It’s fascinating to see research output meet the needs of society: Meet Brakemi Egbedi

Brakemi Egbedi is an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Marine Sciences, University of Lagos. She obtained her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from the above named department, with a specialization in Fisheries. She has as her areas of interest: seafood by-products utilization and biotechnology. Her PhD research basically focuses on utilizing fish by-products in the development of high value products. Through her research, she hopes to contribute to combating the world’s problem on hunger and poverty as well as ensuring the sustainable use of the ocean’s resources.

She looks forward to speaking about fish by-products utilization and why we should care about it, during her soap box presentation.

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

My name is EGBEDI Brakemi. I term my entry into the world of academia as providential; a ‘Scientific career received on a platter of gold’.

After my University education, I made up my mind not to pursue a Masters or a career in academia. My Undergraduate supervisors tried talking me out of it but I turned deaf ears to all their words of encouragement and advice. As fate would have it, after a mandatory one-year national service to my country, I was offered a job as an academic in the Department of Marine Sciences, owing to my sound academic records during my BSc. Degree. After much consideration, I accepted the offer because I realized the great horizon the world of academia offered me. This was the beginning of my journey in the world of academia.

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

From a tender age I found myself naturally drawn towards the field of science. It was more appealing to me than other fields of study.  As I grew older, I realized that my zeal to contribute to solving the needs of humanity could only be attained if I embraced a career in science.

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

First of all, my job in academia is two-fold: Teaching and conducting research. 

Teaching gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge with others which I enjoy a lot. The most rewarding part for me as a teacher is when I see my students understand difficult concepts they felt could never be comprehended.

The most fascinating part of my life as a researcher is seeing my research output meet the needs of society no matter how little it may be. Although I haven’t made any novel discoveries yet, I have been able to identify problems and proffer solutions through my research. Being of service to others via my research, always gives me real joy.

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

Two things attracted me to the Soapbox Science forum.

The fact that I will be able to speak to a wide audience about what I am passionate about and in the process, inspire young girls to embrace a career in science, was the first attracting force for me.

Secondly, the Soapbox science provides a wonderful platform to network with other researchers from various disciplines and to engage with non-scientists who are eager to learn about what I do.

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

I would change the ‘Publish or Perish culture’. This attitude has led many researchers to compromise on standard practices and has paved the way for unethical practices to thrive. A consequence of this is the birth of many predatory journals. In addition, the ‘publish or perish culture’ has turned the focus of research into searching for ‘novelties’ (which in itself isn’t bad) to make a grand paper and / or win awards, at the expense of conducting research which serve the needs of society.

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

Studying for a PhD and working as an academia is very demanding but also very rewarding. Never go in for a PhD or a career in academia because everyone seems to be doing it or because you do not have a job. Do them because you want to and because you wish to make a positive contribution to your academic field and to the world as a whole. This for me, is the yardstick for true success and the source of joy in the life of a PhD student and an academician.

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Suivre les polluants au Canada : rencontrez Annabel Chung

Comment avez-vous obtenu votre poste actuel?

Je m’appelle Annabel Chung et je suis diplômée en chimie de l’Université de Montréal. Je travaille depuis 2013 à Environnement et Changement climatique Canada comme agente scientifique pour l’Inventaire national des rejets de polluants. Il s’agit d’un inventaire public annuel obligatoire où 7000 compagnies déclarent la pollution émise au cours des 25 dernières années. J’y appuie les activités de sensibilisation lors de festivals et dans les musées, fournis de l’expertise sur l’interprétation des données de pollution, travaille sur la modélisation de bases de données et appuie les activités de contrôle de qualité et de cartographie des données de pollution. C’est un poste très diversifié qui touche autant à la programmation, la cartographie, les sciences environnementales, l’éducation et la vulgarisation scientifique.

Je suis arrivée dans mon poste par un étrange concours de circonstances : mon université n’avait pas de programme de stage coopératif, mais offrait la possibilité d’avoir des stages en entreprise en remplacement d’un cours universitaire si l’étudiant le désirait. À la fin de mon baccalauréat, il me restait un cours à terminer en hiver pour obtenir mon diplôme. Je devais choisir entre un cours plus avancé en chimie de l’environnement et jongler avec un emploi qui pourrait accommoder mon horaire de cours; ou considérer des options de stage. Plutôt intriguée, j’ai préféré découvrir ce que le gouvernement fédéral avait à offrir à Gatineau (QC), étant donné que ce n’était pas une option particulièrement valorisée ou connue à mon université.

Je dois aussi mentionner que ma superviseure qui m’avait engagée avait décidé d’aller en-dehors des sentiers battus elle-même et d’aller chercher à Montréal des étudiants qui n’étaient pas forcément de programme coopératif comme Waterloo ou Ottawa pour leur donner une chance. Si ce n’était de son initiative, je ne serais probablement pas ici.

