I stumbled upon science and fell in love with it!: Meet Francesca Di Cara

Dr. Francesca Di Cara, (@DicaraLab), Dalhousie University, is taking part in Soapbox Science Halifax on 6th July, with the talk:“Of Blood and Gut: A Lesson From the Fruit Fly”

 

 

 

 

I stumbled upon science and fell in love with it!

by Francesca Di Cara

As little child when somebody would ask me: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I would promptly respond that I wanted to be either a ballet dancer or hair dresser, but absolutely not a scientist. I am not sure why I felt the need to clarify that no matter what I would be, I would make sure not to become a scientist. I imagine that to a little girl the image of a fashionable hair stylist or a delicate dancer wearing a pink tutu skirt was probably way more appealing than the image of an Einstein-looking old man wearing a sloppy lab coat and having messy white hair. However, this was the image of a scientist that the media and my society at the time was offering to the next generation. Unfortunately, it seems that that image of a scientist, which is now a grossly inaccurate representation of most scientists today, is still floating around. Maybe the scientist image of today is a bit more fashionable or more of a superhero-like image, but surely it is still most often represented as a man rather than a woman. For this reason, I am pleased to share my story in this blog with the hope to broaden our image of who and what a scientist is.

I was attending my third year of high school and at that time I still did not know what I wanted to be. Having just completed my first intense biology course, I suddenly felt that the idea of pursuing a degree in Biological Sciences in university was interesting and did not seem so scary or difficult. So, that is what I decided I would do. I truly enjoyed the subjects of my degree so much that by the end of it I decided to apply for an internship at the National Institute of Research in Naples, Italy. It was at that point I knew I wanted to pursue a lifelong career in science, get a PhD, and one day have my own research group. I was not sure what research topic to study, which methods I wanted to learn, but I knew the only thing that mattered was that I wanted to learn how to be a thinker, a problem solver, and a discoverer.

After I was accepted into a PhD program at the University of Naples, I stumbled upon what would eventually become my day-to-day scientific tool that I use to study genetics: the fruit fly. Since there were very few PhD positions available in Italy at the time, the fact that I ended up learning genetics in a laboratory that used the fruit fly as model system was by chance and not by choice (more info on fruit flies to come on July 6th at my talk). However, this serendipitous encounter with the humble, yet incredibly powerful, fruit fly was the best event that could have happened to me for the future development of my scientific career. This simple model system has helped me answer an array of questions about fundamental biology and medicine. After my PhD, I left Italy because I wanted to train in a research institution with research funds and infrastructures that would allow me to learn and achieve even more. I first moved to Scotland and then eventually to Canada, but always with my fruit flies. During these years and in different research labs, I relied on my fruit flies to study the importance of different fat molecules in our cells and understand how they control our cell biology, our development and ultimately our immune system’s ability to defend us from dangerous diseases (again more to come on July 6th at my talk). Last October, I finally started up my own research group and again with my fruit fly collaborators. Now using fruit fly genetics, my group is tackling questions about the metabolism of fats and their importance for our health. I am now part of a universe of scientific discovery and can truly say it has enriched my life for the past 15 years.

I am honored and excited as a scientist and as a woman to participate in the Halifax 2019 Soapbox Science event. I hope to inspire the next generation of scientists with my story and my research. I also hope to show the public how their contributions to science (through their hard-earned tax dollars) benefits their community and the world around them. Finally, I am excited to show to young girls today that scientists can be woman (and still wear pretty dresses if they wish).

 

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Make your dreams reality though passion and perseverance: Meet Alyne Teixeira

Alyne Teixeira, (@AlyneGTeixeira), Dalhousie University, is taking part in Soapbox Science Halifax on July 6th with the talk: “Separating Aqueous Mixtures: Water About It?”

 

 

 

 

Make your dreams reality though passion and perseverance

by Alyne Teixeira

My name is Alyne Teixeira. I am currently doing my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Dalhousie University. I work in Dr. Frampton’s lab https://www.framptonlab.com/ researching biomaterials that can be used for screening vaccine formulations.

