Find good people to work with and build comradery: Meet Merry Crowson

I am a Remote Sensing Technician at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London. My research focusses on mapping deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia, where large areas of tropical peatland forest are being lost and replaced by plantations. I monitoring deforestation using freely available satellite images and open source software – essentially making maps from space! During the Soapbox Science London event on 26th May I will be exploring some of these satellite images with the audience and discussing the potential of using them to study the surface of the earth from afar.

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

MC: My career has taken such a roundabout route that I couldn’t possibly fit it all into a single paragraph, but it involved lots of muddy fieldwork, circus skills, language learning and hard work. I had to the opportunity to do a Masters in Geography whilst living Berlin, where university education is free, and it was there that I developed skills in coding, data management and remote sensing analysis. It was these skills that led me to my current role at the Institute of Zoology and I am extremely happy to be here.

 

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

MC: I enjoyed science at school, but in terms of getting a career in science I think my sister was my biggest inspiration. She just went for it!

 

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

MC: My research produces lots of maps and I find them endlessly fascinating. You can keep asking them different questions and gaze at them until they tell you something.

 

 

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

MC: The opportunity to challenge the mainstream view of scientists – I think lots of young people do not realise how different one scientist is from the next, and how many different skills you can bring to the table.

 

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

MC: Adventure

 

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

MC: I would make it more diverse. We had a great lecture series during my Bachelors about the history and development of Geography, but I used to refer to it as the “pictures-of-men-with-beards lecture”, as they appeared in one slide after another. Hopefully, in 100 years’ time, prominent scientists will be more of a mixed bunch.

 

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

MC: Find good people to work with and build comradery.

 

 

 

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The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling: Meet Katharina Seilern-Moy

Katharina is a wildlife veterinarian and research associate at the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo. She is working for the Garden Wildlife Health project (@wildlife_health), a Citizen Science project, looking into diseases as potential contributing factor to species declines or well-fare issues in garden birds, amphibians, hedgehogs and reptiles.

You can catch Katharina at Soapbox Science London on 26th May where she will be giving her talk: “How you can help wildlife vets protect our garden friends by becoming a Citizen Scientist”

 

 

SS: how did you get to your current position?

KSM: Wildlife conservation always was my one big passion and at University in Vienna I was lucky enough to be able to specialise in Conservation Medicine. After a year of working in a mixed animal practice, to get my practical skills going, I decided that it was time to be part of the change, to actively participate in wildlife conservation from a medical and research perspective. To me, that meant learning how to pursue and communicate research in order to learn more about the many issues our wild animals are facing and to pass that information on. What better way to do so than through a PhD? So I pursued my PhD on Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus infection in Asian elephants, a condition challenging the overall sustainability of that species. Since September 2016, I am now employed at the Institute of Zoology as Wildlife Veterinarian & Research Associate for the Garden Wildlife Health project, a Citizen Science project located at London Zoo, ZSL, analysing the impacts of infectious and non-infectious diseases on animal welfare and populations of garden wildlife.

 

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

KSM: Asking questions about anything related to animals, biology, medicine, etc. always was a big part of my natural curiosity on how it all works. The fascination of how creatures adapt to their surroundings and needs, why they are what they are, how diseases affect them. And as a veterinarian focusing on wildlife health, I felt a deep passion and responsibility to engage in enhancing awareness and education on animal conservation. I was always striving towards gaining as much experience as possible in the broad field of Wildlife Conservation in order to participate in the advancement of wildlife medicine, to help conserve endangered species, to perform research, and finally to hopefully inspire other science enthusiasts to do the same. This was somehow always a part of me. Photo: Sample analysis during my PhD

 

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

KSM: Having spent a few years focusing on one disease pathogen in one species (elephant herpes), it is really fascinating to take a few steps back and to look at the bigger picture again. My daily work now involves various species of animals (birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals) and many different types of pathogens (virus, bacteria, fungi or a non-infectious agents). Most importantly, I find myself in the very lucky position that allows me to combine many different aspects I am passionate about: wildlife medicine and advice, wildlife pathology, training and supervision of undergrad and master students, conducting research, project coordination, conference presentations and working with the government on disease surveillance and public health. Photo: Field studies/wildlife vet work in South Africa

 

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

KSM: I think engaging with the public and communicating science is of fundamental importance in order to share knowledge, learn from each other, promote our work and hopefully encourage critical thinking and debate. Soapbox Science offers a great platform for a very direct interaction between people that might not necessarily have engaged otherwise and encourages questions that might not have been asked. And maybe, this even inspires future scientists!

 

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

KSM: Curiosity (from both sides)!

 

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

KSM: Make the publication of so-called “negative results” a valuable output. This would prevent much of the competition, would encourage for collaboration, and minimise the duplication of effort. I would like to see people talk more openly about what they do, what they tried so far, and where and why they might have failed. This would be a huge step forward.