(de gauche à droite) Danica Lassaline, Annabel Chung et Kara au Musée de la Nature, parlant de cartographie des polluants au Canada

Qu’est-ce qui vous a inspiré à poursuivre une carrière en STIMM?

Dans ma famille, ma mère avait souvent regretté de ne pas avoir persévéré en sciences et espérait que je sois plus persévérante. Leur vision de la science s’orientait plutôt dans les champs de la santé. Cependant, au secondaire, une professeure en génie des systèmes de l’École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) est venue présenter son travail et ce que ses étudiants accomplissaient. Cette rencontre a ouvert mes yeux sur d’autres possibilités.

La vie est par contre parsemée de détours. J’ai considéré toutes sortes d’options entre la nutrition, les sciences de l’alimentation, le génie chimique, l’informatique avant de jeter mon dévolu sur la chimie. Mes autres amours continuent d’influencer mon travail et complémentent ma formation en chimie. Mes convictions du droit à une alimentation et à un environnement sains, le plaisir que j’en tire lorsque j’analyse des données de pollution ont guidé mes choix de carrière.

J’ai aussi eu la chance de rencontrer des gens qui ont étudié en chimie, mais qui ont suivi des parcours moins orthodoxes que les chimistes classiques, comme agent de brevet, gestionnaire de portefeuille pour des investissements en recherche ou en pilotage de règlementation environnementale.

Quel est l’élément le plus fascinant dans votre travail?

Comment le travail d’un, additionné à celui des autres, n’équivaut pas seulement pas à la somme des gestes de chacun. J’aime à comprendre comment un projet démarre avec une idée à première vue simple, qui au final nécessite une compréhension des sciences environnementales, de la modélisation de bases de données, de la programmation, de la cartographie et de la vulgarisation scientifique. Comment mon travail appuie le bien public, dans son éducation et sa compréhension des enjeux environnementaux, mais aussi dans sa capacité à se préparer et à se protéger contre leurs impacts. Comment aussi, de par la nature publique du programme, les données de l’Inventaire national des rejets de polluants sont utilisées par des gens de tous horizons (scientifiques, chercheurs, éducateurs, journalistes, etc.). Je trouve cela très gratifiant d’aider les gens à comprendre notre environnement et à naviguer ses enjeux.

Annabel Chung parlant de pollution au festival Eurêka, à Montréal

Qu’est-ce qui vous a amené à postuler à Soapbox Science?

Honnêtement… je ne m’attendais pas à ce que Soapbox Science accepte mon application. Dans ma tête, je voyais Soapbox Science comme un présentoir où des chercheurs présentent le travail de leur vie qu’ils ont accompli sur le terrain et en laboratoire. Moi scotchée à un ordinateur à longueur de journée à valider des chiffriers Excel, ça ne me semblait pas aussi… sexy.

Cependant, ma collègue Sarah m’a encouragée d’essayer, disant que je n’ai rien à perdre. Après tout, je crois en la mission du programme et du département, j’adore les gens avec qui je travaille – des scientifiques de tous horizons (biologistes, géographes, informaticiens, ingénieurs, etc.) – et je pense qu’ils ont besoin d’une voix pour valoriser leurs efforts quotidiens. Je n’aime pas particulièrement parler en public, mais j’aimerais partager cette expérience.

Des membres de l’équipe de l’INRP au Musée de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation du Canada

Résumez en un mot vos attentes pour la journée.

Instructif.

Je veux que les gens connaissent le travail des scientifiques du gouvernement et leur rapport au monde, malgré les décisions politiques.

Si vous pouvez changer quelque chose dans la culture scientifique, que serait-ce?

Valoriser l’intégration de disciplines variées au sein des sciences, comme les arts, la communication et l’éducation. Nous sommes des scientifiques avec de multiples facettes en notre personne et ces facettes gagneraient à être intégrées. Intégrer les divers savoirs ensemble permet de gagner une vision holistique à multiples dimensions et d’ainsi trouver des solutions plus complètes. Qui plus est, ça permet aux gens qui aiment moins les sciences d’y trouver leur compte, de peut-être trouver les sciences pas aussi terrifiantes qu’elles ne le sont et d’arrêter d’isoler les scientifiques avec le stéréotype de leur tour d’ivoire.

Votre recommandation pour une femme étudiant au PhD et désirant poursuivre une carrière universitaire?

