Find solutions through collaboration: Meet Chanuki Illushka Seresinhe

Chanuki Illushka Seresinhe (@thoughtsymmetry) is a doctoral researcher at the Data Science Lab, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick and the Alan Turing Institute. Chanuki’s research entails using big online datasets and deep learning to understand how beautiful environments affect human wellbeing. Her research has been featured in the press worldwide including the Economist, Wired, The Times, BBC, Spiegel Online, Guardian, Telegraph and Scientific American. Before returning to university, Chanuki had a diverse career that included running her own digital design consultancy for over eight years in London.

You can catch Chanuki on her soapbox on the Southbank as part of Soapbox Science London on 26th May, giving a talk entitled: “Beauty isn’t only in the eye of the beholder – computers can decode beauty too!”


SS: How did you get to your current position?

CS: It has been quite a journey! I was working for quite some time in digital design running my own consultancy. And, at some point, the work started to get a bit boring as the web started to get really “samey” in terms of interface design. I was eager to find something else that would be intellectually stimulating again. So, I decided to go back to university and study economics, including Behavioural and Economic Science (see reason why below). I then met my PhD supervisors to-be, Dr Tobias Preis and Dr Suzy Moat, when I was looking for an interesting project to do for my Masters dissertation. Through them, I learned about this new PhD programme about using big online data sets to understand human behaviour. And, I thought, how perfect, what a brilliant way to combine all my past experience working in the digital world with this new world of data. I am just in the last few months now finishing up my PhD in Data Science, at the Data Science Lab at the Warwick Business School. In the meantime, I also got this fantastic opportunity to be based at the Alan Turing Institute – the national institute for data science and AI. I started out on the Turing Enrichment year programme, where students spend one year of their PhD at the Turing Institute, but got involved with so many activities at the Turing (its is such an amazing place to be) that I was offered the opportunity to continue my stay there.


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

CS: It is purely my deep interest in the subject that has driven me to pursue a career in science. When I was first at university in the late 1990s, I was often discouraged from taking a path that would lead to a scientific career by my professors, who told me that I would find it “too boring” or “too competitive”, so when I recently returned to university to restart my career, I was determined to pursue my passion. Fortunately the landscape for women entering scientific disciplines today is much better than it was even a few decades ago.


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

CS: It has been really great to be able to conduct research on a topic that most people can relate to – the connection between beautiful places and our wellbeing. So, not only is the subject fascinating in itself, what I really love is being able to engage with so many different people about it and finding about how I might be able to relate my research to more practical aspects that can touch our everyday lives such as urban design.


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

CS: I work in data science and AI and there is still a dearth of women as well as people from different backgrounds/ethnicities working in this field. AI is increasingly affecting all our lives, and it is imperative that we encourage more diversity, as we shouldn’t be driving decision making in this area by only a select part of the population. This will inevitably, and has already, lead to biases that can be harmful. A more diverse set of data science and AI researchers might pick up on these biases quicker and find ways to mitigate them.


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

CS: Excitement!


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

CS: It still does not feel like a very collaborative atmosphere. I can see this is slowly changing but it would be great to see if the incentives in the system can change to encourage people to collaborate rather than compete. I believe we are more likely to find solutions to pressing problems in our society through collaboration rather than keeping our ideas secret from each other. For example, there is no incentive to publish null research findings, leading to biases in the literature as well as multiple researchers potentially wasting time on hypothesis that don’t go anywhere, with no indication whether anyone else has previously attempted the research.


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

CS: Make sure you find a subject you are really passionate about researching. The time it takes to complete a PhD can feel very long and there will inevitably be many setbacks. So having a topic that you are passionate about can really help drive you! Also, try to get to know your supervisors in advance. Find out what they are like to work with. I have heard some horror stories so you definitely want to make sure you are comfortable with who you are about to work with for a very long time!



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We need to talk about… kelp: Meet Kate Schoenrock

Kate Schoenrock (@katesrock) is originally from California, and decided to become a marine botanist after a long internship working with marine mammals. After cleaning up poop for years, she found that the intricate adaptations  of marine algae (honestly all the different ways they have sex) sparked her imagination and investigation into species ecology and evolution! These seaweeds have brought her around the world, from Antarctica to Greenland, and now Ireland. Best part of the job? Wearing a wetsuit (or drysuit) to work. (Photo credit: Alex Ingle)

You can catch Kate on her soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Galway on 7th July, where she will give a talk entitled: Kelp me! What does kelp do for its community?