 

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

KSM: “The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” Never give up. A PhD can be exhausting, and especially challenging towards the end. But all you have to do is keep going – it is doable and it will be worth it. You will grow with the task and learn a lot from this experience. Photo: GWH staff at the New Scientist Exhibition 2017

 

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Equality is a good goal, but equity is even better: Meet Samuela Guida

Samuela Guida started her PhD at Cranfield University in March 2017. Her project is about the removal of ammonia and phosphorus from wastewater and the recovery of these products as fertilizers. Before being discharged into the water streams, the wastewater needs to be treated to reduce the impact on the quality of the water itself. Samuela does this with a process called ion exchange, which captures the contaminant ions present in the wastewater and releases inert ions. The resins used in this process, called ion exchangers, can be then cleaned and the contaminants ions can be recovered as valuable products, such as fertilizers. Samuela’s work at Cranfield University is part of the SMART-Plant European project which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 690323

 

You can catch Samuela on a soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 30th June where she will talk about“From water pollutants to fertilizers: a smart use of wastewater!”

Follow Samuela on Twitter: @samuela_guida

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

SG: During the last year of my master degree in Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Padova, Italy, I started focusing on the environmental aspects of the biotechnologies and I decided to do an internship at the Ecole des Mines de Nantes, France, to study the removal of contaminants from wastewater. It was a completely new aspect of science to me and I was shocked at how wide the topic was. During a conference, I met two PhD students from Cranfield University, a place that I had never heard about. They told me about this University and its Water program. So, in December 2017, half panicking about my future, I came across the Cranfield University website and there was this amazing project similar to what I was doing in France – so I applied and here I am!

 

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

SG: I’ve always been curious about how and why things happen. I remember when I was a really young kid and I was watching my mom making coffee with a Moka pot (…the “Italian way”). I was there standing in front of this magical machine that could transform water and ground coffee in a beverage that was as liquid as the water and it had the flavour of the ground coffee (again, I was a kid, everything amazed me!). I think that was the moment when I decided that I wanted to find the answers to all the “how?” and “why?” around me. Funny enough, scientific research and coffee are still closely linked to each other in my everyday life!

 

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

SG: We live in an increasingly polluted world and many of the resources we use are finite or replenished much more slowly than we are using them. My research is a starting point towards finding a sustainable solution to these problems. The project offers an alternative to traditional wastewater treatment technologies and, at the same time, provides a method to recover nutrients as fertilizers that can be sold to maintain the economic feasibility of the entire process. I really think this is innovative and so exciting!

 

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

SG: The possibility to involve non-experts in my work. I think that, as a PhD student, sometimes I am so focused on my to-do list that I forget why I am doing research. I believe Soapbox Science can help me to take a step back and look at my project from a different point of view. Moreover, the idea of an event with only female scientists makes me feel powerful! I think that showing young girls that science is not just for boys is incredibly important.

 

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

SG: Curiosity!

 

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

SG: The idea that equality and equity are the same concept. Equality means everyone receives the same thing, whereas equity means everyone receives what they need to achieve the same thing. Science should be equally accessible to everyone without any restriction caused by gender, social class, ethnicity or religion. There are so many incredible initiatives focused on removing gender bias (like Soapbox Science!) but equity is still something we have to work on. In an ideal world, a person would receive the tools to maximise her or his potential and to reach the best results in her or his work.

 

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

SG: Step up, believe in yourself, and never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough.

 

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Communicating findings to farmers is critical: Meet Dr Helen Metcalf

Dr Helen Metcalfe is a postdoctoral research scientist working at Rothamsted Research. She is an agricultural ecologist and her work looks at how farming systems respond to changes in management practices. She particularly focuses on weeds within agricultural landscapes and how changes in the landscape and farm management can affect which plants you can find there. Her Soapbox Science talk will be focusing on weeds and why they might not always be the bad guys! Weeds are plants growing in the wrong place and so by definition we want to try and get rid of them where possible. However, some weeds can also provide benefits by supporting wildlife on farms. This not only makes the farm a more diverse ecosystem but can also provide other benefits to the farmer too!

You can catch Helen on a soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 30th June where she will talk aboutFarming – not just about food

Follow Helen on Twitter: @HMetcalfe1

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

HM: I completed my PhD at Rothamsted Research looking at one weed species (black-grass) and why it grows in certain parts of the field and not others. Every day was different and I got to do so many different things; from simulating weed patch dynamics on a computer, to measuring them in the field. After my PhD I was able to keep doing what I loved as a post-doc at Rothamsted Research. I no longer work on just one species, but instead I simulate all of the weed species in the agricultural landscape. This is certainly more challenging but I think that makes it even more fun!

 

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

HM: I would love to say that I have always been interested in science and it was something I have longed to do since I was tiny. However, it didn’t really happen like that. I have always been curious and loved learning but that was never restricted to just science. At school, I loved reading and was pretty much a super geek as I enjoyed most of my lessons! This made it really difficult to choose which subjects I wanted to specialise in. When it came to choosing my A levels I hedged my bets a bit and chose to study 2 sciences and 2 languages. From there I went on to do a biology degree and never looked back!

 

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

HM: I’m intrigued by the way species within a landscape interact. Even agricultural systems (which are simple as far as ecosystems go) are extremely complicated. There are so many different plants and insects (there are lots of other species too, but these are the ones I need to worry about) and each depends on many others. The complexity of these interactions means it is a challenge to simulate just a tiny part of an ecosystem – there is always something more to learn!