Je n’ai pas fait de doctorat et je ne suis pas dans une carrière universitaire, ce n’était pas pour moi. Cependant, j’en connais beaucoup qui ont décidé de faire le saut et j’ai beaucoup de respect à l’égard de cette décision, ma foi, fort courageuse de poursuivre des études plus poussées et d’atteindre leurs rêves.

Testez vos limites, essayez d’atteindre vos objectifs, ne vous démoralisez pas si ça ne marche pas et soyez confiants en vos décisions. Et puis, si ça ne marche pas, ce n’est pas la fin du monde : les expériences, les réussites et les échecs bâtissent notre chemin. Et ce chemin peut parfois nous amener hors des sentiers battus et nous guider vers des voies insoupçonnées.

Est-ce que le gouvernement, c’est pour moi?

Il existe une pléthore d’opportunités pour les scientifiques au gouvernement, autant sur le terrain que dans les laboratoires que dans la modélisation, dans l’apport des sciences en politiques publiques, ou simplement dans la coordination de programmes scientifiques et l’éducation. Commencez par le Programme fédéral d’expérience de travail étudiant ou le programme co-op à l’université, parlez aux gens de votre passion!

Mots de remerciement

Merci à Sarah Bennett de m’avoir poussé à postuler pour Soapbox Science; merci à Danica Lassaline et Kara Hughes de m’avoir aidée à écrire ce blog; merci au reste de l’équipe d’être juste fantastique.

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Soapbox Science Brazil: Meet Adriana Cabanelas

Originally published on July 22, 2019, by Adriana Cabanelas, in Portuguese, here

by Dr Adriana Cabanelas

The first thing I had to explain when I said I was going to speak at Soapbox Science had nothing to do with science, but rather with the name of the event. Everybody in Brazil just asked “Soap…box?”, you are going to talk about the science of boxes that carry soap? It was funny, I can’t deny it. In Brazil we don’t have the habit of making speeches in public places, much less taking a box with us to do so (we would rather climb a bench or a statue). So, although a lot of Brazilians do have some basic English skills, they could not relate the word soapbox with a pulpit, a podium to climb and give a talk, so I had to explain that in England the soapboxes were usually used as pulpits in the last century, so the soapbox became a synonym for public speaking (I hope I explained it right, lol).

A woman speaks on a soapbox. I had to show this photo a lot to explain the event name.

This year the first edition of Soapbox Science was held in Brazil. It was organized by Dr Tatiana Pinto, Dr Rachel Ribeiro, Dr Aline Souza, Dr Laura Andrade, and MSc Natalia Araujo, in Rio de Janeiro.

Some of our wondrous organizers

The first day took place at Mauá Square, a place full of tourists and visitors, since it was revitalized for the Olympic games a few years ago and has two great museums to visit. It was quite a hot day in our hot winter (about 30º Celsius) and the sky was clear, so there we gave to the people a lot of science and sweat, lol. Next year we should attach a parasol to the soapbox. The second day happened at the entrance to a big supermarket, the Carrefour supermarket in Barra da Tijuca. I’m from Rio, but a lot of scientist women came from other states to give a talk. The public was way bigger than I assumed, I really didn’t expect so many people would stop and engage. They were seeking more knowledge; they asked interesting questions about science and public science politics and were thrilled to know there’s a lot of cool stuff being made in Brazil by female scientists.

It was a pleasure being selected by the organization, and even better to get to know a lot of talented scientists with amazing research.

The Instagram account O que a Cientista disse recorded some of our talks, if any Portuguese speaker would like to watch or if you just want to see us talking. The A Ciência Explica blog made a video too. It’s kind of funny to see yourself talking, you realize you said something silly or not very accurate trying to make it easier to understand and it’s ok, it’s gone, nothing can be done about it, lol

Every one of us took objects that would help us explain the complicated concepts in an easy way. I took some drawings and amigurumi toys, kindly lent by Dr Ines Gonçalves and Luciana Lobo. They were hand made by Ines herself and Clarissa Werneck, and are totally gorgeous. They were essential to clarify the explanations. I would love to have some toys of my own, but they are really expensive in Brazil for a poor scientist like me. If anyone would like to donate me some toy cells and germs, I would be thrilled.

I would also like to thank the volunteers for their help on both days. It was an amazing experience, in which I found that there are people wanting to know what I do (“where is the Chagas lady?”), that made me learn a lot more about communication and renewed my willingness to keep doing science communication (I’m one of the hosts of the Microbiando podcast, a podcast about news in microbiology and immunology). This weekend gave me an accomplishment smile (and an unexpected sunburn even wearing sunscreen, but it was totally worth it) 

I hope I can help with the next Brazilian edition because I loved it!

Here are some photos of the speakers on their boxes:

Dr Maria Letícia Bonatelli, (@marialbona), ESALQ/USP “Micróbios: nossos pequenos heróis / Microbes: our tiny heroes.”