We need to talk about kelp. 

By Kate Schoenrock

Irish Seaweed. I am an ‘invasive’ in Ireland, somehow finding my way back across the Atlantic to a place so many Americans call the homeland. My move was driven by a different personal connection though: seaweeds! Ireland’s coastlines are rich in seaweed species, and it is famous among phycologists (scientists who study marine botany) for its diversity and dedication to studying species identification and commercial uses (nutraceuticals). But researchers, naturally land-based, have studied what they find between the tides, leaving a hole in our understanding of seaweed in the sub-tidal.


Why kelp? Kelp are seaweeds within a specific taxonomic family called Laminariales, which form forests from the low intertidal to the shallow subtidal (< 60 m depth in most regions of the world). They are originally called ‘kelp’ because people used to burn seaweeds to make potash as a fertilizer for the land, and the most common species they would use would be the kelps that dominated the habitat. The subtidal kelps we find in Ireland are mostly dominated by Laminaria hyperborea (May Weed) and found all over Europe, from Norway in the north to Portugal in the south.


Kelp forest ecology. In our oceans, marine species have adapted complex strategies to surviving predation, finding food, and enduring harsh environments which drives them to utilize one or many habitat types during their lives. In Ireland kelp forests provide a home for many characters such as the common lobster and the Cod who come and go with the seasons. I study kelp forest habitats in the west of Ireland to unravel the unknown, intricate relationships between kelp forest and its aggregate trophic levels 1) to create a big picture of how kelps feed and house the marine community throughout the year and 2) determine how important kelp are to commercial species, and as a harvested species themselves.


Why does it matter? Worldwide kelp forests are threatened by warming oceans and marine heatwaves which are restricting the presence of these forests northward, as well as harvesting and overgrazing. When L. hyperborea forests are stressed, native kelps are replaced by invasive species such as Sargassum muticum (Wire weed), Undaria pinnatifida (Wakame), which we already see in harbors around Ireland and know change the ecology of the region. But we can only know what these changes are by investigating the natural productivity and diversity of kelp forests right now.


I use SCUBA diving to do the research in kelp forests, diving into the habitat to collect data that describes the natural history of the region throughout the year. There is nothing better than watching predation and behaviors of the kelp inhabitants throughout the year, like the spiney crabs who troll the drift algae starting in spring and the diving lions mane that scrapes the kelp canopy from May-June. Of course summer research is always more pleasant than winter, but these dynamic environments always have something to offer.




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Meet the Soapbox Science Milton Keynes organising team

Meet the organising team bringing Soapbox Science to Centre:MK Milton Keynes for a third year!

Photo (L-R): Gill Hill, Laura Crook, Julia Cooke, Clare Humphries, Jack Hannam


Dr Julia Cooke, Lecturer in Ecology.  I am a plant ecologist who uses traits to explore ecological strategies.  I’m particularly interested in how plants use silicon as a resource. Increasing the visibility of women in science is a key part of changing the ratio of women who progress to senior levels as well as reducing unconscious bias in the way women are perceived in science and I see Soapbox Science as a positive way to do that.  Having benefited from the networking and promotion of me and my research that Soapbox Science offers, I’m very pleased to be able to pay that forward to the next round of speakers by leading the local organising committee this year.


Dr Clare Humphries, Water, Energy and Environment Information Specialist at Cranfield University. My job is based in the library but I also get to spend lots of time talking to researchers. When the first Soapbox Science MK was being planned back in 2015 I jumped at the chance to be involved and 3 years later I still am! It provides a great opportunity to hear about some of the amazing research being done in this region. My passion for science was ignited as a student in Bristol, and although I’ve hung up my labcoat now (after 6 years as a biomedical researcher) I have never lost my curiosity and desire to learn. You can take the woman out of the lab and put her in the library, but I’ll always be a scientist at heart!


