Never be afraid to question anything: Meet Charlotte Angus

Charlotte studied for a Masters in Physics and Astronomy at The University of Sheffield, graduating in 2013 before getting a PhD in Astrophysics at the University of Warwick. This involved using Hubble Space Telescope images to study the galaxies of extremely energetic supernovae (superluminous supernovae). Charlotte began working with the Supernova Group at the University of Southampton in early 2017, where she now uses data from Dark Energy Survey to study these superluminous supernovae. We are grateful to the South-East Physics Network for supporting Charlotte, who will be at Soapbox Science Brighton on 2nd June 11am-2pm with her talk “How many ways can you make a star explode?”

 

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

CA: I love outreach, and as I work in astrophysics, I’m used to having lots of “pretty pictures” on slides behind me when I talk to people about my research. Soapbox science presents a great opportunity for me to engage with people about my research in a very different way – no slides, no photographs, just me and a few props! I want to see if I can get people really excited about the physics behind the pretty pictures!

 

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

CA: Honestly…I sort of stumbled into a career in science. Until I was 16 I wanted to be a writer!

I suppose I’m mostly where I am today because of my Dad. He always encouraged me to do what I enjoy, and I’ve always loved problem solving, (he would always sit and work through maths and physics problems with me when I was at school because he enjoyed it too!). Now I’m problem solving every day during my research!

 

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

CA: Definitely the locations I get to go to! My work enables me to visit observatories around the world, from Chile to the Canary Islands, so that I can take data for my research. These observatories are some of the darkest sites on the planet – with no light pollution from nearby cities, so the night sky is beautiful to look at!

 

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

CA: My research relies upon on optics and engineering. I use data from the Dark Energy Survey, a large astronomical survey which uses “red sensitive” CCD chips. These CCD chips have been designed so that they can detect more light from redder wavelengths during an exposure. This is very import for my research, as I study events in the very distant Universe, whose light appears redder to us.

 

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

CA: 1) Patience – I’m not kidding! When you’re observing, sometimes the weather just won’t play ball! Sitting on a mountain waiting for clouds to move or the wind speed to drop can be very challenging (not to mention tiring), but it’s always rewarding when it does.

2) Lateral thinking. I very often hit barriers in my work because of problems with data quality…or sometimes its availability! So I always have to think about other ways of obtaining the results I want (e.g. changing the way in which I do my analysis)

3) Communication skills. Telescope time is expensive and difficult to get, so when applying for observing time you need to be able to express what your science goals are and why these observations would be important.

 

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

CA: Just one thing? There are too many! But if I had to chose one, I’d start with the expectation that “publishing often = successful scientist”. Sometimes there’s a real rush in academia to publish results as fast as you can, just to get ahead of the competition, or to add additional weight to your name before applying for jobs/observations/grants etc. This is definitely not how academia should be. We should be collaborating with our competitors, and aiming to produce the best results possible, rather than rushing them out for citations.

 

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

CA: If anyone ever says or does something that you’re uncomfortable with, do something about it, don’t ignore it. Academia should be an environment in which everyone feels equal, comfortable and welcome, and nobody should be made to feel otherwise!

 

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

CA: Never be afraid to question anything! It’s true what they say – there are no stupid questions! That’s what makes a great scientist.

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Nothing happens without a cause: Meet Tochukwu Ozulumba

Having volunteered at Soapbox Science Brighton in 2017, Tochukwu is now taking part as a speaker! Currently in her third year of PhD study, Tochukwu’s research is focused on developing nanomaterial-based strategies for biomedical therapies. She will be speaking at Soapbox Science Brighton on 2nd June 11am-2pm with her talk “How do nanomaterials remove contaminants?”

The University of Brighton is sponsoring Tochukwu’s talk.

 

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

TO: I love the unique approach Soapbox Science is using to change gender stereotypes about women in science. I volunteered at last year’s event and was instantly hooked. As researchers, we are often caught up in our little ‘science’ bubbles and forget that there is a world out there that needs to know what we are doing. I am looking forward to talking science with the beautiful people of Brighton. That should be fun!

 

SS: Tell us about your career pathway

TO: After my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry, I worked as a Teaching Assistant in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka for 2.5 years during which I studied for a Master’s degree. I knew I had to do a PhD to further improve my research and technical skills so I applied for scholarships. Fortunately, I secured a studentship at the University of Brighton to work on a multi-disciplinary project with a very supportive supervisor, Dr Susan Sandeman. Over the course of the PhD, I have mastered key techniques across different fields, presented my research at conferences and collaborated with researchers at another university. These experiences have broadened my knowledge, thinking and skill set which are valuable for an academic career.

