Don’t get wound up in what you DON’T know: Meet Joanna Brims

Joanna Brims is in her first year of her PhD at Cardiff University. Her PhD surrounds the Panama Isthmus – the land bridge which joins North and South America – and how and when it got there. She mainly does this by travelling to incredibly remote places, looking at the rocks which comprise the isthmus, and working out how they have formed and their relationships with other rocks. She can then use geochemistry to confirm these interpretations, and can date them using certain minerals, constraining the interpretations further. Her Soapbox Science talk will be on how the formation of the Panama Isthmus changed the world as we know it, how important it is to constrain its formation, and how she plans to do this. You can catch Joanna on her soapbox on June 10th in Cardiff when she will give a talk called: “The formation of the Panama Isthmus: how ancient volcanoes joined two continents and separated the oceans”

 

 

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

JB: I did my undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and applied for a NERC GW4+ PhD studentship at Cardiff University, where I am currently in my first year.

 

 

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

JB: I think that I have been incredibly lucky to find myself here, and probably owe it all to a lot of people! From a young age I was interested in Science – I was lucky enough to have parents that encouraged this interest, and who always took me into the outdoors and into nature. Subsequently, throughout school the sciences were generally my favourite subjects, along with geography.

However – when it came to applying for university, I was a bit lost. I did really enjoy learning and definitely wanted to continue into higher education – but I wasn’t really sure about what to study. I essentially then took my interest in science and combined it with my passion for the outdoors and geography, and thought that I might enjoy Earth Sciences. Thankfully, the system at the University of Glasgow allowed me to take three subjects in my first year and narrow it down later on, which meant I had some security if it didn’t work out!

Very quickly however, I discovered that Earth Sciences really were for me. I really love investigating and understanding the processes which form the world around us, particularly within igneous geology. I think that I was also lucky to have a lot of incredibly supportive lecturers in Glasgow, who really encouraged me to push myself and to do a PhD.

 

 

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

JB: I think being able to travel to incredibly remote, unexplored places. As large amounts of my field area have not been mapped or studied in detail, it is a bit of a treasure chest for any geologist – no matter what we do, we know we will find something new and exciting that no one has seen or recognised before.

 

 

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2017 in the first place?

JB: I thought that it was a really good way to communicate my science in an informal, accessible, and fun way. The soapbox means there’s very little of a barrier between you and the public, and I think that’s really unique.

It is also incredibly important as an event which showcases women in STEM subjects – as a geologist, people are often surprised when I tell them what I do! Although the male/female ratio is fairly equal at undergraduate level, it decreases at PhD level and even further beyond, so it is incredibly important to show that women can be successful within these subjects.

 

 

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

JB: Maybe….lively?

 

 

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

JB: I think the insane amount of pressure to publish in high-impact journals over focussing on the science itself and communicating it through other methods. Although academics are incredibly busy, it is also important to communicate science to the public too.

 

 

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

JB: That is pretty much me right now! But I would say that if it is what you’re passionate about, just go for it. If I was speaking to myself ~8 months ago, when I had just started, I would definitely say to not get wound up in what you DON’T know. Yes, everyone else around you may seem to know a lot more, but they’ve also been doing this a lot longer than you.

 

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Take every opportunity, you never know where it will lead: Meet Alex Shephard

Dr Alex Shephard studied Biochemistry at the University of Oxford before completing a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Bristol University in 2014. She then moved to Cardiff to take up her current position as a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Medicine. Alex’s current research focuses on exosomes, small bubbles released from cells which have the potential to act as markers for aggressive prostate cancer. You can catch Alex on her soapbox on June 10th in Cardiff when she will give a talk called: “Message in a bubble: how cancer cells turn healthy cells to the dark side”

 

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

AS: I studied Biochemistry at the University of Oxford before going on to complete a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol. My PhD focused on how inflammation can cause colorectal cancer and I was keen to stay in the field of oncology. I therefore moved to Cardiff in 2015 to take up a postdoctoral position in the School of Medicine and am currently working on a project funded by Prostate Cancer UK, focusing on developing improved diagnostic tests for prostate cancer.

