Follow your interests and go for it: Meet Emmeline Gray

Emmeline Gray is a first year PhD student at the Open University, Milton Keynes. Emmeline is trying to reconstruct what the monsoon in India was doing about two to five million years ago by using marine sediments and the microfossils and nannofossils found in them.



You can catch Emmeline on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 29th June. Find out why studying the past monsoon is important and how “Tiny fossils can help predict the future”.

Follow Emmeline on Twitter: @emmelement



SS: Emmeline, how did you get to your current position?

EG: I did an integrated masters in Oceanography with French at university and when people asked me what I’d do with that strange combination, because I loved the practical side of science, I always said I’d go and work as a lab tech in France! A year after graduating I was lucky enough to actually get this “dream job”! I spent two years working as a palaeoclimate research technician at CEREGE, near Aix-en-Provence, and really enjoyed learning new skills and lab techniques. Then I decided that I wanted more of a challenge and that doing a PhD would offer me a lot of new opportunities and a chance to learn new skills, both in the lab and in “real life”, while staying in a branch of science that I really love. So I applied for a few, got accepted at the Open University, and began in October last year. It’s been a whirlwind since then!


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

EG: I don’t remember ever really deciding to go into science – it just sort of happened! I’ve loved science and the environment for as long as I can remember. There are scientists in my family, and my grandpa has a collection of scientific toys, so it was always normal to be curious about how things worked and what the science behind things was. I was also lucky to have really good science teachers at the schools I went to. They made the lessons interesting and made sure that everyone in the class understood as much as possible. This was often through practical work which I enjoyed, as I am definitely a ‘learning by doing’ sort of person.


Emmeline in the Kochi Core Center in Japan where some of the sediments she works on are stored (they have to be stored in cold temperatures so the core store is like being in a giant fridge)

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

EG: I find it incredible that by looking at chemical signals in the shells of organisms that were alive millions of years ago we can work out the temperature of the ocean at the time they were living in it! It’s like some kind of time travel magic (but more scientific)! Sometimes the practical work can get a bit repetitive, but then I just remind myself that I am probably the first person ever to see this particular fossil. This just amazes me every time.


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

EG: I have loved being involved with public outreach activities in the past, and despite being a bit shy, I have enjoyed performing in a group on stage (I once accidentally joined the cast of a pantomime…). I thought that Soapbox Science would be an exciting way to combine two things I enjoy while forcing me out of my comfort zone by not being able to hide in the crowd (or behind pantomime makeup). I think that it’s a unique opportunity to talk about science to people who might otherwise never give it a second thought. Often at outreach events it is people who already have an interest in the subject who come along. With Soapbox Science our audience is whoever is walking past on the day, and the challenge is to catch their interest so they stop and listen!


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

EG: Exhilarating!


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

EG: I think sometimes there can be the assumption that it is normal to be stressed, which means there is a risk of burn out or developing other mental health problems as people try to “push on through”. I think this is slowly changing as everyone is becoming more aware of mental health issues and more people are speaking out about their experiences but there is still a way to go in scientific culture in general.


Emmeline holding a section of sediment core which has just been scanned with an x-ray florescence core scanner

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

EG: I think this might be a question for someone further on in their career than me! If anyone has any advice about this I’m all ears! Advice I would give to someone who wants to study a science subject at university would be to follow your interests and go for it. Make sure you ask questions if you don’t understand something. It’s better to feel a bit silly momentarily while asking than to spend weeks or months not understanding something properly because you were afraid to ask! It’s easier said than done though, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to do everything by yourself, but it’s definitely worth trying.





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Building your tribe as a young researcher: meet Cynthia Adu

Cynthia is an EngD (engineering doctorate) researcher in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Materials and Manufacturing. She is based at Cranfield University, and her research is focused on converting by-products of paper mills into valuable resources for other industries. Her research interests include resource efficiency, cellulose, and the circular economy.


You can catch Cynthia on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 29th June, where she will talk about: “What?! Your car is made from paper?”