 

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

TO: Growing up, I excelled in science subjects and so this felt natural for me. I love science because there is always a reason why. Nothing happens without a cause.

 

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

TO: Nanoscience is a relatively new field and we are just beginning to uncover its huge potential particularly with respect to biological applications. My research is focused on understanding how nanomaterials can be used to disrupt infection and inflammation in the body. The most fascinating aspect for me is in ‘connecting the dots’ – understanding how the properties of the nanomaterials help them remove biotoxins and influence their interactions with cells and microorganisms.

 

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

TO: I mostly use Science, particularly Chemistry and Biology. I also use Maths for calculations and Statistics to understand the significance of my results.

 

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

TO: Even though you may be part of a larger group, a PhD requires that you undertake independent research. The key attributes important to me are

  1. Commitment – A PhD is not a walk in the park and sometimes, I have to remind myself that this is what I signed up for. That there is a purpose to it all – the sleepy eyes, failed experiments and tonnes of hard work. This keeps me going on the toughest days.
  2. Sense of responsibility – This keeps me focused and helps me work with the required precision and accuracy. Since I am invested in the project, I am willing to trouble shoot, seek assistance and try new things.
  3. Integrity – The work that I do is an extension of who I am and so I have to do things with an excellent spirit. As a researcher, there is a certain level of trust accorded to me and I do not take that for granted.

 

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

TO: Short-term contracts. That way, we won’t see highly skilled researchers leave academia against their will.

 

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

TO: Do not be afraid to go for what you want. Put yourself out there. Sign up for whatever you can, especially during your PhD. It is also important to find mentors who are genuinely interested in your progress. You learn from their mistakes and they keep you accountable. Having a support network is equally important but also remember there are some journeys you may have to travel alone.

 

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

TO: Science is really interesting because it helps us find answers to the questions that surround us. Don’t be afraid to keep learning, exploring and challenging yourself. Refuse to be swayed by other people’s opinions.

 

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Curiosity is the key to research: Meet Helena Pikhartova

Helena is part of the John Adams Institute for accelerator science within the particle physics group and the ATLAS collaboration at CERN, and has experienced scientific research around the world, training in McGill University (Canada) and before that at the University of Cincinnati (USA). Helena is speaking at Soapbox Science Brighton on 2nd June 11am-2pm with her talk “Discover the world of high energy particle accelerators – the massive, powerful and fascinating machines driving discoveries in many fields”. Thanks to the Institute of Physics and Royal Holloway for supporting Helena’s talk.

 

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

HP: I am looking forward to the fact that there will be people coming that might have not known about this event in advance. They might just walk around but by the time they leave, they will hopefully discover something new. The diversity of the speakers and the topics makes me excited to attend as well. I can’t wait to hear everyone speak about their research.

 

SS: Tell us about your career pathway

HP: Growing up in the Czech Republic, my two passions were science and swimming. By the end of high school, I wasn’t ready to give up on swimming, so I decided to try and go to the United States where sport is a natural part of the university life. As a student athlete, I had the opportunity to push myself like never before while preparing for my future. I was lucky to obtain an athletic scholarship which made my journey to the USA possible. I chose to study physics and I am very happy with that decision. It was definitely a great fit for me, and four years later, I got a bachelor’s in physics and mathematics.

I then moved to Canada, to do a Master of Science at McGill University. My research was in particle physics and I got to spend a couple of months in Japan at the site of the experiment I was working on, Belle 2 (a very new particle physics detector looking into what comes out of collisions of electrons and positrons). During my master’s studies, I discovered the field of accelerator physics and I knew I wanted to get into this field for my PhD. And that’s how I ended up being a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. My research here consists of studying the Large Hadron Collider and maximising its potential to make new scientific discoveries.

 

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

HP: In high school, I was not the best student. I was not a good fit in history or geography because I had to memorize so hard to get good grades. But in all my science classes – chemistry, math, physics – we got to solve problems and often do cool experiments! For example, I still remember distilling our own perfume in chemistry (my lab partner and I made a very nicely smelling orange fragrance). These experiments really sparked my passion for science.

 

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

HP: The field of accelerator physics is very wide. Accelerators are used in physics research, medicine, industry, national security and many others. The thought that my research might be used one day in a modern high-energy accelerator or have an application in everyday life is what keeps me going every day.

 

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

HP: Programming is definitely something I get to use every day. Research in physics is not done with pen and paper anymore and I actually do all my work on a computer. I believe that one of the most important non-scientific skills is communication. Sharing the progress and results with collaborators during meetings or conferences, writing emails or doing presentations is necessary. I make at least one presentation per week. Team and collaborative work is one of the foundations of modern scientific work.