Hi, I am Gill. I was a speaker at the first Milton Keynes Soapbox Science in 2016, and loved the event so much that I decided I wanted to continue to be involved to enable other scientists to share their research in such an interactive way. I am a Psychology lecturer and researcher at the University of Buckingham.  I research creativity and particularly everyday insight moments, which are sudden Aha or Uh-oh moments of new understanding. I use a variety of methods in my research, both interview and online questionnaires alongside face to face experimental work, where I explore how psychological and physiological (for example heart activity) factors impact on the experience of insight. I think it is really important to highlight the diverse nature of science and the people who ‘do’ science, with the view that anyone and everyone can get involved. I am passionate about science and want to share this enthusiasm with an audience who wouldn’t typically go to ‘sciencey’ events, which is just what Soapbox Science does.


Dr Jacqueline “Jack” Hannam is a Senior Research Fellow in Pedology at Cranfield University. I love soil. I use mapping and modelling to determine how soils change in space and time. I also work with farmers to devise practical solutions for sustainable soil management whilst also growing enough food. Like many other LOs I was a previous speaker (at the London event in 2015) and wanted others to experience the event in our home town, so I founded SSMK in 2016. SSMK means anyone can meet amazing women scientists and hear about their research right in the heart of the local shopping centre. This is the third year of SSMK, we have a really great team led by Julia Cooke with lots of momentum & enthusiasm. Milton Keynes is geographically bang in the middle between Oxford and Cambridge. But you don’t need to go to Oxbridge for groundbreaking research in STEM- it is happening right here on our doorstep at the unique University, research institutions and businesses in the MK region.


My name is Laura Crook and I am the Programme Co-ordinator for the Smart Crop Protection project at Rothamsted Research. I work on the day to day running of the project, organising meetings and events as well as managing the science communication aspects of the programme. I am also a research technician conducting glasshouse experiments investigating herbicide resistance in black-grass, the biggest weed problem facing arable farmers in the UK. I was a speaker at the first Soapbox Science Milton Keynes event in 2016 and really enjoyed the experience. Soapbox Science gave me more confidence and ultimately helped me get the role I do now. The team were great when I stood on my soapbox and I really wanted to help give other women that opportunity, particularly as another Rothamsted colleague is taking part this year. Soapbox Science is a fantastic way to get woman shouting about their science and to hear such a diverse range of subjects from all walks of academia, PhD students to post-docs, professors to technicians.


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Be brave & look beyond the boundaries of your discipline: Meet Kyra De Coninck

Kyra De Coninck (@KyraDeConinck) is a Lecturer at the University of Kent. She will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “Getting under your skin: the secret life of fascia”





SS:How did you get to your current position?

KDC: My name is Kyra De Coninck, I’m originally from Belgium, and have lived in the UK since 1986. I came to academia later in life, and not via the usual route. I studied Social Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Sussex.  I then took a break from academia, started a small publishing press and music record label, worked as a translator and interpreter, and worked in Eastern Europe for the Prince’s Trust.  I also ran my own sports massage practice, and taught massage courses to wide range of professionals ranging from physiotherapists and osteopaths to midwives and prison wardens! I was then invited to teach sports massage as part of a degree in sport therapy, and after a couple of years became a full-time member of staff at the University of Kent. I now teach a range of modules ranging from a beginners’ sports massage course to a module on advanced neuromuscular therapy.


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

KDC: I was not particularly interested in mathematics or science in school. My hands inspired me in the end. When I was a massage practitioner, I was fascinated how different  tissues felt right under skin. Particularly, areas such as the lower back, could feel either spongy, rigid or swollen. How could this be in an area with literally just skin over bone? This lead me onto the road of research into the structure and function of fascia, a little known  body-wide network of connective tissue.  I have always been inspired by women who ask questions, who are not afraid to ask difficult or awkward questions. My heroine in my subject area is Professor Helene Langevin at Harvard University, she investigates the behaviour of cancer cells in connective tissues.


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

KDC: People! I work with many different kinds of people, experts in pain physiology, biomechanics, or muscle function to name but a few. I also teach many different kinds of students, as my work involves teaching hands-on skills, I get to know my students well during the years they are with us. Seeing students grow, change and develop confidence makes my job worth doing.