MSc Gracielle Teixeira Higino, (@graciellehigino), Universidade Federal de Goiás “O que acontece quando dá “match” entre as espécies? / What happens when species get a match?”

MSc Sendy Melissa Santos do Nascimento, (@send.science), Federal University of Alagoas “Conhecendo partículas pequeninas de carbono / Knowing tiny carbon particles”

Dr Natália Maria Lanzarini (@dotoevirose) Programa de Saúde Pública e Meio Ambiente/ENSP “Divulgação viral, Viralizando a divulgação científica / Viral Science Difusion”

Dr Flávia Virginio, (@_NV1C / @nuncavi1cientista), Instituto Butantan “A jmportância das coleções zoológicas para a conservação das espécies / The importance of zoological collections for the preservation of species”

Dr Raiane Cardoso Chamon (@chamonraiane), Universidade Federal Fluminense “Superbacterias entre nós… o que precisamos saber e temer? / Superbugs among us… what do we need to know and fear?” 

Dr Paula Maria Moura de Almeida, (@paulamariamoura) Universidade Castelo Branco “O Geo da Questão: a geinformação  no dia a dia e nos estudos ambientais / The Geo of the Question: the geoinformation in the day to day and in the environmental studies”

Dr Janaína Dutra Silvestre Mendes (@becquereladas), National Cancer Institute (Instituto Nacional de Câncer – INCA / MS) “Cuidado! Você não está em risco! Será? As radiações ionizantes e nosso dia-a-dia / Watch out! You’re not at risk! Really? Ionizing radiations and our daily lives”

MSc Ana Cristina Villaça, University of Wollongong “Como a ciência pode ajudar a aumentar o conforto (térmico) e reduzir o consumo de enrgia em sua casa. / How science can help you increase your (thermal) comfort and reduce the energy bills at home.” 

Dr Amanda Gonçalves Bendia, (@amanda_bendia), Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto Oceanográfico  “Crônicas do gelo e fogo: bactérias em um vulcão ativo na Antártica / A song of ice and fire: bacteria from an active Antarctic volcano”

Dr. Juliana Reis Cortines, (@jurcortines), Federal University of Rio de Janeiro “Evolução da vida na Terra contada pelos vírus / Life on Earth as told by viruses”

Dr Luisa Maria Diele Viegas Costa Silva, UFBA “Mudanças climáticas e as extinções das espécies ao redor do mundo: Qual o nosso papel nisso tudo? / Climate change and extinctions all over the world: What is our role in that?’”

And I, Dr Adriana Cabanelas, (@dri_cabanelas) “Doença de Chagas e tecido adiposo. Qual a relação entre eles? / Chagas disease and adipose tissue: what’s the connection between them?”

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Improving Women’s Urogenital Health: Meet Cat Czyrnyj

In June 2019, the organizing team for Soapbox Science Ottawa had the pleasure of visiting the McLean Lab where Soapbox Science speaker, Cat Czyrnyj works.

Upon arrival at the lab, we were welcomed by Cat, her supervising professor Dr. Linda McLean and a group of researchers who share a common goal – to improve women’s urogenital health.

Ms. Czyrnyj, a third-year Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, explained the importance of conducting more research that pertains to women’s health, specifically speaking about pelvic floor muscles, urinary incontinence and uterine fibroids.

The latter being the subject of Cat’s current research, where she uses ultrasound elastography to generate vibrations in the uterine tissue to characterize and treat stiffness that occurs with uterine fibroids.

We also benefited from learning more about a fellow researcher’s work, Marie-Ève Bérubé, whose work focuses on urinary incontinence that occurs in women while exercising.  Thus, the need for treadmills in the lab!

To help these passionate researchers in their quest to improve women’s urogenital health, visit their website where you will learn more about their research and to sign up to participate in a study – http://mfmlab.ca/.

Thank you to the researchers in the McLean Lab for welcoming us!

If you’re interested in learning more about Cat’s research, join us on September 14, 2019, in the ByWard Market, Ottawa, Canada.

From left to right – Dr. Linda McLean, Soapbox Science Ottawa 2019 Speaker Cat Czyrnyj and Ph.D. Student Marie-Ève Bérubé
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It is important to have role models that can be humanised: Meet Cristina Alexandru

Cristina Alexandru is a PhD student in the engineering department at the University of Exeter where she carries out research on wireless power transfer technologies. Here she writes about how a talk at a conference attended by approximately 20,000 women technologists spurred her to reflect on how we handle success and failure and issues of confidence and competence in our work. Come and meet Cristina and hear her speak at Soapbox Science Exeter on the 29th of June 2019!