 

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

HP: Teamwork and simple communicating with colleagues is key because if we were to work on our own, there would be no progress. Usually when you are facing some problems, you will find that a number of people around you have shared the same struggles and might have helpful pointers. Simply asking questions has saved me so much time already.

There are times during which nothing seems to work. This difficult situation might go on for weeks or even months. Which is why I think persistence is also a very important attribute.

Lastly, curiosity is the key to research. Doing everything as planned gets lots of work done, but it is not what ultimately leads to discoveries. Often it is the “I wonder what will happen if I do this” that might bring the most exciting results.

 

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

HP: In my opinion, the scientific culture right now puts a lot of pressure on performance. Overworking and struggles with funding are very common which leads to anxiety and stress. I really wish employers would create a better workspace that would act towards creating a healthy lifestyle and better conditions for family life.

 

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

HP: As a female student considering pursuing a career in academia myself, I would really appreciate some recommendations too :D. However, one tip from my experience is to get involved in many activities outside of the research itself. That will build networks of people and possibly create future collaborations or give a boost to your future career.

 

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

HP: Do you have many different interests? Try them all! Even if you end up not liking them all, you will not regret having tried something new. If you are passionate about something, that is what matters, you will go far.

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Collaborate to achieve your goals: Meet Gigi Hennessy

After working at a zoo and studying Zoology, Gigi Hennessy is currently a working toward a PhD in Bee conservation in the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex. She is taking part in Soapbox Science Brighton on 2nd June 11am-2pm with her talk “Gone with the wind. How bees respond to changes in wind speed”. We are grateful to the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour for sponsoring Gigi.

 

 

 

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

GH: I really like the idea of taking science out of the lab and making it an easily accessible and interactive experience that everyone can enjoy. There is so much stigma around what a scientist looks like/what they do and I think Soapbox is a really good way of showing people that isn’t the case. I am so enthusiastic about my research (bee conservation and behaviour) and Soapbox gives me an opportunity to talk to people about it in an informal and fun setting. I also think it’s such a good way to show girls that they can achieve anything and that science isn’t just a boys club.

 

SS: Tell us about your career pathway

GH: After leaving school I decided I didn’t want to go to University right away and took a gap year. I didn’t always know exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but I did know I wanted to work with animals in some way. I worked at a Veterinary clinic during this time, as well as volunteering at London Zoo and an animal rehabilitation centre in Namibia. I then went on to study Zoology at the University of Leeds. Here I decided that a career in science researching either animal behaviour or conservation was what I wanted, and that a PhD is what I needed to achieve this. I went on to complete a Master in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter. After four years as a student I decided I needed another break. I worked for a brief while as a technician with DEFRA and then got a far more exciting job as a Zoo keeper/presenter at Chessington Zoo. Here I helped start up their native conservation centre and ran surveys and taught workshops in the neighbouring woods. After working here for almost a year I knew I wanted to get back into real science and applied for my PhD here at Sussex University where I now work under the supervision of Francis Ratnieks and Dave Goulson studying bee foraging behaviour and conservation.

 

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

GH: I have the rather obvious inspiration of David Attenborough, who kind of introduced me into the world of Zoology and how you can study animal behaviour for a living! I was also inspired to study Zoology by some of the work by Konrad Lorenz. The person who kept me going however was my Mum. When I thought about giving up and getting a more stable, higher paying career, she was one of the few people who told me to go for what I wanted and not give in to pressure from other people.

 

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

GH: An aspect of my research which I really love is seeing honeybees in their hive. We have an observation hive in our lab and you could sit and watch the bees all day and see so many different behaviours. These range from the queen laying eggs, workers fanning to keep the hive at a nice temperature or if you’re lucky a forager communicating through the waggle dance.

 

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

GH: One of the aspects of my research is studying how weather influences bee foraging. For this I have had to start reading quite a few geography and meteorology journals to help me try and understand aspects of the weather a little better!

 

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

GH: I think creativity is an important one. For one of my projects I had to make flowers for bees to forage on and I had to be quite creative in how I made these. It’s also important as being creative allows you to think outside the box when you have a problem or when something goes wrong, which is quite common!

Passion for your subject. If you really love what you’re doing/studying it makes everything so much easier. Doing a PhD isn’t easy, and like I said above things often go wrong, but loving your subject will help you deal with issues.

Being organised is the final attribute which I think is important. Being a PhD student, you have to manage your own time and your projects. You supervisor is there to help but can’t always be there to hold your hand. This means it helps if you’re on top of your workload, knowing where you are in each project and what you have left to do.