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

KDC: I bumped into a Soapbox speaker on the South Bank in London and was really amazed by her research on soil quality. I loved how she turned a very technical subject area into a fascinating, perplexing and relevant topic. I started following other Soapbox speakers on Twitter. So when I was invited to join the Canterbury Soapbox speakers, I jumped at the chance. I’m very keen on communicating my research to a whole range of people, beyond the academic conferences.


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

KDC: Nervocited.


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

KDC: I would like scientists to be braver, to look beyond the boundaries of one’s discipline and be curious about other ‘tribes’.


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

KDC: Spend time finding a good supervisor, don’t sweat the small stuff, and never ever ever give up.

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Be prepared, network, and grab every opportunity: Meet Kathryn Harriss

Dr Kathryn H. Harriss (@KentImpactGroup), is a Research Associate at the School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent.

You can catch Kathryn on a soapbox on 23rd June as part of Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018, giving a talk entitled: “Planetary Science with a Big Gun!​”




SS: how did you get to your current position?

KH: I am currently half way through my second PDRA position at the University of Kent. Upon finishing my PhD at the Open University, a job opportunity opened up of the University of Kent in a similar but not the same field. I knew the PI and spoke to them about the position while at networking events. I then applied and was successful and the position was extended for another 3 years and we have recently submitted for another extension of the position.


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

KH: My father and mother are both scientists and science was always my favoured subject at school. I studied geology at university level when I discovered it covered all aspects of geography that I enjoyed. I knew I would be a scientist merely because I enjoyed it and wanted to continue asking, questing and discovering the solar system around me.


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

KH: My research allows for a great deal of variety, fundamentally the work focuses on shock mechanics and fracturing which are all of great interest to me from my background in geology, but it can be used in investigate various aspects of planetary sciences, from shock features in silicate materials to astrobiology and the survivability of different simple organisms. Also I get to fire a very large gun most days.


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

KH: I enjoy talking to the public about my research and planetary and Earth sciences and have done so in many different ways, Soapbox Science offers a new challenge and exciting way to discuss and inform the public about my research and aspects of planetary sciences.


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

KH: Fun


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

KH: There is an idea that more is better, that more papers, especially first-author papers, mean a better scientist when the culture should be pushing for better quality collaborative research, allowing those in similar fields to work together to get the best data rather than competing for REF, funding and esteem.


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

KH: Learn everything, take every opportunity to network and improve your skills. Finding a job at the right time (end of your current position) is down to luck, but you need to have the skills ready behind you to grab those opportunities when they come. Life in academia is hard and most fall before reaching the fabled permanent position but be prepared, network, and grab every opportunity.

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From the Caribbean Sea to the Arctic Ocean: Meet La Daana Kanhai

I am a Doctoral Candidate in the Erasmus Mundus Program Marine Ecosystem Health and Conservation (MARES). My ongoing fascination with the natural environment is the thing that propels me to study it and focus on key environmental issues such as pollution. In the past, I’ve investigated the impact of chemical contaminants on human health and ecosystem well-being in wetland ecosystems in Trinidad. Currently, my research is focused on microplastics in the world’s oceans. In order to sample the various compartments of the oceans for microplastics, I’ve participated in expeditions in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. I firmly believe that scientists must make the effort to merge research with outreach and education if they are to effect positive change regarding environmental issues.


From the Caribbean Sea to the Arctic Ocean

By: La Daana Kanhai

Looking back, I often wonder, ‘How did an ordinary young woman from a tiny Caribbean island end up studying microplastics in the Arctic Ocean?’ For the sake of brevity, I will tell you that as a child, I was simply fascinated by the natural environment. This fascination was born primarily through the opportunities I had to interact with nature during my formative years, whether it was exploring my family’s garden, the countryside where I lived or the beaches we visited. It was therefore very natural for me to gravitate towards subjects (geography, biology) where I learnt more about the natural world. During my high school years, I became acutely aware of the fact that the natural environment which I was so passionate about was being negatively affected by man’s activities and that issues such as climate change, pollution and deforestation were wreaking havoc on ecosystems.