 

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

AS: Before the start of my GCSEs I would never have thought I would end up doing a science degree, let alone actually working as a scientist! At this point, I found chemistry difficult and biology boring. Everything changed during my GCSEs when I was particularly fortunate to have two really inspiring teachers who completely changed my opinion and my future career.

 

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

Working in cell biology it always strikes me how amazing it is that there are millions of processes going on inside us every second just to keep us alive and we never notice! The human body is a fascinating machine that we all take for granted.

 

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2017 in the first place?

AS: I really enjoy opportunities to talk about my work, especially to the public who often don’t get exposed to real scientists!

 

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

AS: Sociable

 

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

AS: The perception that to be a good scientist you have to constantly move around to different institutions and different places. Whilst it’s important to get a range of experiences and make new contacts this can be done with shorter term visits, you shouldn’t have to move abroad for a couple of years to stand a chance of a fellowship. This is a major barrier to people with families or who want to settle in one place.

 

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

AS: This isn’t necessarily gender specific advice, but I’d say take every opportunity that comes your way even if you’re initially not too keen on it, you never know where things will take you.

 

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Science brings people together: Meet Marlou Perquin

Marlou Perquin (@mnperquin) is from the Netherlands, where she did a Bachelor in Psychology and in Philosophy, as well as a Research Master in Cognitive Neuroscience and Master in Philosophy at Leiden University. Afterwards, Marlou moved to Wales for a PhD project in cognitive neuroscience at Cardiff University. She is currently halfway through her project, and is now analysing and writing up the results of her first study on variability within individuals, as well as planning a second study in which she will use an MEG scanner: A non-invasive machine that can record the electrical signals that occur in your brain during activity. Marlou’s talk at Soapbox Science 2017 will be on behavioural and neuronal variability between and within individuals. Specifically, she will talk about what happens when we perform repetitive, boring, tasks, and how we may improve our own performance and variability. You can catch Marlou on her soapbox on June 10th in Cardiff when she will give a talk called: “Can we improve our performance on boring, repetitive tasks by having more task-control?”

 

 

 

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

MP: I was doing my Research Master in the Netherlands and was actively looking for a PhD project in cognitive neuroscience. I found my position online while browsing through different projects, and immediately loved it! While applying, I never thought that they would actually hire me… but if you don’t apply, you’ll never get it! They did invite me for a Skype-interview and although I was really nervous, I had so much fun during the interview. A few days later, I got an e-mail and the first 6 words were enough to make my heart skip a beat: “I am pleased to inform you…”

 

 

 

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

MP: Not sure if I can name a specific what or who. I was quickly drawn to research after starting my Bachelors, as it encompassed what I was always drawn to: reading, analytical thinking, picking apart and building larger theoretical frameworks, writing… I decided quite early on that I wanted to do a Research Master – which specifically prepares for a PhD project/scientific career. Doing this program felt like finally coming home to where I belonged, and confirmed that science was the right path for me.

 

 

 

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

MP: The human mind itself, of course! But aside from that, what fascinates me is how science can bring people together. I work in a big building with a lot of people who all do their own projects, and on a day-to-day basis, our work is very independent. But in the end, we are working together towards one large goal: Entangling the human brain and mind. There is something – something about science – that unites us.

 

 

 

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2017 in the first place?

MP: I love how Soapbox Science literally brings science to the streets and to the people. Science and knowledge should not be kept in the universities; they belong to everyone in society. I also think it’s great that Soapbox Science shows that scientists come in any shape, way, gender, or form, and not just in old-man-with-beard style.

 

 

 

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

MP: Engaging! 🙂

 

 

 

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

MP: I think we need to step away from the idea that good science is about publishing ground-breaking results in high impact journals. Not only is this leading to all sorts of (ethical) problems within research, it also makes us underappreciate good (but boring) science – such as replication studies. Let the focus be on good methods, and let the results be the results.

 

 

 

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

MP: Only do it if you love it, otherwise it’s not worth it. Science makes for a great, interesting, fun, and engaging job, but only if you have a genuine love for your topic and your research – because on a daily basis, science can often be tedious and frustrating, and on these days, you need to be able to have the larger picture in mind.