Follow Cynthia on Twitter: @CynAdu


They say that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, but what happens when that child grows up and enters the real world, and has to take responsibility for driving their own passions and ideas? This journey requires a unique support system and community known as a ‘tribe’. We are profoundly shaped by our social environment, and are motivated by the people we interact with. To say that you are ‘building your tribe’ means that you are looking for a group of people who will together inspire, motivate and hold each other accountable when working towards their goals.

The idea of building a tribe is becoming popular amongst women on social media. There’s a group of female entrepreneurs tagging #tribe on Twitter or Instagram, often accompanied by photos of happy, successful women, loving life and their careers. In the reality of research, this is not always the picture, as the life of a research student can sometimes feel lonely. Your tribe is not to be confused with your 300 LinkedIn connections who know nothing about your research interests, and they are certainly not those who ask: ‘So, when do you hand in?’

A tribe is about the quality of your network. It is crucial to surround yourself with people with whom you have an actual relationship with, who are interested in motivating you towards your goals, and that you also influence to reach theirs. Your tribe holds you accountable for that paper you are procrastinating about, or the grant you aren’t confident in applying for. They involve you in their exciting new project and value your ideas. It is a fruitful symbiotic relationship of people with the same expertise, knowledge, skills and passions as you. Here are some ideas to help you start building your own tribe:

It’s never too late to start – I started building my tribe at the beginning of my EngD. I spent a lot of time with three inspiring researchers who were all midway through their PhD. This group immersed me in their creative ways of thinking.

The more diverse the better – Despite my background in engineering, my first tribe had a background in mathematics, product design and communication. However, we all shared a common interest in solving sustainability challenges through design, innovation and circular economy thinking.

Challenge each other – We all enjoyed exciting and challenging opportunities, so we entered competitions together. These ranged from small local pub quizzes to big international hackathons. We won a Philips prize for developing a circular economy technology solution to aid the recovery of an elderly stroke patient.

Become active in a professional network I emphasise the word ‘active’, as there are other ways to make meaningful connections outside LinkedIn or ResearchGate. Whilst these platforms are useful, they only complement real-life engagement. So I became more active and committed to my professional institute, the IOM3. I joined their Sustainable Development Group to meet more specialists who are actively shaping sustainability. My tribe is still growing. It is also made up of senior mentors and young researchers who are part of a group called the Sustainability Cohort, and we have an annual gathering at the beginning of the year to explore the topic of sustainable manufacturing and other emerging themes.

Participating in Soapbox Science has already put me in a good position to meet other interesting women who may become part of my tribe. As two-thirds of female STEM graduates end up in non-science related careers, building tribes could play a significant role in keeping them in STEM.


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Step out of your academic ‘bubble’: Meet Alice Fraser-McDonald

Alice studied a BSc in Conservation Biology and Geography at the University of Exeter in Cornwall. She then went on to undertake an MSc in Earth Science with the Open University. This culminated in an independent research project investigating the impacts of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide on the carbon and water cycles from tree-ring stable isotope records. She is now a first year PhD student with the Open University in the field of environment and waste management. Her research is looking at trees growing on closed landfill sites. Are they taking in methane, thereby helping to reduce the effects of landfill greenhouse gases on the global carbon cycle? Or are they amplifying the effect by channelling emissions from the waste directly to the atmosphere?

You can catch Alice on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 29th June, where she will talk about: “Landfill site trees: do they contribute to global warming?”

Follow Alice on Twitter: @AliceFraserMcD1

SS: Alice, how did you get to your current position?

AF-M: After graduating from the University of Exeter in 2014, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I had enjoyed the climate change and earth science modules that formed part of my degree. I decided to start a part-time Masters in Earth Science with the Open University. I really enjoyed the final project for my masters degree where I looked at water use efficiency in trees and linked it to the carbon and water cycles. At this point I thought that I had finished with studying! I then got a job in the curriculum management team in the Business School at the Open University. After a few months in the job I realised that I missed the academic side of studying, and wanted a new challenge. I started looking at PhD projects and was put in touch with my supervisor who had an idea about applying current tree research to closed landfill sites. I really liked the applied nature of the idea, and helped to create the project proposal. I started my research in October 2018.