As a teenager, I already knew that I wanted to be an Environmental Scientist. I was fortunate in that both of my parents supported this decision. At university, I studied Environmental and Natural Resource Management and Chemistry and it was during this time that my interest in Environmental Pollution was piqued. After graduating, I had my first foray into the field of Science Communication during my one year stint as an Education Officer. I then entered the world of research and focused on investigating chemical contaminants in wetland ecosystems and assessed the threat that these contaminants potentially posed to human health and ecosystem well-being. During the period of publishing my research, I took the opportunity to get some experience in the field of academia as a Teaching Assistant and then as an Instructor.


My quest to learn more about the natural environment and focus on key environmental issues propelled me to apply for an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to research microplastics in the oceans. Since the field of microplastic pollution was brand new to me, I was propelled to read published literature and familiarize myself on what had already been done. All of my PhD research has focused on addressing key knowledge gaps in the field of microplastic pollution. My first microplastic sampling was carried out in the Atlantic Ocean during a transit of the RV Polarstern from Bremerhaven, Germany to Cape Town, South Africa. Here we investigated how phenomena such as coastal upwelling potentially influenced microplastics in the oceans. One area for which there was very little information about microplastics was Polar Regions. Being cognizant of this, I took part in the Arctic Ocean 2016 expedition under the Early Career Scientist Programme of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat onboard icebreaker Oden. During that expedition, I sampled sub-surface waters, sediment and sea ice for microplastics. Based on this sampling, we discovered that although the Arctic Ocean is remote and seemingly pristine, it has not been immune to the entry of plastic debris as every single environmental compartment that we investigated has been contaminated by microplastics.


The part of me that was fascinated by the natural environment as a child is ever present. I was fortunate in that I was able to bear witness to the indescribable beauty of the Arctic Ocean. Yet will future generations have this opportunity? I firmly believe that the issue of plastics in the oceans is one that was created by man and one that can be solved by man. Each of us needs to take action to figure out how we can be better stewards of this beautiful planet that we call home!

You can catch La Daana Kanhai on her soapbox at The Spanish Arch, Galway on 7th July as part of Soapbox Science Galway 2018, where she will be giving a talk entitled “Microplastics in the oceans: Why the fuss?” 

Follow her on twitter @LaDaanaKanhai


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Lift others as you climb: Meet Jess Wade

Hello! My name is Jess. I’m a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London making clever light emitting diodes (LEDs) from carbon-based materials. (If you’re REALLY in to display technologies, we’re the people being the O in OLED TVs). Outside of my work I spend all my time trying to make young people (especially girls) realise that physics is for them, working with teachers to improve their access to research (and help where I can on their awesome quest to inspire their students), and trying to make the internet less sexist, by uploading the biographies of women in science onto Wikipedia.


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

#EoFImperial ‘Engineer Our Future: Girls’ Hackathon’ hosted by Imperial College London and the Turing Lab

Jess Wade: I studied A-Levels at school in London (Art, Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry and Physics), before heading to Chelsea College of Art & Design for a Foundation Year. I lived in Florence with an Italian landlady (who was also a History of Art Professor!) for a Summer, learning all about the Renaissance Masters…. Then I began my undergraduate physics degree at Imperial, then… never really left. The transition from undergrad to PhD is surreal – you are suddenly paid to do science experiments all the time … and you can wear your pyjamas to work if you want, or work on the weekends, because you make your own time. A PhD Is about 3 years, after which you can do pretty much any job you want (take Dr Angela Merkel for example, who has a PhD in nuclear chemistry). I wanted to stay in research, and luckily I found a position at my favourite place on Earth. When you’re a postgraduate or postdoctoral researcher, you have a bit more freedom than you did as an undergraduate. You still have a supervisor, who is an expert that ‘guides’ the direction of your research, but you are in charge of what experiments you do, what code you write and when you do them.