 

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Scientists need to get their voices out there: Meet Debbi Pedreschi

Debbi Pedreschi is a Postdoctoral Researcher working on finding ways to implement the ecosystems approach to fisheries management at the Marine Institute, Galway, Ireland. You can catch Debbi on her soapbox on the July 15th in Galway, where she’ll give a talk called: ““The story of sustainable fisheries: solving ‘wicked problems’ and other tales….”

 

 

 

 

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

DP: I started out with a degree in Zoology from UCD, before pursuing a PhD. working on the genetics and diet of pike (freshwater fish) in Ireland. The path wasn’t straight forward as I had a number of non-science jobs in between the degree and PhD. I had worked in retail to put myself through college and continued there after college whilst searching for science related jobs and PhD opportunities. Unfortunately I graduated in 2007, exactly when the crash came, so it took a while to get to do what I really wanted as funding was very limited! However I used this time to volunteer with a number of wildlife charities, and I even did some travelling, completing a round-the-world trip. I think the time working in the business sector has stood me very well in my scientific life, instilling in me strong organisational skills, as well as experience working with people from all walks of life and enjoying communicating with people. I started working with the Marine Institute in 2014 and have been enjoying it ever since!

 

 

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

DP: I have come to learn that I was somewhat of an anomaly as a child – I sent out for college prospectuses when I was 12 and in first year of secondary school (nerd!) – I knew from a very young age that I wanted to do science, and I leaned towards the biological sciences. I am lucky to have always had that pathway in mind and even luckier to have ended up doing exactly what I wanted to do for a living. As for inspirations, after my parents who always encouraged me in my interests, it would have to be Sir David Attenborough – his work took me away to another world and instilled in me sense of wonder and a craving to be a part of it. I have also been very lucky to have had a number of encouraging and inspiring mentors along the way.

 

 

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

DP: I have been lucky to work on a range of projects, and they all have their charms in different ways. My current work is on trying to develop a new way of managing fisheries that takes ecosystem protection into account. The most fascinating aspect so far has been working with fishermen to develop the system – it really shows how decisions made at a management level can affect people and their livelihoods on a day to day basis. Working together really helps us to understand how complex managing people and natural resources can be, but is also really interesting to see things from their viewpoint and to hear their new ideas or solutions, and trying to find ways to include them.

 

 

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

DP: I appreciate all events that promote science, and women in science, but that most importantly, engage the public. Soapbox science literally ‘takes it to the streets’ – and I think that is an amazing initiative and opportunity – it removes all barriers allowing curiosity to peak and conversations to flow.

 

 

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the event.

DP: Inspiration!

 

 

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

DP: It would be the rise of so-called ‘alternative facts’, pseudoscience and climate/science denier culture. It is really concerning that scientific research is being dismissed despite the evidence, largely due to sensationalism and misinformation. Apart from encouraging ignorance about the natural world and our environment, it is downright dangerous when it comes to issues such as vaccination. That’s why initiatives such as Soapbox Science and the March For Science are so important. Scientists need to get their voices out there, be heard, and counteract the misinformation that proliferates. Science is essential for our health, well-being, education and technological advancement, and it is imperative that policy be based on the best available information and research.

 

 

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

DP: Keep going. Work hard. Be strong and determined, but flexible. Adapt and keep your mind open. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Find people that inspire you, and learn from them. Above all, make sure you study/work in areas of research you feel passionate about – then even the bad days are not so bad.

 

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Success comes from passion and not “genius”: Meet Giulia Mancardi

Giulia Mancardi is a final year PhD student at University College London, her project is focused on how calcium phosphate, the main component of bone and teeth, originates. She is a computational chemist, so do not expect to see her with a lab-coat and goggles (except at Soapbox Science)! She does not work in a lab, but in an office and she makes simulations of atoms and molecules in a supercomputer. You can catch Giulia on her soapbox in Cardiff on Saturday 10th June, 2017. She will be giving a talk called: “The chemistry behind the formation of our bones” 

 

 

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

GM: I am a final year PhD student in computational chemistry at University College London. I studied my BSc and MSc in Chemistry in my country, Italy, in Torino. During the final year of my Master, I got the opportunity to spend 5 months in Aberdeen Scotland to perform some experiments for the thesis with the Erasmus program. It was my first time abroad and I believe the Erasmus opportunity opened my horizons, and I learnt so many things being far from home! I met my supervisor during a conference at Torino University, she gave a very interesting talk on Bioglasses – the topic of my Master thesis – and I decided to talk with her during the coffee break. I told her that I was interested in becoming a theoretical chemist and doing a PhD. Some months later, she contacted me about a new position in her group and I applied straight away. I started my PhD in University College London and, after a year, I moved to Cardiff to follow my supervisor, who got a position at Cardiff University.