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

AF-M: I am not sure that there is one person or thing that inspired me to study science, as I have always had an interest in the subject. Geography and science were some of my favourite subjects at school and so it seemed like a good idea to go on and study them at university (plus I thought I might get to go on some exciting field trips!). I have had an interest in nature and the outdoors for a long time as my family frequently went on long walks and spent time outside on holidays when I was younger. When I was completing my masters project I realised just how much I enjoyed studying trees and linking the small-scale process to larger ideas like climate change. All of these subjects that I enjoy have come together nicely to form my PhD project.

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

AF-M: I think my research is interesting because it challenges the idea that trees are always ‘the good guys’ in every scenario. Quite a few people I have spoken to are surprised that trees are likely to be releasing methane to the atmosphere in some environments. It is exciting that I get to be the first person to try to find out whether trees are actually emitting methane from closed landfill sites, or if they are in fact taking it in and helping to mitigate climate change.

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

AF-M: I think Soapbox Science is a fantastic way for female researchers to share their work with a much wider audience than they might otherwise be able to do. It is a great chance for researchers to step out of their academic ‘bubble’ and talk to the general public about some really fascinating scientific subjects. The events are a wonderful way of engaging people with scientific research who may not normally encounter scientific principles in their everyday lives, and I am excited to contribute to this. I also think it is a good chance to gain valuable feedback about my research from a wide range of people, from the other participants to the general public.

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

AF-M: Excited!

I think a lot of people would describe their expectations for the day using this word, but I am really looking forward to talking about my research to the public, and after meeting the other speakers I am really excited to see their talks on the day as well.

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman considering studying for a PhD?

AF-M: Try not to be too disheartened if you do not get the first project or PhD you apply for. It is so competitive, but you will get there eventually. Also, get to know as many people as you can! If you can network and meet other people in your subject area, then they are likely to think of you when an opportunity for a project or job arises.

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Scientific culture needs to be accessible for everyone: Meet Julia Potocnjak

Julia Potocnjak, University of Colorado- Boulder, took part in the first ever Soapbox Science Boulder event on 7th April 2019, with the talk:“Gummy Bears don’t wear Genes! How Genetics Works”




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

Julia Potocnjak: Since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by the world around me.  So much so, that my parents enrolled me in school early.  I kept walking up to the school from my house, and my parents got tired of phone calls from the school to come pick me up!  So they enrolled me a year early.  I watched The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, and saw Jane Goodall on television as well.  Having those early exposures to figures in science and research only furthered my interest in my world.  I wanted more.


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

JP: What attracted me to Soapbox Science was multi-faceted: Firstly, as a woman in a STEM field, I desire to participate in as much outreach and science communication as I can. Knowledge is power!  Making an impact on my community by engaging in public forums presenting science is awesome.  It’s such a powerful thing to be a part of, and for the next generation to see that there are mums and sisters and daughters doing amazing science everyday is incredibly gratifying.

Secondly, what an awesome concept!  I have never been a prolific speaker, but interacting with people at this event, answering questions and seeing how excited people were with what I was presenting…what an awesome feeling!

Lastly, as a Professional Research Assistant in Behavioral Genetics,  I was thrilled at the idea of presenting how Genetics works, especially in a time where the field has gone totally mainstream and now we can have all kinds of information about ourselves by spitting in a tube!


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

JP: Scientific culture needs to be accessible for everyone.  In my own experiences, from job interviews to departmental meetings and even taking classes as an undergrad and through grad school-diversity has been lacking for a very long time.  Not all researchers are men, not all post docs, grad students or academia are men.  However, the representation of women in these critical positions is so disproportionate!  The sciences ARE for everyone, and as women across all stages of our careers, we must serve as public faces and examples to inspire the next generation of girls and young women.


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

JP: Don’t give up.  Investing in yourself at any level in any field, will only benefit you.  And the benefits will absolutely outweigh the challenges, the uncertainty and doubt.  Stay the course.  I’ve faced many challenges in my academic career, and those challenges have only solidified my place in STEM.  Sometimes it can feel daunting, but there is a place for you.