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

‘Meet the Stemettes’ panel event @ Imperial College – Visit

JW: 100 % my school teachers. My whole family are medical doctors, which is great, but they are more interested in biology than they are physics. I went to school at South Hampstead High School, and both my physics (Dr Walgate) and chemistry (Dr Hearn) teachers had PhDs in physics. Alongside them, my mum, Dr Charlotte Feinmann, who is a consultant liaison psychiatrist at UCL and all-in-all a kick-ass mother. I am lucky, Imperial is full of inspirational women, such as Professor Ji-Seon Kim who leads the nano-analysis research group; Professor Jenny Nelson, who wrote of the go-to book on the physics of solar cells and Professor Lesley Cohen, who works to support academic women across College alongside her research into magnetic materials. If I become one eighth of the physicists these women are, I’ll be happy.


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

JW: I work at the interface of chemistry, material science and physics, creating light emitting diodes from organic molecules. Under the right circumstances, small organic molecules and polymers can act as semiconductors – half way between insulator and a conductor – which we can use to make all different kinds of electronic devices, from solar panels to light emitting diodes and biological sensors. That’s pretty mental – we usually think of plastics (polymers) as being insulators, but these ones have tuneable electronic properties. My job is to choose which materials to use, find a way to dissolve them to create a semiconducting ink, and print them. Because our inks are organic, we can print them on to plastics, which means our devices can be flexible, cheap and ultra-light. The final layer in an organic light emitting diode or solar cell is a metal contact, which lets us inject or extract charges. The molecular structures that we create are fascinating too, and often we can learn a huge amount from nature. Alongside research, I keep our lab in order, which means ordering parts and building different pieces of equipment. I have a few PhD and Masters students to supervise, and I get to do some undergraduate teaching, which I especially love.


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

JW: A challenge: I like putting myself out of my comfort zone every now and then. I’ve seen the photos on twitter and read the blogs and reports afterwards, and it looks like something I’d love to contribute to. I really love discussing my work with the public – not only because they are funding it through their taxes (!), but because I think having a wider range of ideas to help us design new technology is brilliant. Scientific discoveries happen when there is a wide range of people from different backgrounds looking at the same problem and trying to solve it – I think doing something like Soapbox will give me a great network of collaborators. I also hope it will show the public that ‘scientists’ are just people like them – we walk like them, talk like them and dress like them.


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

JW: Praying for good weather and a sympathetic crowd.


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

JW: I’d make sure there was policy in every institution to support women preparing for and returning from maternity leave. I’d appoint an approachable, trained mentor to all young women in the department. I’d make sure there was proper mental health support, available quickly, locally and without judgement. I’d make sure that appointments and promotion were transparent, and that where possible, women were part of the interviewing and assessment panel. I’d prohibit universities and learned societies being allowed to have conferences without women speaking, and stop appointment committees from having all-male shortlists. I would make sure we valued everyone contributing to science – whether it is through research, outreach/ communication or journalism, so that we stop saying phrases like ‘leaky pipeline’ and started celebrating careers outside academia. I’d make sure everyone working in universities and industry read Angela Saini’s Inferior – How Science Got Women Wrong. I started doing a bunch of outreach because I thought it was “fair” for girls to study science. Inferior showed me how unfair society has been to women, and how women need to contribute to science so our understanding of the work is less biased.


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

JW: Find a subject you are interested in and a group you can imagine going to dinner with. Make sure to chat to a few of the PhD students and postdocs when you go for your interview – it’s a three or four year adventure, and you’ve got to feel excited about who you are working with. Be nice to everyone – no one wants to collaborate with a meanie. The most important people in universities are the technicians and cleaners – they have access everywhere – and they don’t care what your h-index is.  Lift others as you climb – help new researchers in your group, look out for opportunities for your friends and push people to go out of their comfort zones sometimes. And remember, you can only change the culture of science from the inside – so please, please, please don’t give up.


You can catch Dr Jess Wade on her soapbox on the Southbank on 26th May as part of Soapbox Science London 2018, where she will be giving a talk entitled “Technology inspired by nature”

Follow Jess on twitter @jesswade

All photos courtesy of Jess Wade

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Software engineering is all about people: Meet Dora Dzvonyar

Dora Dzvonyar (@DzDorie) is an Informatics PhD candidate and avid lecturer at Technical University of Munich, who will be taking part in Soapbox Science  Munich on 7th July! Her talk is entitled: “Dealing with change in development”




SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

DD: I think that the scientific career chose me! I never considered doing a PhD, but when I was a student I got in contact with the Chair for Applied Software Engineering and loved the way they worked. I particularly enjoyed the applied teaching they did, and could really imagine myself there, so I started there right after finishing my MSc. My main motivation was, and still is, getting to teach in my field. Along the way, I also got to like research, and now I enjoy the combination between the two as well as the privilege to be able to choose a topic that I am interested in and look at it really closely.