 

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

GM: Well, as far as I can remember, I have always been interested in knowing WHY things happen and HOW things are made. My parents were trying to explain everything to me, but every time I wanted to know more WHYs and HOWs. During high school, I was undecided about which university career I wanted to take: Chemistry or Physics? My hearth then pushed me towards Chemistry, as my grandfather, who passed away few years earlier, was a Chemist.

 

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

GM: I am now studying how bones are formed…. and everything happens in a computer! Let me explain better; I am a computational chemist, which means that I simulate atoms and molecules using a supercomputer. That is fascinating for me because I can observe how things happen at a level that is not reachable in the lab, and I am doing “green chemistry” as no toxic compounds or smelling solvents are involved in my research. And the bonus is that what I am doing represents a step forward to understanding HOW we are made and can help physicians to answer some of the WHYs about bad things that happen in our body. I am happy to think that I am doing something that one day will allow the discovery of new remedies for things like osteoporosis or bone cancer.

 

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2017 in the first place?

GM: I participated to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2016 as a volunteer and I decided, this time, to be one of the speakers. I like challenges and Soapbox Science is one for me, as I have never given a talk to a non-scientific public, and I believe this will be an amazing opportunity to share a piece of science… and maybe instill the love for chemistry in someone!

 

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

GM: Enriching

 

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

GM: I would like more communication between scientists and non-scientists, and I believe the scientists, not the journalists, should do this as they may alter the original information to sell it. I also do not share the philosophy of “publish or perish” that is spread in the academia, as it lowers the quality of the published stuff.

 

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

GM: Choose to do a PhD only if you are very curious and passionate, because what determines the success of a PhD student is how much passion drives him/her, not how “genius” he/she is.

 

 

 

 

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Truth is not set in stone but evolves with knowledge: Meet Francesca D. Ciccarelli

Francesca D. Ciccarelli is Associate Professor at King’s College London and Group Leader at The Francis Crick Institute. Her research aims to understand the role of genetic alterations in human cancer using a combination of computational and experimental approaches. You can catch Francesca on her soapbox on the 27th of May in London, with a talk called: “Using computers to study patient genomes and select the best cancer treatment”

 

 

SS: How did you get your current position?

FC: Passion, serendipity and luck. I knew I wanted to be a scientist very early on, although had no idea what that really meant… After my Master’s in Pharmaceutical Chemistry I had no strategy on how to pursue a career in research. So, I simply went for what intrigued me and had the great luck to end up working with one of the pioneers of computational biology at the EMBL in Germany. I totally fell in love with the possibility of tracing back the relationships between species by comparing their genomes: I could ‘see’ evolution at work! When I established my own research group, first in Milan and then in London, we started to study how the genome of cancer cells differs from that of healthy cells and how it evolves in time and space. This has enormous therapeutic potential, because the cancer-specific differences can be exploited to hit cancer cells selectively.

 

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

FC: My first role model was my chemistry teacher in secondary school, who was a very elegant woman. I loved the deep respect she had for her job and quite enjoyed the fact that she challenged us constantly. I have always had a true fascination for clever and passionate people and luckily enough have met several of them throughout my career. They are a continuous source of inspiration.

 

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

FC: There are two aspects that I love about science. The first is that truth is not set in stone but evolves with knowledge. This gives a sense of extreme freedom. The second is creativity. Because science is about understanding the unknown, you have to be open and think out of the box all the time. And this is so much fun!

 

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

FC: I watched a few videos and I thought this was different from anything I had done before…

 

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

FC: Curiosity

 

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

FC: Science- and in particular biomedical research- can be very expensive and not enough resources are devoted to it. Sadly, this reduces the freedom to embark on risky projects that could have a ground-breaking impact on people’s health.