 

By Cristina Alexandru 

Be Confident

“Be confident” is one of the most common pieces of advice given to us, in situations where we have to “sell” ourselves and our work to a potential employer, committee or within our workplace. However, it seems that this remark is more often directed towards women than men.

As Tammy Hughes explained in her GHC2018 talk, it all comes down to “Attribution theory”. In a recent study conducted at the Heim Group, a big and diverse age group of both genders were interviewed and the results shed some light on how men and women perceive success. As Hughes explained, men attribute success to their inner skills. On the other hand, women associate their success to external factors such as luck, good organisation, completing key tasks, rather than their own skills. When unsuccessful, men put the blame on external factors, such as: not having enough time, difficult work environment, uncooperative team, but women link it to themselves by thinking they were not good enough and lacked the main skill set which could have helped achieve the goal.

When I first heard the Heim Group’s findings, I could not believe it… but then briefly, for a few seconds, I went down memory lane and to my amazement and shock, she was completely right! I have also been trapped in this circle by putting the blame solely on myself whenever something wouldn’t go as planned and associated success to a happy set of circumstances under which all was possible … and then I thought, why was I doing this to myself? The answer is more complex than what came through my mind in that spur of the moment, but I was determined that I could no longer let the self-sabotage continue.

What happens when others are showing lack of confidence in you?

The key element is that you have to keep your ground and restore the power level when someone else establishes from the beginning that you are not good enough. Find your own style, let the work speak for itself and make a plan on how to improve and gain more skills and knowledge. If you feel like something is not quite right, make subtle changes and notice which ones have the most impact. Be specific on what you want and can do! Write it down and visualise it.

 

Competence vs Confidence?

From a semantic perspective, competence and confidence are not related – meaning that competence refers to knowledge and ability to complete a task and confidence is linked to the belief that you can do it.

In reality, they depend on one another and a lack of confidence can affect your competence and vice-versa. Women tend to underestimate themselves which leads to a lack of confidence which in turn translates as a lack of competence to everyone around them.

Another eye-opening example from Hughes’s talk, was that in both verbal and non-verbal communication men use affirmative statements such as: “I will”, “I am certain that” etc. On the other hand, women “go into the confessional” (as Hughes labelled it) and express their honest thoughts by saying things like “I would like to”, “I hope to” instead of using firm key-words. Even though men might have the same insecurities as women, they simply do not express them and that creates the image of a confident person. So for us women, it’s not necessarily a situation where confidence is lacking but rather our words might put us at a disadvantage.

 

Women in STEM

So where does this leaves us women in STEM, who happen to be at a disadvantage numerically speaking compared to our male colleagues?

From my point of view, I think it all comes down to learning about the psychology behind us, as human beings as well as developing our emotional intelligence and ultimately understanding how we, women are different from men.

As a young woman in STEM, I’ve often found myself questioning my competence. Unfortunately, looking back it was due to my lack of confidence rather than the knowledge itself. Over time, I have overcome this by constantly reminding myself of times when I have faced more difficult situations and was successful. What boosts my confidence the most currently, is knowing that I have all the skills needed to learn and expand my knowledge and the certainty that I will get there!

Whoever said that comparison is the thief of joy, was definitely right! Inevitably, from time to time I start comparing myself to everyone else and that can take a toll on me. In such situations, I try to take back control of my mindset and start by mentally putting things into context. So for example, I would ask myself: “For how long have they been researching this topic?”, “What is their prior experience?”, “Are they working alone or in a big research group?”, “What other opportunities did they have?”. By using this thought process, I clearly put everything into perspective and the lack of confidence can no longer control me. Depending on the situation, if this isn’t helping, I remind myself that everyone has their own rhythm of learning and progressing.

Lastly, this might be well-known advice but still, I’d like to emphasise it – there is no perfect moment to start something because life will always gets in the way, so if a good opportunity arises, take it. Otherwise you risk wasting time… and who knows, that opportunity may never come again in your path.

Why Soapbox?

I believe it is important to have role models that can be humanised because everyone has good qualities but also flaws and insecurities… and this is one of the main reasons why I believe Soapbox Science is an amazing event through which young girls can find relatable role models. As an undergraduate, I remember finding it difficult to carry on without having female role-models around me whom I could look up to and would support me in pursuing my goals. As time went by, I started getting involved in outreach activities as well as events promoting women in STEM. This offered me the chance to hear the motivational and challenging experiences of some incredible ladies who have been those role models I so much needed and it gave me that extra push to build my own confidence. Soapbox Science confirms the fact that even if we all come from different backgrounds, there is still a strong bond within our community of women in STEM who want to help and lift each other up.