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Don’t be held back by the stereotypical image of a ‘scientist’: Meet Danielle Solomon 

Dr Danielle Solomon (@df_solomon), Institute for Global Health, University College London is taking part in Soapbox Science London on 25th May with the talk: “Using research to understand sexual health”





What a scientist looks like

By Danielle Solomon

A running joke about me is that I went to medical school because ‘a lot of people told me not to’. It’s not entirely true – I’ve been fascinated by science since I can remember, and deep down I always knew that I would turn it into a career. However, the fact that it was an aspiration that went against almost every piece of advice I was given during my youth certainly helped cement the decision. My school, in particular, spent many fruitless hours trying to convince me that attempting to pursue a career in medicine would lead me down a path of rejection and disappointment. Why? Because my skills very clearly lay in the arts. I played more than one instrument, I loved literature and theatre, I was creative, not analytical. People like me, on the whole, didn’t end up working in the sciences.

Three science degrees later, I can confirm that the above assumption isn’t true. Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to work with a range of incredibly interesting people, all of whom have very different skillsets and interests, and all of whom contribute something different to the pursuit of scientific understanding. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the field of public health. The World Health Organization defines public health as “the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts of society” – and I couldn’t agree more with that definition. In order to prevent disease, we have to understand some of the most nuanced aspects of human behaviour, and that requires the bringing together of a number of disciplines; biology, chemistry, maths, sociology, politics, philosophy and history…to name a few. My day-to-day life involves sitting in front of computer analysing rows and rows of numbers (something which I love), but my background in the arts is something that helps me turn those numbers into people, and ultimately makes me better at my job.

My advice to anyone pursuing a career in the sciences is twofold. First – don’t be held back by the stereotypical image of a ‘scientist’. There is an assumption that people who work in the sciences behave in a certain way, and that they have a very specific set of (let’s face it, traditionally male) interests and skills. Science is incredibly diverse, and scientific careers present a lot of room for diversity, when given the chance. Second – don’t be held back by the fallacy of ‘natural talent’. The idea that everyone who works in the sciences showed a natural aptitude from infancy. This often excludes people from non-traditional backgrounds, who may, for both structural and personal reasons, take a bit longer to find their niche within science.

In my opinion, it’s the passion, the creativity and the curiosity that can’t be taught. The rest you can learn later.

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So much for parental expectations: Meet Frances A Edwards

Professor Frances A Edwards, University College London, is taking part in Soapbox Science London on 25th May 2019 with the talk: “It takes two to tangle; scientists trying to understand Alzheimer’s disease”





So much for parental expectations

by Frances A Edwards

Unlike most of the women who have written blogs for this site, I was set on a career in medicine or science from a very young age. My father was a respiratory physiologist and my mother’s family of artists were also self-educated naturalists who took me bushwalking and ingrained in me a love and curiosity about nature and “life, the universe and everything!”.

Early experiences with my father included finding a possum under a tree in the local park on Christmas eve. I thought it was still breathing and ran home to my father who, despite the holiday, was working away at his desk. “Daddy, daddy come quickly”. It turned out that the possum was dead but there was a live baby possum in the pouch. Marsupials are born very early and crawl around through their mother’s fur to suckle and develop in the pouch. So we took this tiny pink fetal-like creature home and kept it warm and fed it milk with an eye dropper. Excited for Christmas at the age of about 7, I fell into bed exhausted in the evening and woke in the morning, running into my parents shouting “Where’s my possum?”.

“Well”, my father said, in his characteristically calm way, “I have good news and bad news for you. Sadly your possum died…. but look what I have for you…” and, with that he pulled out a little vanilla essence bottle full of saline and the eye dropper, previously used for feeding the possum, was now attached to the trachea leading to the dissected out lungs so we could simulate breathing by squeezing the nipple making the lungs expand and contract in the bottle.

“Wow!!!! Fantastic!!” Poor little possum forgotten immediately by blossoming young scientist.

Dad: “I’d never seen the respiratory system of a baby possum before”.

“Grrrr….” says Mum “but did you have to dissect it on the kitchen table while I was trying to make the Christmas pudding and wrap the presents?”