I started my career with a degree in Pharmacy, and after graduating I had the opportunity to work in the pharmaceutical industry conducting many research projects to develop new drug formulations. Then, after a few years working as an industry scientist, I decided to return to university to study a masters in Biosciences and Technology of Bioactive Products in the University of Campinas, Brazil https://www.unicamp.br/unicamp/english as I was sure about my passion for science. After I graduated, I worked again in the pharmaceutical industry for a few years until I decided to come to Canada to study English in 2015 and I loved it! Then I made the decision to live in Halifax. However, for this to become a reality, I needed to explore career options in Canada, and at that moment I started to apply for a PhD at Dalhousie. In September 2016, I began my doctoral training in Biomedical Engineering. Since then, I have been working with polymers especially designed for screening vaccine formulations. In the future, this research project will give me the opportunity to explore careers in research at the crossroads of vaccine development, material science, and immunology.

Overall, the main goal of my PhD is to identify potential vaccine formulations using a pre-clinical platform composed of polymers where I culture immune cells. The advantage of culturing immune cells in this system is that it requires a very small amount of cells and reagents, helping to lower the cost and timeframe associated with vaccine development. The polymers that I use are called Aqueous Two-Phase System (ATPS), and they received this name because like oil and water, they form two phases. Having a system completely composed of aqueous phases is more beneficial for culturing cells than oil-based platforms. In addition, confining cells and reagents in one of the aqueous phases, increases the efficiency and sensitivity of biochemical reactions. We call this method a polymer solution microreactor. As a result, it requires considerably smaller amounts of both cells and drugs for screening. To identify potential vaccine formulations, I culture immune cells with compounds called antigen and adjuvant. Antigen is the component that triggers the immune response and adjuvant is the substance that increases the immune response. So, a long-lasting and effective vaccine is composed of both components. Preliminary studies that I have already performed in lab showed that the ATPS polymers are not toxic to the cells and increase the sensitivity of a widely used technique for screening vaccine formulations.

I always had interest in science, since I was very young, but I was not sure what career to pursue at a young age. My options ranged from computer science to kinesiology, until I realized that a combination of biology and chemistry would be a good fit, and I decided to study Pharmacy. During my Pharmacy degree, my love for science grew, and I considered pursing an academic career. However, I was told that an industry career could be very promising and more financially rewarding than working in academia. So, I focused my career choices on the pharmaceutical industry for many years. However, l was not satisfied in industry, and luckily, I had the opportunity to return to university and go after what I really wanted to do. My experience in academia has opened my mind to new possibilities. For example, I realized that I don’t necessarily have to become a professor after a PhD degree, and that many other opportunities are available to me! I also now have a passion for science communication, and I will do my best to share my passion for research with you at Soapbox Science Halifax, 2019.

Now, I am in my third year of my PhD and I learned that science can be fascinating and frustrating at the same time. As scientists, we have to realize that our world is not very predictable, and things in a lab can go crazy or confused sometimes. We have to deal with the frustration to run an experiment that works the first time, but fails the second time, then we have to spend weeks or months to make it work again. A career in science is mostly determined by dedication and hard-work. Identifying our passions and following through on our commitments are crucial factors to succeed. So, we don’t have to be a genius to be a great scientist, we have to pursue our careers with passion and perseverance. This includes how well we deal with frustration that make us think to give up sometimes. I also learned that rarely science runs a straight predictable journey. Coping with obstacles and re-motivating ourselves is part of being scientists.

As I said, I am very passionate about research and science communication, and as a female scientist I can use my experience to inspire other girls to follow their dream to purse a scientific career. Girls are not encouraged to become researchers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), which remains predominantly male. I want to show them that they can be as good as boys in science. Even when we have other obstacles to face, such as culture and language, it is still possible to have the same opportunities as men to pursue and succeed in a STEM career. I think that Soapbox Science is an excellent platform for promoting women in science and may help to build a more equal future for girls and boys in STEM. Also, this event is a great opportunity to discuss science with the general public, translating research terms in a plain language that everyone can understand.