 

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

GH: Something that I really don’t like is when researchers are unwilling to share their work. Collaboration is so important, not just in science, and when you’re working to try and achieve the same goal why not share data. If everyone is recognised for the contribution I personally don’t see an issue. I’ve witnessed quite a few researchers not sharing their work with others and it makes achieving a goal so much unnecessarily harder.

 

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

GH: Get involved in research at your University as much as possible. Even if you’re not sure what area you think you’re most interested in try and get a taste of them all. Ask your lecturers if they need any summer help, experience is the best thing you can have. I would also say be confident in what you do. It’s so easy to think you don’t know anything or to underappreciate how much you really understand but try not to do that as confidence makes such a difference to how people see and respect you. Above all be enthusiastic, lecturers will really appreciate a student who gets involved and asks questions, it will get you noticed.

 

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

GH: Go for it! So many kids (myself included) are terrified of pursing a scientific career because they’re worried they won’t be good enough at maths or just generally ‘science brained enough’. That’s a load of rubbish! Science is so diverse, if you’re bad at one thing you may find you’re amazing at another. There is no other career where you’ll have two people in the same office where one is computing complicated genetics and another going scuba diving to collect data on shark behaviour. I always think of the saying, the difference between doing science and just messing about is that with science you write things down.

 

 

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Take time to find your passion: Meet Daisy Taylor

I work at UCL/University of Bristol investigating the genes involved in the evolution of social behaviour in wasps. Wasps are the ideal organism for studying  social evolution as they display the full repertoire of social behaviour; from solitary wasps where a single female performs all the duties required to successfully raise her offspring, to highly social wasps where these duties are split between the reproductive queen and the non-reproductive workers. Starting my career as a marine biologist, I never thought I’d end up working on wasps, but I find my research continually fascinating, it’s taken me to some amazing places, and has totally changed my perception of wasps (despite being stung on numerous occasions!)

You can catch Daisy on a soapbox as part of Soapbox Science London on 26th May where she will give a talk: “What’s the point of wasps?”

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

DT: My PhD was in marine biology, but when this finished I went travelling and it was on a trip to the Amazon that I became fascinated by terrestrial ecology. When I got back to the UK I saw a position advertised looking at the behaviour of wasps and, although this was a huge departure from my previous research, the project used many of the same methodologies I’d employed in my PhD – using gene sequencing to identify the molecular mechanisms which cause behavioural or physiological changes. I’m now able to apply the laboratory and field methods I’ve learnt through the course of my career to answer very different scientific questions.

 

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

DT: Very cliché, but David Attenborough. I grew up watching his documentaries, then  The Blue Planet came out during the first year of my marine biology degree and I think attendance at lectures reached a record high. Since then I’m continually inspired by meeting scientists from across the world who are incredibly passionate about the work they do.

 

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

DT: The insects I work with! Sitting for hours with your head in a wasps nest probably isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but they display a huge range of behaviours and lead complex and interesting social lives, something which very few people are aware of.

 

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

DT: I volunteered at Soapbox Science a few years ago and loved seeing scientists bringing complex and cutting edge research to the public in an interesting and accessible manner.

 

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

DT: Nervousness!

 

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

DT: There is huge pressure on early career scientists because research posts are usually so short that no sooner have you got one position, you have to start looking for your next job. This creates an incredibly stressful work environment and the lack of stability leads to a lot of highly skilled researchers leaving academia. Until there is more stability for post-docs, I think science will continue to lose a lot of great people.

 

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

DT: Take the time to find a subject you’re passionate about and you’ll have the most rewarding career ahead of you.

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Be more interdisciplinary and global: Meet Alfiah Rizky Diana Putri

Alfiah is a PhD student in Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, working on data mining & machine learning on planetary images, focusing on changes over the Martian South Polar Residual Cap. She started her interest in planetary science in high school, managing to join the Astronomy Olympiad team representing Indonesia. At university, she took an Electrical Engineering degree concentrating in Signal Processing with joining a planetary image analysis team in mind. After finishing her Bachelor Degree, joining an ASEAN-Korea exchange program, and then completing her fast-track Master Degree, she obtained the Indonesian Endowment Fund of Education to fund her interest in learning about Mars by using orbital images. Outside of doing research, Alfiah is a member of the Indonesian student association, gives talks about Mars, and hopes that she could show more visibility of Indonesian and muslimat-wearing hijab in planetary science. Alfiah is taking part in Soapbox Science Brighton on 2nd June 11am-2pm with her talk “Looking for changes on Martian poles with the aid of 3D terrain model”. Thanks to the South East Physics Network and Mullard Space Science Laboratory for supporting Alfiah’s talk.

