something potentially dangerous for the bacterium is happening, the sensors transmit the information to other components and these release in the cell those that we can call the “messengers-proteins”. These messengers pass the information to a small protein, the effector-protein. This small protein is able to reprogram the bacterial cell from the “safe and happy” status to the “alarm and defence” status. This machine is so complex that one person is not enough to study it, that’s why I’m part of a Marie Sklodowska-Curie European Network, named PATHSENSE, made up by 13 young researchers that try to understand the structure, the operation and the effects of this microscopic brain.

Figure 3. ITN PATHSENSE logo. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 721456

That’s what I study and what brought me to Galway, and that’s what I will talk about during the Soapbox Science event in Galway. Because I love this project and I love bacteria and, like every person in love, I can’t stop talking about it and I would like everyone to know something more about the “brain of microbes”!

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Fascinating flying machines: Meet Simone Weber

Simone Weber is seconded from Airbus Helicopters UK to do a PhD in the School of Aerospace, Transport, and Manufacturing at Cranfield University. Whilst doing her PhD she is also the Technology Integration Manager, responsible for combining the technical aspects within the research project BladeSense. This project aims to mount fibre optic sensors along the length of a blade to determine its ‘health’ and identify early on whether there are any changes to the way in which it is behaving. While the project partners are developing the instrumentation system, Simone is focusing on developing a mathematical framework that allows the definition of optimal spatial mapping for the used fibre-optic sensors. This is important to be able to detect rotor blade damage at an early stage.

Her soapbox talk will be: “Sherlock Holmes: who broke his helicopter?”

You can catch Simone on a soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 30th June.

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

SW: After graduating from University of Applied Sciences in Munich in 2012, I joined Airbus Helicopters UK (AH UK) as a Mechanical Design Engineer. Alongside developing solutions for customers, I also had the chance to work in the installation and maintenance department to gain some knowledge from an application point of view. This experience enabled me to look at design problems from a global picture to make processes and design changes smoother for all parties. Yet, after working in design for almost 10 years, I started to miss the academic side. I began to feel bored and I certainly needed a change and a new challenge (I am certainly not bored anymore!). During my time working with helicopters in Germany and in the UK I have always been interested in the main rotor system, which in my opinion is the most exciting part of these fascinating flying machines. Hence, I wanted to do my own research project in this area and I approached Cranfield University to find out whether they would be interested. Finding financial means turned out to be the most difficult part. However, after convincing AH UK to fund my PhD, I was then setting up the research project BladeSense with the help of Cranfield University to create this excellent opportunity not only for the company but also for me. This PhD allows me not only to refocus and strengthen my technical abilities but also to learn the necessary management skills to be able to lead a research project.

 

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

SW: My grandfather has been a lifelong inspiration to me. He always encouraged me in finding simple solutions to any sort of complex problems, and I loved the creativity involved and the part of building and implementing it into reality. Still nowadays, he amazes me with the sort of solutions he comes up with and I still enjoy building all sorts of things with him!

My interest in aerospace started quite late. After moving away from the countryside to start my studies in automotive engineering (seemingly obvious after growing up in the region where BMWs are being built!) only then did I discover my fascination for aerospace engineering. It was triggered by something that was probably the reason for many of the first pioneers who built flying machines: the freedom of being able to fly wherever one’s heart desires.

 

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

SW: I am very lucky to work on a project with a scope as big as BladeSense. It covers aspects ranging from structural model development, to aerodynamics, optimisation, all the way to experimental testing. I absolutely love the combination of theory and practice and to be able to work with such a great team on this project. Also, leading the project from a technological perspective gives me a great insight to what each project partner is developing. This enables me to learn even more!

The most wonderful part of my career path is that with being an engineer, learning how to work as a scientist, and understanding how research projects are managed it enables me to look at the bigger picture in order to make a change in society someday.

 

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

SW: I think Soapbox Science is an excellent opportunity to tell young people about how exciting it can be working in science, and how important it is that each of us contributes in making a change to this world. I am also keen to share my experience of working in a male dominated sector and take any worry away from young women by explaining how significant their role is just by being and thinking as a woman. I am convinced that with a team of equal gender the best results can be produced. While looking forward to passing on my knowledge and experiences during my path of becoming an aerospace engineer, I am really curious about all the questions I will get asked. I am sure that this will help me look at my research problem at a completely different angle.