To sum up, I would say that if you are a woman and you want to pursue a career in science, do not let your gender, nationality, language, age, or family status dictate what you have to do for the rest of your life. You may miss the opportunity to find your passion in something that really fulfills your expectations. I am an example of a woman who can change their career, move from their country, learn a new language, and excel at science. However, nothing comes easy; science demands hard work and continual skill-building. Also, surround yourself with positive people that support you and your projects, and always believe in yourself!

 

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Let your dreams lead the way: Meet Wasundara Fernando

Dr. Wasundara Fernando (Wasu) obtained her PhD in Cancer Biology from Dalhousie University in 2018. During her doctoral research, Wasu studied the anti-metastatic activity of a novel compound derived from dietary sources against metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. Her strong background in Pharmacy together with extensive training in laboratory skills have led her to produce many valuable findings about the role of diet in blocking breast cancer metastasis. Come say hi to Wasu and get to know her research on “Rethinking breast cancer treatment with apples and fish oil” on July 6th 10.00 am-1.00 pm at Halifax Soapbox Science.

 

Find your dream

I was very excited when I was asked to write about my experience as a woman in science. I am grateful to Soapbox Science for the opportunity to inspire many more who are in science or who will become scientists in future. As somebody who recently completed doctoral studies, I thought of sharing my experience at grad school and hope it will help grad school students in the future. Becoming a cancer researcher has always been my dream, since I was a teenager, and I never stopped working toward it. I believe that doing something you love and being passionate about your dreams is the best way to achieve your goals. So, find your dream – no one knows what suits you better than you do!

 

Be kind to yourself

Self motivation and multi-tasking are the keys to succeed at graduate school. Sometimes, you will be performing 4-5 experiments at the same time while reading or studying for a class. Therefore, time management and careful planning are the best lessons that I learned during my doctoral training. However, things always do not go as planned – what motivated me to stay focused was the hope that someday my research findings will contribute to make a change in science, and somebody will eventually benefit from my work. Working 70 hours a week was my usual routine during my graduate studies. It did not leave me much time to take part in social events or to travel and explore this beautiful planet. But I always found time to do little, little things that made me happy – studying astronomy, painting, listening to music, cooking my favorite dish, chatting with my family and friends and meditation. Those things soothed my tired mind and body and prepared me to go to the lab and do my work full of energy, all over again and again, until I achieved what I wanted to achieve. Remember, it is OK to make mistakes and give yourself enough time to learn from the mistakes. It does not make you any less of a successful researcher.

 

Learn from each other

I have had many role models at different stages of my career, and I have acquired many skills and know-how from them. I have learned that being open-minded and willing to learn from every opportunity enables me to look at life from a positive perspective.

 

 

My advice to graduate students, “No two projects are alike, and challenges are a part of the training. Have a dream – hardworking, perseverance, gratefulness, and willingness to help others with passion will take you through a beautiful journey to see that your dream is coming true!

 

Get to know me…

I am a Cancer Biology postdoctoral researcher at Dalhousie University in the Department of Pathology, and I study anti-cancer and chemo-preventive activities of phytochemicals and their derivatives against breast and ovarian cancers.

During my leisure time, I enjoy drawing, painting and poetry. I can sing and I know how to play the violin. I am an amateur astronomer and I do not mind staying up late night or waking up really early to witness what is happening in the night sky. My favourite thing about Summer is seeing hay bales and I can stare at the hay bales scattered in a field for hours!

I love being a scientist and this career has given me many opportunities to meet people and get to know what is happening in science. I am looking forward to meeting many more at Soapbox Science Halifax 2019 this Summer!

 

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Mentoring – An effective tool for Future Modelling: Meet Aderonke Morakinyo

Ms Morakinyo Aderonke, Nigerian Defence Academy, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 22nd August with the talk: “Mentoring (An Effective tool for Future Modelling)”

 

 

 

Morakinyo Aderonke is currently enrolled as a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics, Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, Nigeria. She is in her second year of her doctoral programme in Nuclear and Radiation Physics.