In retrospect it is quite funny that I went on throughout my school life assuming that I would go to university and become a scientist and thinking of this as just exactly what was expected of me. My father sadly died very early from cancer, when I was 9 years old, leaving my mother with very little money, feeling the weight of responsibility for their 4 clever little kids. Despite being very clever herself, she had not been allowed to go to university but rather had been expected to look after her father and brothers, after her mother was no longer capable of doing so, due to mental illness. So she had trained as an art teacher but gone to university and not been in the work force since she had married my father at the age of about 22.

Fortunately with us being on scholarships at private schools and university education being free in Australia at the time, this seemed a clear and natural path. As far as I was concerned Mum absolutely expected me to go to university and have an academic career. She would always say “having a career is really important; make sure you have something to fall back on”. Of course she felt this as a huge hole in her situation as, by the time Dad died, she had been out of the work-force for 15 years or so and advances in technology had moved art teaching to a very different stage. I assumed she meant that I should go to university and become a scientist. After all, in my head, that was what I was always going to do. I was fortunately not disabused of my mother’s intentions until many years after she had died, when I already had a permanent position at University College London. I had a visit, out of the blue, from my mother’s friend Marl who had 3 daughters with highly successful careers, one a professor at Kings College London.

Marl: “Isn’t it funny that you, of all your siblings, are the one with the international career in science?”

Me: “But I have only done exactly what Mum and everyone else expected me to do. Besides my siblings are very successful” (All with successful careers in Australia at that stage: my two older brothers, a doctor and a scientist and my younger sister, multi-talented in the arts.)

Marl: “What do you mean? That’s not what your mother meant you to do. She wanted you to be a nurse or a physiotherapist or something practical that you could fall back on when you had had kids; in case something happened to their father.”

She went on to explain that she and Mum used to have screaming arguments about what girls should be encouraged to do. My mother never drove and Marl told me about one time when driving across the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Mum in the passenger seat, Marl was trying to convince her that girls’ careers were just as important as boys. Mum got so cross that she told Marl to stop right there in the middle of the bridge and got out and walked off along the median strip.

So it seems that rather than doing exactly what was expected of me, I simply made up my mind from the start and it didn’t really matter what my mother said. My track was already set and, that was that. A career in science and….. in case you were wondering…. no babies…..

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Science is an art form: Meet Eugenia Pyurbeeva

Eugenia Pyurbeeva (part of @lab_mol), Queen Mary University of London, is taking part in Soapbox Science London on 25th May 2019 with the talk:“Heat engines: from steam trains to using quantumness as a resource”




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

Eugenia Pyurbeeva: In a surprisingly straightforward way, but being a first-year PhD student is not much of a position. I’ve always loved science, got into a Maths-specialised school in secondary school, spent hours after school in the Physics lab there, partly doing experiments and solving problems and partly hanging out with a group of others who stayed there and then got through combined six years of Bachelors and Masters still having the idea that I love science and want to do research.


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

EP: A lot of things and people.

I read a lot of books, watched some films and wanted to be the hero. Being a type of hero who fights ten enemies at a time with brute force was never very appealing and also out of the question with me being small, completely unathletic and  quite socially awkward. So the most plausible and appealing heroic type was scientific: Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Captain Nemo, Ghostbusters, and particularly Cyrus Smith from the Mysterious Island, obviously a very tempting career prospect.

As for real people, whoever told me that it’s not that water boils at 100C, it’s that 100C is the temperature at which water boils (I honestly don’t remember who it was, but it was a very important sentence in my life), my mum, who allowed me to play with any dangerous object and drop ballet for electronics, my grandad, who I used to believe was an astronaut and flew off to space every morning at nine, only to return home in time for dinner (he was an aerospace engineer, really) and had a very appealing storage room (see below), my Maths teacher at school, who taught me how to read properly, everything, including poetry. And most importantly a Physics teacher, who never had me in his class, but was always happy to stay after lessons to show me a problem or one of his “toys” — the collection now  includes all the good items from the gift shops of most science museums in the world, with whom I’ve worked for six years in after-school clubs and who is still happy to listen to my ramblings about being stuck on something and ask very good questions. He is the best question-asker I’ve ever met.


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

EP: The process of the work itself.