SS: How did you get your current position?

DD: I participated in several courses at the Chair for Applied Software Engineering and got to know some people there. I also worked there as a student assistant and wrote my MSc thesis there.


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

DD: I teach a lot! I am in charge of a large project course for software engineering which consists of 10-12 student projects in collaboration with industry. I get to teach programming, software architecture and software modeling, which is a lot of fun. My research is on software engineering education, which complements that work nicely.


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

DD: I get to look at how we can teach the software engineers of the future! They will write the systems we interact with every day, and I get to help prepare them for that career. I also make sure that they have skills beyond their technical abilities, such as learning to advocate for their technical decisions and working with people across cultures and disciplines. What’s more exciting than that?


SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

DD: Educational research as well as software engineering research are mainly about people, so it’s hard to get measurable, tangible results and clear conclusions for the future.


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

DD: One of my favorite findings is that it’s not as important what skills people start a project with as many might think – the configuration of the team (i.e., how they get along) as well as the motivation of the team members to get into a certain technology can have a more profound effect on the project outcome. It’s all about people, and the software they write is a reflection on the team itself.


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

DD: It’s incredibly important to talk about science so that the public understands, and I don’t think the world places enough of an emphasis on this. People who have been to an academic conference probably know exactly what I mean 😉 Also, if my dad wasn’t a computer scientist, I probably never would have discovered that this is something I am interested in, so I’m looking forward to getting more people in contact with the field.


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

DD: Just do it! You might think everyone has more experience than you, but the truth is, they are doubting themselves just as you are. Engineering and science are not about perfection, it’s about iteratively trying new things, seeing whether they work, and improving based on the results. Somebody once compared science to “farting around in the dark” – people tend to overlook the many failures when they see the successes out there


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Soapbox Science London 2018 is looking for volunteers!

Are you passionate about science? Do you love talking to the public about science? Are you keen to raise awareness about equality in science careers? If so, you’ve got the makings of a Soapbox Science Volunteer! We are currently looking for volunteers for the London 2018 event on 26th May, 2pm-5pm, on the Southbank.


What does a volunteer do?

Soapbox Science is not just about the speakers. Without a support team of committed, enthusiastic people, a Soapbox Science event simply cannot happen. Each event relies on an animated team of up to 20 volunteers. Volunteers play a crucial role in rounding up the public, chatting to the public informally about being a scientist and the science that interests you, supporting the speakers by managing props and helping to calm any pre-box nerves (even then most experienced speakers get a bit jittery!), as well as handing out Soapbox goodies to lucky audience members! But perhaps the most important role of the volunteers is in gathering data so we can monitor effectively the success of the event: the volunteers carry out the bulk of our streamlined, centralised evaluation process, through interviews, observations, counting footfall and advertising our post-event online surveys.


What sort of commitment do we need from you?
We ask you to commit to attending the Soapbox Science London event on 26th May. You’ll need to turn up 1 hour before the event starts for a briefing and training.  You’ll need to stay until up to an hour after the event ends, to help clear up.

We’ll send you a volunteer information pack beforehand, with contact details of your local event organisers, and details on what role you’ve been allocated and at what time.


Why should I be a volunteer rather than be a speaker?

Many of our volunteers are keen to be speakers, but don’t want to dive straight in, don’t have the time to prepare this year, or simply want to suss out the competition before they apply! We love it when our volunteers become speakers as they’ve had time to chew over ideas on how to best present their work to the public.


What do I get out of it?

We can’t pay you, but we can provide you with training, skills, networking opportunities and an awful lot of fun! You’ll learn how broad-scale public engagement events are evaluated; you’ll develop your skills in chatting informally with the public about science; get to steal innovative ideas on how to communicate science to a lay audience. And most importantly, you’ll make new friends with up to 20 other like-minded volunteers, meet your local Soapbox Science organising team, and build links with scientists from both your local area and further afield.  To keep your energy levels up, we’ll keep you well endowed with drinks and snacks!