 

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

FC: Go for what you really love and take this as the greatest opportunity. Science is hard work and you can succeed only with commitment, resilience, perseverance and lots of passion.

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Discussion, collaboration and making mistakes results in the most interesting discoveries: Meet Katherine Holt

Dr Katherine B. Holt is Reader in Physical Chemistry at UCL. She carries out multidisciplinary research in electrochemistry and studies of the solid-solution interface. You can catch Katherine on her soapbox on the 27th of May in London, with a talk called: “Diamond – more than a girl’s best friend?”

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position? 

 

KH: Midway through my postdoc position I came across an advert for the Ramsay Fellowship that offered the opportunity for two years funding for independent research in chemistry. The advert said they would particularly encourage applicants who wished to hold the fellowship at UCL. Although I’d never considered working in London, this was a strong hint that I should get in touch with UCL Chemistry to see if they would host me! They agreed and I was awarded the fellowship and pitched up at UCL in 2004. As a two year position goes in a flash, almost immediately I started to apply for longer fellowships and was awarded a five year EPSRC Advanced Research Fellowship in 2006. This morphed into a permanent lectureship at UCL where I’ve been ever since and where I’m now a Reader.

 

 

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

 

KH: My parents both did chemistry degrees and were chemistry teachers so it’s obviously in the genes. Having said that, neither my brother or sister are scientists. I just liked science subjects at school and it’s what I’m good at. I can’t admit to any driving passion to get to where I am, it’s been more luck and chance if I’m honest (although a lot of luck does result from planning and hard work!).

 

 

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

 

KH: I find it interesting to compare the topics we’re researching in my group at the moment to what I planned to do when I started. I find most of the interesting things you discover come about through a chance discussion with someone, a new collaboration or an experiment you originally planned not working. It’s quite fascinating to look back and try to figure out how you got from there to here!

 

 

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

 

KH: I do quite a lot of outreach – talks to school, science clubs, general public – but have always relied on a tried and tested set of power point slides. The idea of presenting without images and props and to an audience who haven’t deliberately come to see some science is a bit scary. I like doing scary things sometimes.  

 

 

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

 

KH: Winging it!

 

 

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

 

KH: There are too many papers on tiny iterations of the same thing and we don’t spend enough time reading the already existing literature. It’s difficult because of course PhD students and postdocs need publications to progress in their careers, but I think quantity gets in the way of quality.

 

 

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

 

KH:  I would say start planning sooner than you think you need to. Start scouting out postdoc positions before you write your thesis and try to publish your work throughout the PhD rather than after you’ve finished. When you get a postdoc position you need to have your eye on what you’re going to do next – check out the eligibility criteria and application deadlines for relevant fellowships early on and make sure you contact potential hosting departments early too.

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If it scares you, do it anyway!: Meet Siân Fogden

Dr Siân Fogden (@DrSianF) is a Nanotechnologist with an Oxford University chemistry degree and an Imperial College London PhD. She spent five years in southern California working as the Market and Technology Development Manager for Linde Nanomaterials, a new division of Linde which was created to commercialise the technology developed and patented during her PhD. In 2015 Dr Fogden brought her technology back to London and created Anionica to continue this commercialisation path. Her technology focuses on the reductive dissolution of carbon nanotubes, producing inks to make transparent conductive films. Such films can be used in flexible displays, touch screens, smart windows and solar cells.

To engage with her love of science communication, Dr Fogden is the acting Press Coordinator and Communications Officer for the Graphene Flagship, an EC research initiative, with a budget of €1 billion that aims to take graphene from academic laboratories into European society in the space of 10 years. You can catch Siân on her soapbox on the 27th of May in London, with a talk called: “Changing the world on an unprecedented scale: How tiny carbon nanotechnology will change all of our lives”

 

 

Becoming  a scientist and a female founder of a tech company

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say in this blog.  I could talk for ages about carbon nanotubes and graphene and how they will change the world.  I could talk about how crucial science is to the world and how a bedrock of facts is so important and is something that we should treasure and protect. But instead I want to talk about how I got to be here – a scientist and a female founder of a tech company.