Aderonke’s doctoral research is centered on the green synthesis / characterization of
magnetic nanoparticles and its clinical application of hyperthermia / microwave ablation of tumour for cancer management. Her methodology involves the use of medicinal green plants, to get the aqueous plant extract. The plant extract, magnetic salt and other materials will be used to facilitate the synthesis chemistry. The next phase of the research involves characterization of the synthesized nanoparticle using standard precision methods like Fourier Transform Infra-red (FTIR), Ultraviolet Visual Spectroscopy (UV-Vis), Scanning Electron Microscopy amongst others. The synthesized nanoparticles are applied to the tumour volume. The process of microwave ablation is carried out to kill the cancer cells, shrink the tumour and achieve complete necrotic biological process.

Aderonke’s speech for the Soapbox Science talk will be focused on “Mentoring – An
effective tool for Future Modelling”.Her presentation will highlight the obvious gaps and
limitations which affects children and teenagers in the 21st century in achieving their academic goals and future aspirations in Nigeria.

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Google is your friend: Meet Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju

Mrs Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju (@audioderyne), University of  Lagos, Akoka, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 22nd August 2019 with the talk: “STEM Skills: The gateway to entrepreneurial science careers” 

 

 

 

GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND

by Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju

Good day to you all!
In Nigeria and many other African countries, more than half the youth will rather call a friend, family or neighbor to ask a question they could have asked their smartphone? Well yea, I was one of those ’till I spent a 9 months research period in the UK. Which brings me to today’s blog post “Google is your friend”.

I remember when I first got to the UK to carry out a part of my research at Robert Gordon
University Aberdeen, I had a hell of a time because I had no culture of asking google. In fact, I felt insulted when I asked a question of my flat mate and she asked me if I had asked google. I was like what! But then, I soon discovered that was the sensible thing to do. I had terrible experiences because I failed to ask Google in the first week. But as time progressed, I came to resolve to be a sponge. I started to learn voraciously. Not just about the basics I should know about electrochemistry which I did not know, but also about other things needed to actually do successful research. I had to go into intensive reading on statistical tools. I was in the laboratory by day, in the reading for knowledge mode by night. I have never read so much in my entire life. I was not reading for an exam; I was reading to actually learn. I had to learn how to learn. At that point, it became apparent what I was taught in school was lacking one major thing, “STEM SKILLS”. For one to actually be educated, you need to be skilled. This 9-month period of doing research in Aberdeen in 2018 and my 1-week Innovation experience at UNLEASH global innovation Lab in Singapore, spore me into gathering a team for the purpose of bridging this gap between schooling and skills.

STEM skills is a social enterprise geared towards teaching “what you are not taught” in schools in Nigeria but is needed to do a job in the 21st century STEM-related careers. This social enterprise was co-founded in January 2019 me and 3 other women who have
experienced/experiencing this lack of STEM skills at their undergraduate/postgraduate levels. Our goals are set towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 & 8; Quality Education and Decent work & Economic Growth.

In all of this, I discovered what is truly required of me in the 21st century is to be skilled in
STEM. Irrespective of the career path you choose, be it academia, entrepreneurship,
intrapreneurship or being a professional, EVERYBODY needs to be STEM sound in order not to be left behind by the year 2030.

 


Freshmen orientation programme, University of Lagos, Lagos, Nigeria; March, 2019.

 

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What you are not taught: Meet Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju 

Mrs Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju (@audioderyne), University of  Lagos, Akoka, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 22nd August 2019 with the talk: “STEM Skills: The gateway to entrepreneurial science careers” 

 

 

 

WHAT YOU ARE NOT TAUGHT!!!

by Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju

Hello all!!
So, in my last post, talked about those low moments when you discover you lack a lot of
knowledge that is needed for a Ph.D.