 

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

SW: Excitement!

 

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

SW: Science is very much driven by success. If we fail the business is not interested anymore. This is also very much reflected in publically available research papers which often only present successful findings. Rarely do we find papers about what lessons have been learnt. I think as a scientist or engineer failure should be allowed, because only by that we can learn and improve ourselves – and this knowledge should be shared.

 

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

SW: Be passionate and active about what you do. I think those two are the key drivers for anyone doing a PhD. As a women, however, I think there is an additional degree of confidence, persistence, and strength required. Sometimes we fall, but it matters how to get back up again only to be stronger. One final, but important piece of advice: Keep on smiling and have fun because that is the key to getting great ideas!

 

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Bringing Soapbox to Windsor: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Weather!

By Dr. Rosa-Maria Ferraiuolo

Why We Brought Soapbox to Windsor… Hosting an event for the first time in a city that has never heard of it before is a very scary task. Only a handful of people in Windsor have heard of what Soapbox Science is and those people are my colleagues because I had the pleasure of being one of 12 speakers at the first Canadian Soapbox at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario!  Soapbox Science Toronto was an amazing experience! It was completely different from any other public event I’ve attended and presented. I wanted to be a part of Soapbox Science so that I can be a part of showing that women can be in science and so that I could try to and show young children that science can be fun and exciting! Having one of the young girls ask about cancer, what it is, how you can get it and me showing her by having her go through my props was one of the most memorable parts of my day! Having her smile at the end and say thank you still makes me smile! You can’t beat the curiosity of the children wanting to know more and asking questions that we as scientists sometimes forget to think about. This event truly revived my love for science. On the train ride back home and getting back into my lab, I couldn’t stop talking about how this was the best experience I’ve had in years! I have always been proud to be a woman in science but being a part of Soapbox Science Toronto made me even prouder! I think we can change the vision of science that the public has, and we can show them that women can be powerful thinkers and we can make a difference!

This year instead of being a speaker I brought the event to Windsor as a local organiser! We had 12 fabulous women from all areas of science. We had experts in the field of computer science, artificial intelligence, biology, physics and medicine!

 

Before the event… Being a local organiser for an event that has never happened before definitely is difficult. People do not know what this event is and often shy away from helping or wanting to commit to something. The hardest part was trying to get speakers. Even with so many social media outlets and emailing various departments of different universities, not many people initially responded to the call. If I had to change one thing, I would have changed the date that I chose to host the event. We hosted it May 12, 2018 alongside Science Rendezvous. This promoted the event beyond what I believed imaginable; but my speaker selection became more difficult because of the date. If I had chosen a date in the Fall, I would have had more researchers available who normally go away to other places for field work. I was in a bit of a panic once I realized not many people were available; thinking I wouldn’t be able to host the event, but my wonderful organizing committee kept pushing and getting the word out and then came the difficult task of choosing 12 speakers out of so many wonderful women. As the day approached the long list of tasks to do was getting smaller, but the looming weather reports was my next hurdle.

 

The day of… Finally, the day arrived! My excitement was through the roof, but as I opened my eyes in the morning, all I could hear was the booming thunder! Yes, the worst weather we could have; thunderstorms all day followed by extremely cold weather and gusts of wind. Since this is an outdoor event, I had message after message coming from all the speakers and the volunteers, “are we still doing this?” As they say, the show must go on! We had to change one rule for the safety of all those attending and because many props were not allowed to get wet, we had to be under the overhang of a building. We were still outside; the speakers and volunteers were troopers! We were all cold and all my volunteers were soaked trying to get the public to the event space, but we did it! We hosted a successful event and all the speakers want to do it again (just hopefully with nicer weather!). Many speakers didn’t want to get off their soapboxes and we finally had a change in weather with 5 minutes left in the event which drew more families to the speakers. With an outdoor event you can’t predict the weather and you can’t control those elements, but Soapbox speakers are always filled with a different kind of energy that keeps them going and makes the event the best it can be!

Even though it was difficult at the beginning and we had the worst weather, being the local event organiser has been an amazing experience and we are excited to have hosted the event. My wonderful volunteers worked so hard to make sure that this event became a success in hopes of continuing to run this event in the coming years!

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