 

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

ARDP: I had read of Soapbox Science in a science blog back when I was in Indonesia. When I started studying in the UK, there was an opportunity to speak in one. It is also quite rare to see people like me in Planetary Science in general and in Soapbox Science. It is very honourable to be able to represent. Hopefully, by being involved, I could also organise future Indonesian events as well as be able to inspire at least one more person.

Other than that, I previously had attended an event where I needed to discuss my research in my native language. It is interesting to experience that explaining your research in a language other than English is harder than it seems, as well as describing it outside of research communities. Even though I had done some outreach events with children in different age-ranges, doing it in public places where people have things to do, and much distraction would be challenging. Let’s see whether science talks can tempt people away a little bit from a summer day in Brighton!

 

SS: Tell us about your career pathway

ARDP: I have always had much interest in science but had a little difficulty specialising. As I liked Math and technology and also was interested in how images as two-dimensional data (though you have hyperspectral data as well) represented information, I entered the Electrical Engineering and Information Technology Department in Indonesia for my undergraduate, with doing research related to images in mind. I did not get many opportunities to do planetary imaging back in my undergraduate and my masters, which I started in my final undergraduate year at the same university. Fortunately, I get to pursue Martian imaging and data mining now for my PhD.

 

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

ARDP: My parents and many of my teachers, I guess. I was a pretty curious child, so I asked many questions. They always tried to answer, even now when sometimes answers from the internet can be obtained faster. Both of my parents are lecturers. I always like to help them, visiting their campus and reading many of their books. I always found academia a very comprehensive job. You get to teach and have a hand in building the next generation of scientists, but you also have your own research too. In regards to planetary science, I am very thankful to Mrs Artha, my physics teacher who offered me the last chair to join the astronomy competition, my undergraduate supervisor Mrs Litasari who’s very supportive and accommodating, and my current supervisor, Prof. Jan-Peter Muller. Many people can’t study science because of lack of support; I am very thankful for getting supportive parents, family, friends, teachers, and lecturers, which sadly I could not list all.

 

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

ARDP: The interdisciplinary aspect of it. I like Mars, and I like working on my research, but I also like to learn something new. It is always nice because everyone is researching different things, even though they’re focused on the same planets. There are also similar research subjects for different planets like Earth or the Moon. I’ve never actually thought that there were people doing things like space archaeology or space law, but there were, and it’s always nice to learn.

Other than that, working in planetary science means obtaining first-hand data that you would normally know from books and science documentaries. The images are very breath-taking.

 

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

ARDP: Many people think that to do space-related science you need to do physics in your undergraduate. You will meet physics, but planetary science has many facets that you can approach based on your background. My work is mostly related to remote sensing and computer science (data mining, machine vision, machine learning). Statistics is also essential as working with many data; you need to be able to interpret and infer.

 

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

ARDP: Problem-solving. I think this critical in science. You are interested in something, you find a big problem and you need to solve in bit-sized chunks.

Teamwork and communication. Unlike what everyone perceives about a scientist, doing science is actually working in a team, knowing everyone’s strength and weakness. A lot more research is interdisciplinary and global now, so you need to be better at this.

Perseverance. I think this is very important. Even though you like what you do and maybe most of the time it goes well, there will be occurrences where everything seems to go wrong. You need to overcome them.

 

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

ARDP: The costs to publish and access publications, I guess. Although I am inside the system as well, so it is quite hypocritical for me to say this, but to publish and to join conferences to present your work, meet people, learning the newest “science”, they cost a lot. As I am now a student with subsidised student registration for a lot of these events, I do not have enough concern for this yet. If you are an early career scientist from other countries without funding, attending a conference, subscription to a journal, or submitting a publication, is done after much deliberation.

Even though there are now free-to-publish online repositories and smaller meetings without registration fee, as well as public events (like Soapbox Science), still, to be an academics or researcher and keep being updated with research in your field, some of the top conferences and publications are not cheap. This is why I am very glad that more and more organisations are trying to publish open-access now.

 

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

ARDP: If you think you’re shy or you believe that research in the lab is the only thing you need to do, please practice talking to a crowd and to many different people, as many opportunities can come from that. I am still trying to practice this myself, so, let’s try together.

Also, please don’t downgrade yourself. Please be confident and proud of yourself and your achievement, and apply for the opportunities you want.

 

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

ARDP: If you like it, please do it. Many people want to pursue science but don’t get the opportunity to, so when you can, definitely try, even if you do not seem to be good at it now. There is no too early and too late. Try to be curious. Nowadays there are a lot more ways to learn science and do science compared to before; please utilise them.