Today I’ll first talk about my personal clear moment when I knew for sure I just went to school, I wasn’t educated. At least not by the demand of the 21st-century workforce. I and a friend made this trip to Accra, Ghana to attend a conference organized by the Royal Society of Chemistry in November 2017. It was a 2-day workshop called “Author Aid”. This workshop was on writing ethics for academics’ papers/publications. Let us just say that it was an eye-opener. There were so many things I discovered I knew nothing about and I had 2 academic publications already. Aside from that, my interaction with colleagues on the use of search engines for academic writing brought to my notice for the first time “google scholar”. I was oblivious to the use of google scholar for writing. I immediately googled “google scholar” and “BOOM”, there it was. Then my journey to truly learning to become educated and wanting others to know too began. There was absolutely no course at the graduate level of my institution that taught things such as academic writings, referencing, use of search engines, data collection, application for grants and even writing a proposal. This discovery not only made me sad, but I was also more pained that most graduate students who did not have the opportunity to attend such international gatherings were totally oblivious to what they lacked in knowledge. The state of not knowing is sad enough, but not knowing you do not know is the saddest.

From this point, I had to learn, unlearn and relearn. You know the funny thing; I did not even realize just knowing you could “ask google” was a big deal.
‘Till the next blog post titled “Google is your friend”, remember to “Learn how to LEARN”

 


Chemistry laboratory, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK; May 2018.

 

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The moment you discover “what you do not know”: Meet Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju

Mrs Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju (@audioderyne), University of  Lagos, Akoka, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 22nd August 2019 with the talk: “STEM Skills: The gateway to entrepreneurial science careers” 

 

 

 

WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW!!!
The moment you discover “what you do not know”

by Aderinsola Airat Adio-Adepoju

Ph.D. is one of those degrees you pursue because of so many reasons. One of them could be to get a job in academia, another could be to be called Dr. It could be to make a parent proud, a partner proud or something you need for promotion. Sometimes, you just purse it for bragging right!! Yes, you heard me right! Of all these reasons, we cannot say one is the most important. It is however shocking that if half of the current Ph.D. students are to answer truthfully to that question, they will tell you they have not quite clear about why they even started it. My reason I’ll say was a combination of 3 of the above reasons. There have been days on this journey I do not even know if I am worthy of being here. Those moments have occurred a lot of times. I call those moments “The moment you discover what you do not know”

As a student who had a distinction in her Masters in Environmental Chemistry from a top
University in Nigeria; I was expected to be highly knowledgeable and brilliant. So, me gunning for a Ph.D. wasn’t far-fetched. Family and society also think you know a lot and think you are probably Einstein. However, on this journey, I have discovered that I do not know A LOT. And the feeling you get is that dumb feeling because you think you are a fraud. I can bet one Ph.D. student is reading this and saying things like “Oh my God, I am not the only one”. So how often do you get this feeling or moments of “I know nothing”?

In my next blog post titled “what you are not taught” I’ll talk about the moment I realized what I wasn’t taught and how this changed my perception of the quality of education, I got in Nigeria.

RSC congress on Sustainable agriculture; International Conference Center (IIC) Accra, Ghana, November 2017.

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How ever did I get here?: Meet Adeyemi Oginni

Dr Oginni Adeyemi, Olaide, (@OginniAdeyemi2) University of Lagos, Nigeria, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 22nd August 2019 with the talk: “Creativity and Me....using Science as a Tool!!”

 

 

 

How ever did I get here?
By Adeyemi Oginni

 

I only remember I loved to solve domestic problems, by looking for ways to make my
chores easier or fun to deal with!!

Architecture, a science and art of buildings, was a career I stumbled upon. I had an Uncle
who was an architect, and loved how he used wood for interior furnishings. I remember I
never liked straight cut sciences, but I loved drawing in Biology class. The spunk for
studying Architecture came when I heard I couldn’t make it through because I was a
female!!!. That was all I needed to push me forward!