 

 

 

 

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Why science outreach matters: Meet Cassie Sims

Cassie Sims  is a PhD student at Rothamsted Research and the University of Nottingham. Her research focuses on insect olfaction – how insects can smell – and specific proteins found in their olfactory systems.

You can catch Cassie on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 29th June, where she will be talking about “Scents and smells: communicating with chemistry”.

Follow Cassie on Twitter: @SimsCassie

 

by Cassie Sims 

I remember the moment I realised the importance of science outreach. It was a Friday night, I was out on the town and having a chat to some ladies in the toilets of a bar.

“What do you do?” one of them asked me.

“I am studying for my PhD in chemistry – a scientist basically”, I told them the line I was so used to saying.

“I don’t believe you!”, they responded: “You don’t look like a scientist!”

I was taken aback. This was the first time someone had ever said something like this to me, and I started to unravel the options in my head. Was it because I was a young woman? Was it because I was dressed up, ready to hit the clubs with a face full of make-up and sparkly shoes? Was it because I had tattoos? Then it struck me – none of these things mattered. It didn’t matter what I looked like, this person had an image in their head of what a scientist looked like, and that was not me.

In reality, a scientist can look like anyone, any gender and race, any fashion choice or hair colour. Working in science means I know a whole bunch of scientists, and every single one of them looks different. But how is the general public supposed to know this, if the only scientists they ever see fit some kind of image or perception?

Science outreach is so important to smash these misconceptions, and as a young female scientist I aim to do as much as possible. I had the opportunity this year to be part of a roller derby game – a full contact sport played on quad roller skates – played, organised and officiated entirely by women working in STEM. The game was played in front of young girls that were interested in pursuing a STEM career, and afterwards we networked with them, giving tips and advice and answering their questions. The girls got the chance to see that not only can anyone be a scientist, they can kick some ass while they do it!

Soapbox Science is an extremely important international event, which reaches out to a general public audience. We will be standing on boxes, and talking about our scientific work, which ranges from computer modelling to field work. It is just as important to show that not only are scientists as people diverse, but the range of science that we do is equally as widespread. Even as a classic lab coat scientist, I am a chemist who works with insects – not something I could have predicted when doing my A-Level in chemistry.

I am very excited to participate in Soapbox Science Milton Keynes, and be part of a diverse group of female scientists, who will be sharing our passion for our work, showing that every scientist is different, and anyone can be one!

 

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Just be yourself!: Meet Raheeg Alamin

Raheeg Alamin is a lecturer at Sudan University of Science and Technology and is currently doing a PhD degree in aerospace engineering at Cranfield University. After she finished her undergraduate studies in aeronautical engineering, she worked for a year in industry before joining academia in 2010. She was granted a PECK scholarship to complete her MSc in electrical engineering at the University of Nottingham.

You can catch Raheeg on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 29th June, where her talk will be:“Let’s look closely at aircraft wings!”

 

 

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

RA: To be honest, doing national service is a burden for fresh graduates. I joined the Engineering and Maintenance Sector of Sudan Airways for a year. As it was rotation-based training I was expecting to be able to decide which sector I really wanted to build a career in, and I was able to do that. By the end of the year, I had made my decision and joined academia. I believed that I have the ability to help students to prepare themselves for life after college. Those five years in college is not only about science, but are also about building a better self. It is a “full package” experience.

University is where academics can lecture, interact with students, share knowledge, and still stay connected with industry through research. I have been working in academia for ten years now, and I can truly say that academia has given me more than I have given. It has brought out the best in me!

 

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

RA: We are all people in our own right, but with all the bedtime stories, songs, hugs and caring, our parents’ dreams will find their way to us! I still remember how my father’s eyes sparkled when he found out that girls can study and work in aeronautical engineering. It was his dream to have a career in aviation, but he ended up going to medical school!

 

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

RA: The multidisciplinary nature of dynamics and control is what fascinates me. In my research I am using feedback control to minimise the adverse effects of the flexible wings that are increasingly used in modern transport aircraft. This should have a big positive impact if successful, as it will lead to both emissions reductions and fuel savings for aircraft operators.

 

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

RA: Albert Einstein once said: ”If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. This is what attracted me to Soapbox Science in the first place, more than representing women in science. I have been fortunate that Sezsy Yusuf (@sezsy) and Simone Weber are in the same research group as me. They both spoke at Soapbox Science last year, and I saw for myself the positive impact this had on their ability to communicate their science.

I always wondered if people were still questioning the role of women in science, and life in general. Why do we still need to talk about women’s rights? I used to believe that it is already obvious that we are an authentic and equal part of everything. Volunteering for Soapbox Science last year made me see things differently, and YES we do need to represent women in science!

 

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

RA: Excitement!