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We need to support each other, both in and outside the lab: Meet Veronika Zhiteneva

Veronika Zhiteneva, Technical University of Munich, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on Saturday 7th July. She will give a talk entitled: “Your poop + bugs + machine learning = drinking water”

 

 

Left to Right: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg E. Drewes, Sema Karakurt, Veronika Zhiteneva, Anastasia Ruf, Dr.-Ing. Uwe Hübner. Photo: Andreas Heddergott

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

VZ: In school, I really loved writing, poetry, and print media. Initially, I wanted to become a writer for Popular Science or Wired. A few doors opened during my first years at university that revealed how much more interesting being on the discovery side of science was in comparison to the communication side, so I switched. I figured the science itself and related technical skills should be learned in an academic setting, while communication skills could be learned outside of a 4 year degree. Now I’m appreciating how the two go hand in hand as I continue in my scientific career.

 

SS: How did you get your current position?

VZ: Persistence. My professor at TUM taught for many years at the same university I got my master’s degree from in the US. Though we didn’t overlap there, I wrote grant applications from abroad and made it clear I was willing to work for the position. After a year of correspondence, I came to Munich to start my PhD.

 

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

VZ: I run column experiments, troubleshoot, work with wastewater, do data analysis, troubleshoot, sometimes do sample prep, discuss problems and approaches with my colleagues and supervisors…and troubleshoot. Sometimes I teach as well.

 

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

VZ: I’d have to say two things: 1) when you finally make sense of your results and they tell a good story, regardless of whether or not it’s the one you initially theorized, and 2) when a colleague or student shares their/your enthusiasm/gratitude with you – science can sometimes feel lonely, but remembering that we’re all deeply invested in the success of the project is important.

 

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

VZ: Mainly funding. Getting scooped is often a problem when you’re trying to take an incremental step forward in research. Adapting your idealized experimental plan to your real life circumstances is a never ending process.

 

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

VZ: The technologies our chair researches for treating water will allow cities to close their water supply networks, making sure the water coming out of your tap has the same quality as before, but is less energy intensive. We’re developing wastewater treatment techniques that use natural processes and microbes, and ways to supply enough water for different uses (drinking, irrigation, recreation) as urban populations continue to grow.

 

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

VZ: Statistically, fewer women occupy academic and supervisory positions (CEOs, professors, etc) than men. I was fortunate to have had great female supervisors and professors early in my academic career, and have recently felt like it’s my turn to provide a similar kind of mentoring to the next generation. Talking about science in a casual setting reaches more people in a more understandable format, and maybe it’ll stick with you longer if you happen upon it randomly.

 

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

VZ: I don’t know about you, but I learned about very few women scientists in school, I can’t think of many apart from Marie Curie. If we teach girls about women who contributed to the advancement of science, we show them that women already are (and have been!) in STEM fields, and provide role models for them, just like we currently do for boys. If we make it normal, the distribution imbalance can solve itself.

We should continue supporting one another and discussing our findings, issues, personal experiences, and successes. Women by nature are more social than men, but we can use this for our benefit, and support each other, both in and outside the lab – this especially includes encouraging each other to take chances and seize opportunities that we might be unsure about.

 

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Make yourself visible as a role model: Meet Judith Pérez Velázquez

Dr. Judith Pérez Velázquez, Helmholtz Zentrum München, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on Saturday 7th July 2018. She will give a talk entitled: “Biology’s Next Microscope”

 

 

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

JPV: My brother in law, a high school history teacher, who had known me since I was a child, suggested I choose something from science, more ad hoc to my skills, more challenging, he said. I always respected his opinion as he always had a positive input in my family. At that time, I wanted to study informatics (at a technical level) so I listened to him and I enrolled myself in a University course in Computer Science. This subject was taught at the faculty of science (together with other subject such as physics and mathematics) with shared courses of the fundamentals of mathematics for all of us. I ended up falling in love with maths and I changed my study subject, graduating as a mathematician. The best decision of my life. Something that makes me happy every single day. I count myself lucky for finding my true vocation.

 

SS: How did you get your current position?

JPV: While working in the UK, I got engaged to my partner (German citizen) and we decided to move to Germany, I directly contacted several research institutions where my subject was done, explaining that I was looking for a position in Germany. I obtained several interviews and got a couple of offers, I ended up taking the most convenient. Think about taking the initiative.

 

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

JPV: I am a researcher, I work in the field of applied mathematics to biology. Therefore, I read papers, I write papers, I teach, I supervise students, I meet with colleagues regarding research projects, I write research proposals, I review papers, I give talks in conferences or in seminars. I love my job.

 

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

JPV: To find out new things, to discover things, to know that I was part of a contribution to new knowledge.