I then decided to study Architecture, which is a form of functional art and is useful in
solving societal problems. Now I’m involved various fields such as Climate change and
Sustainable Architecture, Pro-poor housing, Urban planning of Cities, Gender and
Architecture to mention a few.

I only know that I made it through to a doctorate. 11years of straight study non-stop and
ended up with the 3rd baby on the way, by the end of my PhD. The fun part for me, is
when people see my name with all the appellations and have a surprised look on their
faces. *snicker* . I did something really worthwhile, didn’t I!

Soap box is a platform where I can ‘kick off my shoes’ and enjoy speaking about a tough
experience. Looking from a bird’s eye view, I treasure every step I took. Nothing good
really comes that easy. I’d like to encourage young girls, that they can thrive in a male
dominated profession and society such as we have in our society Lagos, and in Nigeria.

Thank you Soap Box!

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A Rookie’s Guide to Dealing With Academic Rejection: Meet Deborah Aluh

Miss Aluh, Deborah Oyine (@debbilici0uss), Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Management, University of Nigeria Nsukka is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 22nd August with the talk:“Unmasking the Silent Killer”

Deborah Aluh is a lecturer and a researcher at the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Management, University of Nigeria Nsukka. She has just completed her Masters’ degree and is pursuing a PhD. Her PhD project will revolve around finding roles for pharmacists in reducing the burden of mental illness in Nigeria. Her Soapbox Science talk will be focusing on
the link between depression and suicide. Disability caused by depression is akin to chronic
physical ailments such as arthritis, hypertension and diabetes. Deborah will be highlighting ways to increase knowledge of depression and improve help-seeking behaviors.

 

A Rookie’s Guide to Dealing With Academic Rejection
By Deborah Aluh

I was so happy when my supervisor finally agreed that my masters’ thesis could be written up for publication in an academic journal. I had been dreaming of having it published and getting several citations. I had a list of three journals I wanted to publish with. I had cited them in my manuscript and thought they were excellent matches for my research study. After my supervisor had read through my manuscript, I expectantly submitted it to the first journal. After about a month, I got the rejection mail. It had not even passed the editorial review. I was able to get over the first rejection since my supervisor had warned me earlier to expect a major revision at best.

There was no peer review, which made it all worse. I prepared the manuscript and submitted to journal number 2. It was rejected within 24 hours. The subject of the rejection mail was ‘Immediate reject.’ Apparently, my article did not fit with the journal’s scope and they wished me well with my manuscript. I was devastated. I brooded over the rejection for almost a month before I pulled myself together to make another submission to the third journal on my list.

Lucky number three. This had to be it.

After about three weeks, it was rejected, again, without a peer review. The little shred of
confidence I had left was torn apart. I gave up on ever having my manuscript published. After another month, my supervisor had a long talk with me. He assured me that rejection was a ‘normal’ part of being an academic. He advised me to make submissions to journals that were specific to my research study. I had to lick my wounds and make another submission. This was after the manuscript had been reviewed by other members of faculty other than my supervisor.

I got a review within a month! The reviewers thought it a good and timely contribution to the topic and had only minor corrections. I was ecstatic! That was the first of subsequent
publications…..…and rejections, of course. Looking back now, it is obvious I had no chance at publishing in those journals. Two out of the three journals I had made my submissions to were interested in molecular research on cancer and not social research on cancer. The third journal was publishing a special issue and had specific topics they were interested in.

These days I’m smarter in choosing journals I make submissions to, and so, I hardly get
rejections at the editorial level. I also prepare my manuscripts from the outset now to follow and meet the guidelines of at least two journals. This helps to cushion the effect of a rejection, as all I have to do after a rejection is effect corrections made by the reviewers, and then, submit immediately to the alternative journal.