 

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

RA: My supervisor Dr James Whidborne said of my very first PhD proposal: ”Always remember, research is a dynamic process”. If I could change one thing, it would be to make everyone accept that research is a dynamic process. It is the key to creativity as long as you can set your goals.

 

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

RA: Academia needs passion, ambition and patience; my advice to you if you are a woman and considering pursuing a career in academia, is to just to be yourself – that’s all it takes!

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From Astronomy to Biology: Meet Vasthi Alonso

Dr Vasthi Alonso works at Rothamsted Research as a post-doctoral research scientist. Her main interests focus on the development of mathematical and epidemiological models for the monitoring, detection and control of diseases in plants, crops and trees. She has a BSc and MSc in physics and a PhD in applied mathematics. Her latest research focuses on developing strategies to optimise the deployment of often limited controls in the presence of a pest or disease. Follow Vasthi on Twitter @VasthiAlonso

You can catch Vashti on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 29th June, where she will be talking about “When maths and plants come together to fight diseases”.

 

by Vasthi Alonso

Four year old me to my brother: “You are a papio hamadryas!”

My six year old brother replies: “….and you are an ateles geoffroyi!”

Some of my earliest memories are when my brother and I called each other the scientific names of animals.

You see? My dad is a vet, and he and my mum used to take us to the zoo almost every other week, and buy us books about animals. I used to spend hours turning the pages, looking at them, and trying to learn the names of the weirdest ones. My favourite was the echidna.

During my second year at high-school I chose to do physics for my undergraduate degree, as I had decided I wanted to be an astronomer. I wanted to see the stars, recognise the constellations….all that romantic stuff. The first year of uni was incredibly tough for me. I was used to getting full marks all the time, but that didn’t happen. However, I persevered and started enjoying my career choice more and more.

I took some astronomy courses. Some of the most beautiful places on earth I’ve ever seen are next to observatories, where nature abounds and the skies are clearer and cleaner than most places on Earth, where you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye and everything is calm and quiet. However, becoming an observational astronomer means not sleeping at night during observational periods and I realised I would struggle with that. On the other hand, theoretical astronomy did not attract me. It’s interesting but often very abstract, and I like to see how science applies to real life. This little detour into astronomy wasn’t wasted, as it was an amazing experience and helped me to become the scientist I am now.

That’s when my love for biology came back in to my life. I enrolled on an animal biology course and I simply I loved it. Some animals are so simple and yet so complex, beautiful and weird that I was constantly mesmerised. I had the chance to hold an octopus and tenderly deposit a sea cucumber on the sea floor, count sea urchins and well as fish parasites, and look at old nautilus shells. I knew then that I wanted to do something closely linked to biology, and so my journey as a mathematical modeller began. Both my MSc dissertation and my PhD were focused on ecological modelling. I enjoyed my studies, but it wasn’t easy.

After my PhD I joined Rothamsted Research, which is the oldest agricultural research centre in the world. I’ve been working there for about six years solving equations that shed some light on how complex biological systems work. Sometimes things flow very smoothly. Sometimes it feels like nothing will ever work out. You get stuck and it’s incredibly frustrating.

Being a scientist is really hard work, it doesn’t pay much, and needs a lot of perseverance, but it can be incredibly rewarding. When you see that your research can help solve current world challenges for real people that will make this Earth a better place for everyone to live in, that’s when science gives you back a little bit of what you put in.

Observing the Spruce bark beetle, a devastating pest in Eastern Europe

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STEM in Academia and Industry – navigating from one to another: Meet Rosti Readioff 

Dr Rosti Readioff (@Dr_Rosti), Postdoctoral research associate, Keele University, is taking part in Soapbox Science Stoke-on-Trent on 6th July with the talk: “From Silly Putty to Human Body

 

 

 

 

I am currently a postdoctoral research associate at Keele University, working on a research project in the biomedical engineering field. My project is focused on using assistive technologies to restore arm movement in paralysed people.

 

My STEM journey and how I started

I completed my secondary and high school education (GCSE and A-level equivalent) outside of the UK; needless to say that my STEM path started off very differently to most people studying in the UK. I studied all the science subjects including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, and three different languages. I really enjoyed science subjects, in particular Maths and Physics. To me, Maths was like playing numeric games, so I was always looking forward to my Maths classes. I liked Physics because it helped me understand the world around me.

 

Unlike most stories you might hear, I did not know what exactly I wanted to do for a career. However, I knew I enjoyed Maths and Physics more than others, hence I decided to study for a degree that involved both subjects. And this degree was Engineering. I studied for a Civil and Structural Engineering degree at the University of Liverpool, and the degree was four challenging years. In University, I was in a minority group and I felt responsible to be one of the best academically amongst my peers, hence I spent most of the time studying. If I were to do my undergraduate degree again, I would probably try to enjoy the experience a little more than feeling obliged to be one of the best.