When I was about ten, I got an electronic kit where you could make different circuits using a springboard and ordinary electronic parts. I had one before that had plastic bits that snapped together, but this one fascinated me, because unlike Lego or the first kit, you didn’t have to buy a new set to have more parts and build new circuits, the parts could be found in old TVs or cassette players that neighbours put next to the rubbish bins (I quickly learnt do desolder), pinched from my grandads storage room and even bought separately in a shop! Also, to find new circuits to build, you had to ask grandad for his old Electronics magazines, buy books or later search online. It still felt like playing with a kit, but an ever expanding kit with parts and instructions you had to search for around you, which only added to the fun.

Later, my school had a system for teaching Maths where you got a problem sheet and got through it at your own pace discussing the solved problems with a teacher. I loved it and it also felt like a game, with set time frames, rules and a bit of competition (you knew what problem or sheet your friends were on, so putting in a few extra hours got you ahead, unless they did the same).

It became an infinitely more interesting game when I realised I can set my own problem sheets for myself. Problems, sub-problems, do this in case of that, I still nearly always write myself a problem sheet when I do science. Only now it includes checking something with an experiment, doing an online search to find something out, going to the library to look for an obscure undigitised article, even talking to a someone about a problem and writing down ideas — instead of a kit it’s an ever-expanding never-ending quest-like game that can be played anywhere and includes most of your environment.

What’s not to like? It is a bit like the beginning of an Indiana Jones film (The Last Crusade) where reading a notebook leads to a trip to a library in Venice, finding a cross on the floor and a journey through rat-infested catacombs (apart from the rats, but I’m fine with that).


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

EPI always enjoy events that bring music or art to the streets. Even if I don’t like this particular art or music, it makes walking around the city much more enjoyable and reminds you that people around are not just some grey mass you have to squeeze through on the tube, but separate interesting individuals who spend a lot of time and effort to create this beautiful music or for some weird reason cover trees with colourful knitting. I believe science to be an art form in the sense that it is a skilled work to create something intrinsically beautiful, so I love the idea of “busking” science and it is a good challenge to try and show the beauty in it to people passing by.

Also, I just like to talk rather loudly about things that interest me.


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

EP: Handwaving. Both as a means of explanation and in a happy sort of way.


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

EP: Education. I can talk at great lengths about it, but would try to keep it short.

I’d love to see more real scientists teaching at secondary school level — not one-off outreach activities that are done and then quickly forgotten, but proper teaching at school in the way they would have liked to be taught themselves. Without drilling for tests, because it doesn’t teach anything (or enough for the time it takes), without making it less demanding in fear it would be boring — it would be, but learning to work hard in anything is probably even more important than science, and definitely without shunning from experiments and hands-on work in fear of Health and Safety (it is important, but I’ve seen too many instances when children do the “sink of swim” experiment time after time because it’s the safest thing you can do and ticks the “hands on” box). We are, after all, apes with intricately evolved hands specifically for manipulating objects and learning from that — and I feel that fitting this bit to that one with bits of wire and some string in such a way that it wouldn’t get tangled with the third bit should definitely be part of the curriculum. It would mean a few cuts and burns, but it is worth it.

On the other hand, it is great for the teacher as well. I’ve taught in various after-school clubs since I was fifteen (one involved making a Gauss gun that could shoot a sharpened nail through a tin can, but I won’t do it again) and keeping the school curriculum and quite a bit (in order to be able to answer most questions you might encounter) helps a lot with not shutting up in your narrow specialty and the mental exercise of finding a mistake in somebody’s solution one second and thinking of a good example for something else the next is honestly very good for you.


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

EP: I’m definitely not in a position to give any recommendations about it. I’d like some advice myself, though.

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Every day I learn something new!: Meet Janneke Keemink

Janneke Keemink is a researcher at the Department of Pharmacy, Uppsala University. She obtained her PhD at KU Leuven in Belgium and moved to Sweden afterwards to do a postdoc. Her research focuses on the performance of oral drug formulations in the stomach and intestine. At Soapbox Science Uppsala on 25 May Jenneke Keemink will talk about what happens to your tablet after you swallow it.



SS: How did you get to your current position?

JK: I applied for a postdoc position directly after finishing my PhD and I got it. After two years, I got the opportunity to stay on and continue my project.