If you would like to volunteer with Soapbox Science London 2018, please fill out the form here by Monday 14th May. If you have any questions, please contact us at

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Bringing Soapbox Science to Germany

Soapbox Science: the Berlin experience

By Dr Carolina Doran and Dr Ana Faustino

Whilst navigating the complex roads of academia in a foreign country, two Portuguese female scientists embarked on a new mission: to organise a Soapbox Science event in Berlin. We were motivated by the idea of communicating science undertaken by women in a free, public outdoor format, and saw that it would be the perfect setting to promote scientific literacy whilst at the same time increasing the visibility of female scientists in their fields. We were particularly inspired by the very unique design of Soapbox Science events and how they referenced a time in the UK’s history when people protested for civil rights. We immediately connected with this idea – We want better gender equality in science!

We couldn’t fulfill this mission alone, we needed a team of motivated people. That was the easy part, after just a few emails we had a team of people eager to get involved. The team, composed of five biologists – four women and a man (see photo above) – met for the first time in October 2016. After that first encounter we started meeting regularly so that we would be able to cover all tasks required to organise an event like this in Germany. We faced several challenges.

The language: Would the speakers want to speak in English or in German? Would non German speakers feel comfortable giving their talks in English only? Would Berliners be open to an English only event? How would we attract a younger, possibly non-English speaking, audience? – Our talented speakers rose to the challenge without even blinking. With such a diverse, international environment in Berlin we were even able to talk to passing Italian tourists in their mother tongue!

Finding sponsors and a venue. Would we be able to find sponsors to fund the event? How could we convey our enthusiasm and passion for this cause so that funding would no longer be a question but a certainty? How much money would we need? What type of location would be best – park, train station? What to do in the case of rain (a big problem – rain is unpredictable in Berlin, even in the summer!)? – And again, of course, challenge overcome, we were able to secure very generous sponsors that certainly helped us guarantee a highly successful event.

Finally, and this was certainly a big challenge – Our personal expectations. Would the speakers be able to enjoy their experience? Would the event be able to accomplish its goals? Would we be able to attract a broad audience in terms of age and background? Would the audience go home just a little bit less biased in their idea of who a scientist is? We truly hoped so! The point is we made it all the way to the first Soapbox Science event in Berlin (1st June 2017, Tempelhofer Feld (see picture)- a former airfield now a huge public park) and we were so excited! ~150 participants showed up, despite the horrible weather (torrential rain and horrendous winds, followed by even more rain and more wind). Everyone seemed hungry for newly found discoveries and to learn from the 12 amazing women scientists in topics ranging through ecology, neuroscience and engineering. At our networking dinner for the speakers and volunteers after the event, all we heard were complements from the speakers, alongside the question “How soon can we do it again?”.

The sense of accomplishment the five of us felt was immeasurable! This event was such a success that the Soapbox Science Berlin team was invited to organise another event integrated into the Berlin Science Week 2017 (see picture). This time most of the initial challenges had disappeared – we had found ways to maneuver the language difficulties, had fixed sponsors and had experience in meeting our expectations. We all felt confident we could handle everything!

However, we had a new challenge: time – we only had two months to organise everything. Once again, despite the tight deadline, we put together another very successful event. Soapbox Science Autumn Edition took place in the modern Sony Center commercial centre (Potsdamer Platz) on 7th November 2017. Eight female scientists stepped on soapboxes and talked about their work in the fields of neuroscience, structural biology and ecology. This time we had 256 visitors with ages ranging from 12 to 89 and we couldn’t have been happier. Our female scientists were able to motivate and inspire high school students in pursuing a scientific career and show them that women can also be scientists! Now, with two events under our belts and another one to come (1st June 2018, location TBA), we are proud to be a local organiser of such a fantastic initiative and would like to end this post with a word to all the local teams around the world: “Soapbox Science would not exist without you and we feel very inspired to bring science to the streets and raise the profile of women in STEMM alongside all of you.”

If you have been inspired to be a Soapbox Science speaker for the Berlin event in 2018 and want to take your science to the streets, you can apply here!


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