 

At the end of my undergraduate degree, I was involved in a short research project which changed my perception towards engineering. The project exposed me to a new field of engineering, Biomedical and Biomechanics Engineering, which at the time I did not know much about. I found this newly discovered engineering field very exciting and full of opportunities for research. My passion to explore led me to study for a doctorate degree in this engineering field.

 

Why did you leave academia and come back to it?

Despite so many challenges, I believe the experience that came with studying for my doctorate degree has helped me grow as a scientist and an engineer. However, as a curious person I always wondered what work outside an academic environment was like. I, then, decided to leave the academic world after finishing my doctorate degree.

 

My first job outside academia was in a Civil Engineering company. My daily tasks were not directly relevant to my previous research, but it was relevant to my undergraduate degree. In this role, I enjoyed the new experiences and the real-life challenges that came with it. However, I felt I was not utilising the skills I gained during my doctorate degree and that was a big deal to me.

Here, I am in my first post-doctorate industry role and inspecting a train station subway!

 

Next, I decided to look for opportunities in industry that would better use my expertise. Subsequently, I got my second job at a research organisation where I was working as a research engineer. It was here where I learned so much about diverse and inclusive working environments and the importance of having well-thought core values to increase productivity. I decided to adopt their core values and implement them wherever I ended up working. Although the working environment was the best I had encountered, none of the work I was doing was directly relevant to biomedical and biomechanics engineering research. The organisation was research intensive but there were few opportunities to build upon my biomedical and biomechanics research background. Ultimately, I concluded that the best way for me to grow and establish as a researcher in this rapidly evolving engineering field was through an academic path.

 

Now, I am back in an academic environment where I focus on what I love doing, research in science and engineering. I believe studying STEM subjects greatly improved my career prospects and it helped me to move between industry and academia.

 

My recommendation for young people out there is to pick STEM subjects early on, however this does not mean you cannot change careers later. Or, you can mix STEM subjects with humanities to widen up your career prospects. Whatever you choose, remember to enjoy the experience!

 

 

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I never knew science was for me, for everyone: Meet Kelly Jowett

 

Kelly Jowett is a PhD student at the University of Reading and based at Rothamsted Research. Her work investigates the distribution of beneficial beetles in farm landscapes and how they can help us move towards efficient natural pest control in crops.

You can catch Kelly on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 29th June, where she will be asking: “How do beetles help farmers to feed us?”

Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kelly_jowett

 

I’m quite an introverted person. I like people, and working in a team, but I’m hardly a chatty breezy open type of girl. At a party, I’m the one in the kitchen, fussing the cat and/or dog. So why am I going to stand on a soapbox in the middle of a shopping centre blathering on about beetles? Because I love it! And here’s why…

As a little girl growing up I loved the natural world, romping about the fields, diving through the hedges, and getting my hands dirty. I was pretty good academically, but I never even considered that the two might interconnect, and I never dreamed I’d be a scientist

When I got to the world of work, I fell into a career of gardening and later trained as a tree surgeon. Unfortunately/fortunately I developed muscular-neurological problems which meant I had to give up my practical career. Still I never considered higher academia – I just went to university to get the qualification I needed to become an ecological surveyor.

However, when I got into my Foundation Degree Sciences undergraduate course, a new world opened up to me. I learned about the problems humans have created for themselves by altering natural systems, and the myriad of ways that I, as a researcher, could contribute and help to mitigate this. I soon fast-tracked onto a BSc Environmental Conservation course and received the school award for best dissertation project for my work on beneficial beetles. I still never considered I might become a doctor though!

When I wanted to take my work further I undertook an MRes course in Global Agriculture and Food Security. This equipped me with the knowledge to make a difference to the area where human concerns meet with the environment most keenly – agricultural and food production systems. Though it pains me to know all the things that have gone wrong, globally, with our food systems, it’s so inspiring to know that I, as small and inconsequential as I often feel, might make a difference to the world.

After getting top marks for my statistics module, and winning the prize for top MRes student, I was told I should really take research as a career, and pursue a doctorate. So I did! I’m studying at Reading Uni, and based at Rothamsted Research, in my project on beetles as pest control agents. I love my work. Tramping through the fields and getting my hands dirty (though I do a lot of computer work too).

I never dreamed I could have this career, doing what I love, and helping others too. I never thought being a scientist involved this.

I never knew science was for me, for everyone. And I want to let everyone know that it is. So I’m going to get up there and tell them! Maybe I will be able to inspire the next future generation of budding scientists and demonstrate that anyone with a passion for something can make a difference.

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