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

JK: It actually just happened. As a pharmacy student I quickly realized I that didn’t want to work as a traditional pharmacist, and as I liked doing research during my master thesis, I decided that I wanted to continue with a PhD. I was looking for applicable research to keep my options open in my future career, I wanted to study something that would be useful in academia as well as industry. That’s how I ended up in the field of drug delivery.


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

JK: Every day I learn something new! My field is very interdisciplinary, and in research you’re always looking for answers and solutions from different angles.


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

JK: As an experimental researcher, I’m spending a lot of time in the lab. However, my goal is that our work ultimately reaches patients and people. Since I’m in pharmaceutical sciences this will take a long time. By joining Soapbox Science I can share my research with the general public already.


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

JK: Fun


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

JK: It would be great if scientists in academia had a bit more job security. Since funding research can be a bit tricky, this is quite challenging.


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

JK: Go for it and make sure you’re having fun doing research!


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I cannot think of a more exciting and interesting job: Meet Efthymia Kyriakopoulou

Efthymia Kyriakopoulou is an Assistant Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Before joining SLU  she has had positions at the University of Luxembourg, University of Gothenburg and at the Beijer Institute. Her research concerns e.g. environmental policy, sustainable development and social interactions. At Soapbox Science Uppsala on 25 May, Efthymia Kyriakopoulou will talk about “Social Norms and Recycling”.




By Efthymia Kyriakopoulou


I am an environmental economist with an interest at spatial and social interactions. Soon after I completed my PhD I realised that I wanted to follow an academic career. Even though I often complain about the tight deadlines and the fact that I am constantly thinking what I have to do even when not at work, I enjoy being a teacher and a researcher. In fact, I cannot think of any other job that would have been more exciting and interesting. There are always new challenges to face, there is always the feeling that I have to learn a lot of new things and boredom is definitely not an issue when you work in academia.


Being a teacher is definitely very challenging. There is a lot of interaction with young people who see the world from a different angle. I enjoy having very active students who ask questions all the time. Very often, they ask questions about things that I have never thought of. This is both challenging and inspiring. Doing research is the other interesting aspect of our job. The feeling that I can provide new answers to various questions as well as the freedom of determining my own research agenda are some of the appealing aspects of a job in academia.


I am pleased to be selected as a speaker at the Soapbox Science event. Such events are important for everyone but mainly for young women who need female role models to inspire success. Even though I live in Sweden where gender equality is vital to society, there is still a long way to go when it comes to the representation of women in high-power or academic positions. Our role, both as parents and as teachers, should be to ensure that girls will grow up to be strong, independent and confident and will never feel inferior. This should start at an early age and it seems that Swedish school does a good job. However, (female) university students often notice that women are underrepresented in senior academic positions. The exposure to female role models has a large role in encouraging young women to pursue and advance in academia.


At the Soapbox Science event, I will talk about the influence of social norms on recycling behaviour. Feeling expected to recycle by those around us and observing others to do the same are factors that affect our recycling rates. A good example is the university students who come to Sweden from other countries with lower recycling rates. Those students say that living in Sweden has changed their way of seeing things and has transformed their daily habits towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Those subconscious “rules” are known as social norms that shape the behaviours of a group or of a society. Apart from the recycling behaviours, social norms have been shown to affect other environmentally friendly behaviours like energy saving and eating less meat. If you want to know more, join us at Uppsala’s first Soapbox Science event, on May 25th.

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Feet to the ground and eyes to the goal!: Meet Stella Manoli

Dr Stella Manoli (@StellaManoli1), University of Southampton, is taking part in Soapbox Science Brighton on 1st June with the talk: “Light my way”






Soapbox Science: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place – and what are you most looking forward to/excited about in taking part? 

Stella Manoli : The idea of making science available to the public! Scientists from different universities and scientific fields taking their projects to the streets, sharing their knowledge and engaging with the public. The idea of interacting with the audience and especially young children is fascinating for me. Additionally, increasing the visibility of women in science and breaking the stereotypes; especially about the kind of professions that are suitable for women make the Soapbox science event very appealing to me. Personally, I’m looking forward to share my enthusiasm for science, to show the audience that there are many female researchers out there and of course have some ‘scientific’ fun.