 

Science and innovation is difficult work with many highs and lows. My PhD at Imperial College in London was very challenging but out of it came a number of patents and the interest of Linde, a large industrial chemical company.  When Linde decided to licence my patents, start Linde Nanomaterials, (which would be based in Southern California) and employ me as the Market and Technology Development Manager it was a dream come true. At the same time moving half way around the world and taking a leap out of the lab and into a customer-facing role was incredibly difficult. It was an opportunity that I fought for because I felt that engaging potential customers and using their input to lead the technology development was what I really wanted to do.  I was right. I loved my work and it was a really proud moment for me when we launched our first product in 2013. To actually see a product that had come out of my PhD research launched onto the market was incredible and even more exciting was that people actually bought it!  As well as selling small scale samples to the R&D community we also focused on much larger scale end users and my work involved a lot of travel throughout the USA, Europe and extensively in Asia. It was an amazing time in my life and I learned a lot.  As my team grew so did my role and I became almost completely customer focused. Unfortunately, in 2015 Linde made a strategic business decision to close a number of small ventures and Linde Nanomaterials was included in that cut.  The closure of Linde Nanomaterials counts as a low point in the commercialisation journey.  However, it did enable me to return to London and bring the patents and know-how that had been created during the five years of Linde Nanomaterials back with me.  Throughout this process my belief in the technology never wavered – I believe that it will succeed and so Anionica was formed.  The route to start-up success is difficult and, with the help of others, I’m still trying to find the right path.  Once again I have taken a leap into new and unfamiliar territory and if I have one message to you it would be this:

 

If you feel reluctant to do something because it scares you, you should just do it anyway.  If you are offered an opportunity it’s not because of luck it’s because you have put in the hard work and you are standing in the right place at the right time. Typically, women apply for opportunities only when they meet 100% of the required experience in a job description. Men apply when they meet 60% of requirements. So my point is, you can learn the other 40% when you get there, so go for it!

 

Oh and I really do believe in my carbon nanotube technology – give me a few years and I think that you will be able to purchase a piece of tech such as a new phone or a flexible display which my technology enables.

 

 

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We need more role models in STEM: Meet Kari Hyll

Born and raised in Sweden, Dr Kari Hyll is an imaging spectroscopist with a burning passion for planetary science. Kari is currently a Research Associate in Earth Observation in the Geography Department at King’s College London. The Wildfire Research Team at King’s College London focuses on global satellite-based wildfire monitoring and Kari’s research aims to make the satellite data better at predicting the impact of wildfires on air quality and climate change. You can catch Kari on a soapbox on the 27th of May in London, with a talk called: “Smoke and Mirrors – Wildfire monitoring in a warming world”

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

KH: I’m an Astronomer-turned-Engineer-turned-Geographer. I started out with an MSc in Astronomy and then stumbled into a PhD in Production Metrology – basically optical measurements applied to industrial production. After my PhD I wanted to merge my different skillsets, and I realised that I could do that in Earth Observation and Remote Sensing. I lacked the network in the field that is so often said to be essential to success, but what I found is that a diverse background, technical skills, and a few publications can get you far.

 

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

KH: Ever since I was a child I’ve felt drawn to Space. I loved to learn new things and decided when I was fourteen that I was going to study Astronomy. I was the first of my extended family to get a PhD and only the second to attend university at all, but my parents were very supportive and believed in me. Since then, I’ve followed what interests me. Doing research is so stimulating that I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

 

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

KH: I think it’s amazing how much knowledge we can get from analysing the wavelengths of light – the method that we call spectroscopy – and that we can do this on a global scale with the help of satellites and supercomputers. We can detect wildfires in remote areas and use the satellite data to predict how the smoke will travel and impact air quality in urban areas.

 

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

KH: During my years in Physics and Engineering I always felt there was a lack of role models. I’ve often doubted that I could succeed because I didn’t meet people similar to me who had. I want to show other LGBT people, especially people who’re transgender like me, that they have a place in STEM.

 

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

KH: Engaging!

 

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

KH: The work/life balance – the expectation that an academic should work 60-80 hours a week, or else be branded as ‘not dedicated enough’. Academics deserve time to pursue other hobbies or be with their families, just like everyone else.