 

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

JPV: Lack of long term job perspective and competitiveness. Unfortunately, Germany still has a long way to go to ensure permanent positions for scientists. Also, there are several ways in which scientists are rated/evaluated. Some of them do not make much sense. We have to comply anyway.

 

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

JPV: I believe that mathematics will be part of the solution to key challenges in developing more successful therapies, from preventing antibiotic resistance to personalized cancer treatments.

 

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

JPV: I am passionate about improving the participating of women in STEM, apart from that, I am a mother of two girls, as a woman in STEM I know how underrepresented we are and I know that part of the solution is role models. If you see someone who you can identify with, it is likely you want to consider doing something she does. On another level, I believe that bringing science to the public is a pivotal task for every scientist.

 

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

JPV: I did not notice about any kind of gender imbalance or directly suffer discrimination because of my gender while I was a math student, including my PhD time. It was only after I completed my studies that I realized how unusual that was, I discovered that, unfortunately, discrimination and gender imbalance is very wide spread in STEM. I just happened to be lucky or perhaps too naïve and distracted regarding that. Therefore, I decided to do something active to help, it is likely that girls would face challenges during the STEM studies because of their gender, it is not very likely that girls would consider STEM as a career choice. I started participating in initiatives to improve this, for example I became part of the program “1000 girls 1000 futures” to help promoting STEM among high school female students.  Do the same if you can, find ways to help. Supervise female students, give talks, if you have a success story to tell, make yourself visible, it shows girls out there what is possible.  Encourage girls around you to think about STEM. And if you ever face gender discrimination, seek help from a female tutor, a female student advisor, a female professor, chances are they have faced something similar too and can help. Science is for all.

To attract more women to STEM, I believe role models are pivotal, get women in contact with female scientists at all levels, from school girls to last year undergraduates.  Teach science to girls, buy STEM-related toys for your daughters, talk to them about famous female scientists. Make STEM accessible.

Finally, I would quote the words of the first black woman in space:

“We look at science as something very elite, which only a few people can learn. That’s just not true. You just have to start early and give kids (girls) a foundation. (Girls) Kids live up, or down, to expectations.” -Mae Jemison

 

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I want to encourage girls to take up science – it is a fantastic job: Meet Joyce Harper

Joyce Harper (@ProfJoyceHarper) is Professor of Human Genetics and Embryology at University College London in the Institute for Women’s Health where she is head of the Reproductive Health Department, Principal Investigator of the Embryology, IVF and Reproductive Genetics Group, Director of Education and Director of the Centre for Reproductive Health.

She has worked on fertility and reproductive genetics for 30 years, originally working as a clinical embryologist and then working on preimplantation genetic testing.  She is currently working on the social, ethical and legal aspects of fertility treatment, concentrating on social egg freezing and reproductive genetics.  Joyce has published over 170 scientific papers and written two text books.

Joyce is passionate about public engagement to discuss all aspects of women’s health, including wellbeing.  She has established a public engagement group with regular posts and has just written a book covering women’s health from birth to death called ‘what every woman should know’.

In 2016 Joyce was one of the founders of the UK Fertility Education Initiative which aims to help people understand fertility, modern families and reproductive science.

You can catch Joyce on her soapbox at Soapbox Science London on 26th May where she will give a talk entitled: “Tick–tock of the biological clock – is egg freezing the answer?”

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?  

JH: After finishing my PhD, I wanted a break from academia and was looking through the jobs in New Scientist and found a job for a clinical embryologist.  I loved this job for 4 years, but I wanted to teach so I made use of my contacts to get a job at the Hammersmith Hospital and then University College London and I have been at UCL ever since.

 

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

JH: I was always wondering how life was made.  When I was 13, I went on a  school trip to a lab and realised that I wanted to do this job.  So I asked one of the women in the lab what I had to do to be a scientist and she said I had to get a PhD.  So that was that.  All decided.

 

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

JH: Everything.  I am always learning.  My field is continuously changing which makes it very exciting. I get to travel the world talking at International Conferences and I have made many wonderful friends.

 

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

JH: I am very passionate about teaching the public about science.  But also I want to encourage girls to take up science – it is a fantastic job.

 

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

JH: Excitement.

 

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

JH: For people in my field to step back from the commercial aspects and do more basic science and R and D before they bring new technology into the clinic.

 

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

JH: You need to be passionate about the topic.  It is not about being the most intelligent person, you have to be inquisitive.

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Keep an open mind and push your limits: Meet Anastasia Aliferi

Hi there! My name is Anastasia (@anastasialiferi) and I am a PhD candidate in forensic genetics currently working on my research project within the King’s Forensics group at King’s College London. I have studied biology and forensic science and my research at the moment focuses on finding a way to predict someone’s age from DNA material that can be found at a crime scene (like from a tiny blood spot!). I am also involved in similar projects on predicting someone’s country of origin and external appearance (like how curly their hair is!). The purpose of this research is to help the police with providing information that can lead them to the right person, especially when there are no suspects at all!