SS: Tell us about your career pathway

SM: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” …

My journey started the moment I decided to choose physics, maths, chemistry and biology as the four main GCSE’s during high school. Physics stood out for me, leading me to university studying and obtaining an undergraduate degree in Physics. During the last year of my undergraduate studies as part of my final year project, I had my first hands-on experience with femtosecond lasers for nanosurgery applications. At that moment, I immediately knew about my next step. Following my undergraduate studies, I moved on with my postgraduate degree. During my master thesis, I specialised in using different types of magnetometers, measuring and analysing earth’s magnetic field anomalies. At that time, I had my first job offer and I worked as a student assistant at Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege. The decision to continue with a PhD was just something that came naturally to me. Working in laboratories are my happy place and therefore I decided to push myself a bit more at that time, changing field and becoming a PhD student in mechanical engineering. I spent three years in a composites laboratory, manufacturing materials from natural resources for high energy applications. At the same time as my PhD project, I worked as a graduate teaching assistant, supervising students during laboratory experiments. At the end of my PhD, I took one step further that led my current work as Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) research associate. My research project focused on the development of optical waveguide devices in nonlinear optical materials for quantum applications. And more single steps are due to follow…


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

SM: My own curiosity. As long as I can remember, I have always had questions to ask, such as: Why is the sky blue? Why can airplanes fly? And how do ships not sink? During my high school days, I found myself very fascinated with physics and chemistry subjects, especially when we had to do experiments. So after high school, the only path that was logical for me to follow was to study Physics. During my undergraduate degree my ‘curiosity’ questions were answered and many more were generated. From my undergraduate degree to my PhD, and still to this day as a researcher, I feel the same enthusiasm, the same excitement to work in a laboratory and contribute to expanding the limits of our scientific knowledge.


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

SM: The most interesting fact of my research is the conversion of the theoretical knowledge into practice. The way I can use light for material manufacturing and characterisation up to quantum applications. The major aspect of my project is the manufacturing of crystals for quantum communication on satellites. So far, quantum sensitive data are encrypted and sent across fiber-optic cables (figure 1) and channels together with the digital “keys” needed to decode the information. Quantum communication takes advantage of the laws of quantum physics to protect data.

Figure 1: Optical fiber







SS: Research in STEM is increasingly multi-disciplinary. Which subjects do you use in your work?

SM: By working in the optoelectronics department, physics has an important role in making decisions about the design of experiments and evaluating the results. Physics leads the way for understanding the properties of the various materials used, laser sources and choosing the right way to analyse the results according to the selected applications.

Figure 2: Computer chips for quantum applications


Nonetheless, I continually use engineering (mainly mechanical) to create a new experimental installation and modify existing optical equipment.

Physics and engineering are smoothly integrated with each other, making this work possible.


SS: What 3 attributes do you consider important to your work (e.g. creativity, team-work, etc), and why did you pick these?

SM: Personally I strongly believe that teamwork is the most important quality. The ability to work in harmony with my colleagues, finding ways to complete tasks in the most effective and efficient way and working towards a common goal contributes to building a healthy working environment.

Secondly I will highlight the eagerness and willing to add to our knowledge base and skills. Working in experimental fields, the need for continuous improvement either in practical skills or theoretical knowledge never stops. The passion and drive to keep pushing ourselves to learn more is directly connected with the evolution of our fields of research.

To move forward and overcome failures, persistence is needed more than anything and determination to try as many times as needed to succeed.


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

SM: The continuous pressure for publications. Many research projects are guided by the pressure/need to generate data, which can easily be published. Research should never be compromised either in terms of funding or in the research just for publicity purposes.


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

SM: In the words of Winston Churchill: ‘’Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’’

No one has ever said that a career in the academic world is easy or full of continued success. However, the fear of failure must never diminish the belief in our abilities. Feet to the ground and eyes to the goal!


SS: What words of encouragement would you give to children who might be interested in a career in science?

SM: Find what excites you most, ask as many questions as you can and let it light up your way! No question is stupid and nothing is easily won. The scientific world is a great place to be part of and every little contribution is big enough!

Do not let anything stop you from being part of it! Join us!!!

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