I have come to terms with the fact that rejection is a part of the profession; a job hazard if you may. One day I got rejection mails for two manuscripts and an application for a travel grant at the same time. Instead of crying, I got ice cream. Some scholars have suggested having a rejection ritual like planting a tree or something. If I do that, I would probably have an Amazon forest in my backyard. Oh well, whatever makes you feel good will do, in my opinion. That way, a rejection is not all bad, plus, you get to become a better academic, because, let’s face it, beneath the scathing comments, there’s almost always some truth in the remarks. I still read emails on manuscript decisions by taking sneak peeks with one palm over my eyes, but it’s not all bad, since I get to have ice cream in the worst-case scenario.

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We need all hands on board: Meet Nicole Beisiegel

Dr Nicole Beisiegel (@NicoleBeisiegel) is a Research Fellow in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at University College Dublin. She completed her MSc in Mathematics at the University of Hamburg, Germany and received her PhD from the School of Integrated Climate System Sciences at the University of Hamburg. She moved to Ireland and University College Dublin in early 2016. Her research focusses on numerical methods in the geosciences. She has a particular interest in extreme storm waves and coastal flooding. She is now applying the methods she has co-developed to hurricane storm surge with the goal to eventually improve flood predictions.

She will be taking part in Soapbox Science Dublin 2019 with the talk: “How big storms move big boulders and big computers save our coasts”

 

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

I am currently a research fellow in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at University College Dublin. My current position is a two-year project that is funded by the Irish Research Council. Every year they accept applications from postdoctoral researchers, i.e. scientists with a PhD. You basically write a couple pages about what you would do if they gave you money. In the end, the best of those proposals get funding. My project is about improving storm surge predictions and flood forecasts.

 

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


I think ultimately my PhD advisor which – I know – is unusually late. I grew up in a family of 7 children where money was always a problem and outdated views on how girls don’t need a good education was the prevailing thinking. I left school age 16 to take on a full time job that I absolutely hated, but that I also couldn’t leave as I became my own provider shortly after turning 17. The years following that were a financial struggle and as much as I could I put every last bit of time into taking free afternoon classes to get a better education. I knew that if I wanted to improve my life, education was the way to go. So, I managed to get into a government funded program that allowed me to attend full time school for a year to get A levels. I knew that with a government loan and if I worked at least one side hustle – sometimes even more – at all times, going to university was an option now! My original plan to study English afterwards fell through because as it turns out it required a language certificate which, living paycheck to paycheck, I just couldn’t afford. Since I was always good at maths, I decided to study maths. “How hard can it be?”. I can tell you now that it was very hard. But also very interesting and rewarding. I liked the challenge and got my MSc with first class honours. I then successfully applied for a PhD position in computational maths because it seemed a natural thing to do. That was where I met the man who would forever change what I thought I could do with my life: My PhD advisor Jörn. His encouragement and support convinced me that science was what I wanted to do! Still to this day, he remains one of my most trusted advisors.

 

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

The most fascinating aspect is that I can use maths and computer programming to better understand the Earth and things that happen on our planet, such as extreme events. I am working towards understanding and predicting floods and storm surges better with the goal to be able to warn and inform people better. It feels good to work on something that is relevant to society.

 

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

I love the concept of bringing science to the street! I think especially in my field, where there aren’t many women, it is important to show that maths and science is not just for men. Also, over the years, I have met so many people who are almost afraid of maths or hear about what I do and wonder: “Huh? This is maths?”, and I want to actively contribute to changing that!

 

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

 

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


I would make it more inclusive. If you look at statistics, you’ll find the prevailing demographic to be men that come from at least a middle class backgrounds. My own experience is that if you don’t have the male and/or middle class privilege – of which I don’t have either – it is just so much harder on so many levels. You might not be able to afford the education you need, to be taken seriously and ultimately to get promoted. The way I grew up I am extremely prone to accepting bad treatment, too and the current culture at universities sometimes takes advantage of that. Sexism definitely is a big issue, too, but seeing how many wonderful people work against this current culture, I am hopeful for the future.

 

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

Believe in yourself! Everybody can be a scientist, no matter where you come from. Especially now as we’re facing global challenges such as climate change, we, as a society, just cannot afford to not have all hands on board.

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