 

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

KH: This might sound boring, but make sure to publish as many papers as possible during your PhD, ideally in different journals. And make sure that you have mental health support. Take care of yourself and believe in yourself.

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Doing conservation science in challenging field conditions: Meet Jessica Bryant

Dr Jessica Bryant is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Zoology. She works with Hainan Gibbons in order to try to develop novel monitoring technologies for the surviving gibbon population, and explores appropriate methods to reconnect the fragmented Bawangling forest landscape and allow wider gibbon movement and dispersal. You can catch Jessica on her soapbox on the 27th of May in London, where she’ll give a talk called: “The singing king of the swingers: conserving the world’s rarest ape”

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

JB: I grew up in the outer fringe of Sydney, Australia, surrounded by bushland, and so I’ve been fascinated by the natural world from a young age.  When I started to notice changes in my local area, I also developed a strong sense of needing to protect and conserve the amazing animals and plants around me.  It was only when I got to tag along with a ‘real’ scientist in my second last year of high school that I realised I could do this for a job! So I did a degree in biology majoring in ecology, with an Honours research project year looking at the impact of dog walking in urban bushland areas on native fauna. After graduating, I worked in various positions in the state government’s environment department on different conservation research projects, which gave me really valuable real-world experience in conservation practice. Then, in 2010 I moved to the UK to start my PhD investigating the Hainan gibbon in China with the aim of better understanding the species to inform conservation decision making. I have continued to work on the species in a post-doctoral capacity for the last couple of years, working with a small team of colleagues and the local nature reserve to research and enhance conservation of this species.

 

 

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

JB: Well, my interest in science was originally inspired by my love of nature, but at the age of 17 this was nurtured when I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the CSIRO Student Research Scheme – a scheme run by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (the top government agency for scientific research in Australia) that paired senior school students with active scientific researchers across a range of disciplines to carry out ‘real’ research. I was partnered with (then) Dr David Eldridge (now Professor) from the University of New South Wales, who studies arid zone ecology. We went to Yathong Nature Reserve in central NSW and spent a week trapping invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals to investigate the biodiversity in this semi-arid region.  I learnt from ‘Dr David’ how to catch these animals, as well as how to identify and preserve some, and how to analyse the data we collected. It was a fantastic week of adventure, discovery and learning and David’s enthusiasm for ecology was infectious! It made it clear to me that something that I was interested in could actually be a full time job! From then I was hooked! With my passion for nature and interest in biology channelled, and with David’s ongoing mentoring help beyond the scheme, I set out to do everything I could to forge a career in science and conservation.

 

 

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

JB: Definitely the Hainan gibbons I have been studying for the past 7 years. They are remarkable creatures and it’s such a privilege to have been able to spend time with them in the wild, even more so considering their extreme rarity.  Their song has to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful forest sounds, and even now I get goose bumps when I hear it when I’m out in the forest in Hainan.

 

 

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

JB: I’m really keen to spread the word to people from all walks of life that women CAN (and should!) do conservation science in challenging field conditions (such as remote, rural China) even in often male-dominated situations, e.g. working with an all-male team of forest wardens!  I want to increase awareness of the plight of the Hainan gibbon, some of the fascinating features of this amazing primate, and the work our team has done and continues to do to help to conserve this species for future generations.  I see Soapbox Science as a wonderful platform to communicate all this to a vast number of people with a great variety of backgrounds and levels of science awareness/education.

 

 

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

JB: Energy!

 

 

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

JB: I really enjoy communicating the work that I do in many forms, including peer-reviewed journal papers, public engagement activities (like Soapbox Science!), and talking directly with the local reserve officials who will use my findings to enact conservation actions for the Hainan gibbon. However, I do worry that even now a lot of funding in science and academia is still awarded largely based on only an assessment of whether you have published your paper in the right high-impact journals, or whether your research questions are ‘sexy’ enough, rather than taking all forms of the way that science is shared/communicated and used, and the holistic impact it can have on the ground, into account.

 

 

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

JB: Do it! It is hard work and can be challenging, but all good things are and it’s also really rewarding! We definitely need more women in science, so go for it!

 

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