You can catch Anastasia on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science London on 26th May where she will be giving a talk entitled: “Miss Scarlett, Mrs Peacock or Mrs White? Can DNA give us the answer without visiting all the rooms?”

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

AA: A combination of hard work, timing and, well, luck! I have always been keen on acquiring new skills and during my bachelor’s degree I made sure to get as much experience as I could through volunteering and internships. I actually ended up spending 2 years in what was meant to be a 3 month internship and that quite challenging journey helped me grow both as a scientist and as a person. Walking into my master’s degree, in a slightly different field and in a totally different country and language, it was that experience that helped me get a great thesis project and, at the same time, it was luck that got me working with some pretty amazing people. I fell in love with the project and immediately ‘clicked’ with my supervisors to the point that I basically refused to leave them when my degree ended. As it turns out, the feelings were mutual and I was originally offered a temporary position to help me stay in the country and then a PhD when the funding allowed it (timing!).

 

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

AA: Is it too cheesy to say that science and I were star-crossed? If I have to trace it back, I would say it was all those amazing biology teachers I got to meet during my school years. I seriously don’t think I have ever met a biology teacher that was not passionate (to the point of what some might call ‘slightly mad’) about their teaching subject and I always thought that this is how working in a field you love should feel, deliriously exciting. It was one of those teachers that during my final year, and despite the extreme workload for the coming exams, insisted on signing me up for the National Biology Olympiad and I think that competition marked the point of no return for me and science. Three rounds of qualifying exams later I made it to the 4-person team that competed in the International Biology Olympiad in Japan and it was there that I got a glimpse of my future life in science. After that there was no turning back, my heart was set on science and research.

 

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

AA: The question is what is NOT fascinating about it! Working on the development of new forensic tools that can predict someone’s age, home country or even appearance is like living inside a sci-fi movie and even though there is always the occasional overload of lab work and writing up, one good result makes it all worth it! I am also quite lucky in the fact that I am working in a laboratory that also handles police cases and I often get to be involved in some pretty interesting work with a direct impact on people’s lives (and of course getting to actually say ‘Sorry, I can’t talk about my work, it’s confidential’ is always a plus). Last but not least, travelling! I have always had a big big love for travelling and research conferences and collaborations regularly send me around the world (I actually spent three weeks in South Korea last summer!) where I get to meet the most interesting people that get my mind working on new ideas!

 

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

AA: I like talking. A lot. And fast. OK, although that is actually true, the real reason behind my participation is the chance to stand up, in all my 5’3’’ glory, as a woman and a scientist and share my research with the world (or, well, South Bank, but it’s a start right?). There is a saying that goes ‘If you can’t explain something to a six-year-old, you really don’t understand it yourself’ and, if there is one saying I want to live by as a scientist, it’s this one. Soapbox Science is my chance to try and explain what I am working on to anyone who would listen and – who knows? – maybe some actual six-year-olds! Plus, I get to do this besides some great, inspiring women who feel the same way, and that on its own is just amazing.

 

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

AA: Is ‘scarexcited’ a word?

 

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

AA: Can I change two? Inequality and funding! If I could swish my magic wand like Hermione, I would make science (or the whole world actually, I mean I have a wand now why think small) free of any superstition/ bias/ discrimination. I would make sure anyone could be heard, taken seriously and given equal chances and support no matter how they look or sound or where they come from. Even though I have been lucky so far to work with great people, it makes me sad and angry to see how unjust things can often be for so many others. Also, unlimited funding! (What? One can always dream!) In all seriousness though, the way research funding currently works creates a lot of issues for researchers especially in the early stages of their career. Scientists struggle to make plans for the future due to financial insecurity and as much as constantly moving across the world in the search of a new position can be exciting and rewarding, it can also cause a lot of uncertainty and anxiety and it often drives researchers with great potential away from academia.

 

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

AA: Well, I am still a PhD student considering a career in academia so I can only give my utterly un-tested opinion on that topic! Expand your knowledge and be true. You can be great at what you do and know everything there is about your project, but I think that you always have to keep an open mind and push your limits. Take a training course on a new technique that has no actual application (yet?) to your current project, chat with different people about their work and look at your research through their eyes, try to find the connections in this big science puzzle that we are all part of and, most importantly, step out of your comfort zone, you have no idea how many things you can do until you try. Finally, remember who you are and what you stand for and always be fair and respectful. In other words, do right, do your best and treat others the way you want to be treated.

 

 

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