 

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

HM: One of my colleagues was a speaker at Milton Keynes Soapbox Science in 2016. I went along to support her and came away with a massive smile on my face! Seeing so many passionate local female scientists was really inspiring and I really wanted to be a part of that. I love hearing about other people’s work and wanted to be able to share my own science with others.

 

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

HM: Excited!

 

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

HM: I feel that communicating my work to non-scientists is not valued as much as it should be. To me, a big part of my job is talking to farmers. In my opinion, telling them about my work and how it could benefit them on the farm is just as important as sharing my findings with other scientists. Yet, it is the latter that is much more highly valued in the science community.

 

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

HM: Find a subject area that completely fascinates you. A PhD takes a lot of time and effort but if you absolutely love it then it will never feel like work!

 

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Look beyond your discipline: Meet Chioma Vivian Ngonadi

Chioma Vivian Ngonadi is a PhD student at the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. She is a Gates Scholar and a mum to two young boys aged 3 and five years old. Her research examines how the West African Iron smelters in Lejja, Southeastern- Nigeria fed themselves and integrated the food quest among themselves in the deeper past (2,000- 3,000 B.C.).  She will be talking about “ A Human Fingerprint on an Iron working Landscape” at London Soapbox Science on the 26th of May 2018.

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

CVN: I grew up in southeastern Nigeria and graduated with a B.A. in Archaeology from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka- Nigeria and an M.A. in Archaeology from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. On returning to Nigeria, I joined the academic staff of the Department of Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2012. I was encouraged by my husband, Uche Ngonadi to apply for a PhD position in Cambridge which I did and I was awarded the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.  Currently, I am in the third year of my PhD with a thesis title of “Early Agricultural Communities in Lejja, Southeastern-Nigeria: An Archaeobotanical Investigation”.

 

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

CVN: I can say that my love for science and archaeology began when I was a secondary school student. Reading history books and watching discovery channels about ancient treasures and explorers was quite inspiring and I was highly intrigued by past human activities and ways of life.

 

SS: What is the fascinating aspect of your research?

CVN: I work on seeds, potsherds, pollens and in archaeology, these three proxies can help to reconstruct the plant food exploited, vegetation, climate, and human-landscape relationship in the deeper past.  I find it fascinating that these archaeological materials can reveal so much about what happened thousands of years ago and can help us link the past to the future.

 

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science?

CVN: I enjoy taking part in science outreach events and talking to people about my research.  I have done so in different ways in Cambridge and Nigeria. For me, Soapbox offers a new platform to discuss and inform the public about Archaeology and the various methods of understanding the past.

 

SS: Sum up in your word your expectation of the day

CVN: Excitement!!!

 

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

CVN: I would like researchers to look beyond their disciplines and experience what is happening in other fields. There should be more scientific communications between scientist, and the public.

 

SS: What would you recommend for a woman studying for a PhD?

CVN: PhD journey can be quite overwhelming, but you should be kind to yourself and take a step at a time. Try and use your current position to create space for others along the way and build bridges through your subject.

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Public engagement needs to be a two-way process: Meet Emma Cascant-Lopez

Emma Cascant-Lopez (@EmCascant), NIAB-EMR, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “The circadian clock: How pathogens know when is the best time for infection”

 

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

ECL: My name is Emma Cascant. After finishing my Biology degree in Valencia (Spain), I came to England to gain work experience through a Leonardo Studentship. I worked during 6 months at the genetics department of NIAB EMR, looking at the science behind the rootstock-scion interaction in crop plants. At the end of the placement I was convinced I wanted to do a PhD, and I was offered a PhD position at the same institute. My research focused in the study of the circadian clock of an important plant-pathogen that causes devastating loses to the horticultural industry. The aim was to elucidate time-specific pathogenic responses that could allow the development of highly precise control measures of the plant-pathogen. Currently, I just started a PostDoc at NIAB EMR to understand the lifecycle of the fungal plant-pathogen Verticillium dahliae and regulation by environmental signals such as light and temperature, with the intention to come up with novel effective management strategies.

 

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

ECL: During high-school I was inspired by my Biology teacher. She made me love and admire the subject, and I was always amazed by how molecularly complicated but perfect life is. That is the reason why I studied Biology at the University, and despite being more inclined towards molecular biology, I enjoyed every subject very much due to the enthusiasm of my professors.

 

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

ECL: Studying the circadian clock is very fascinating. This molecular mechanism allows organisms to track time, which increases the efficiency of many metabolic, behavioural and physiologic processes, i.e. sleep and hormone production. The desynchronization of the circadian clock is the cause of jet lag, and can be the cause of several illnesses in rotational shift workers. The clock also exists in plants and fungi. It is exciting to think that the control of fungal plant-diseases could be more successful by applying the treatment in a specific time-of-day. Not only it would allow an increase in efficiency, but it could reduce the amount of treatment needed. Win-win!

 

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

ECL: I wish more people would want to become a scientist. Showing not only how important for our society is, but how exciting it can be may inspire young generations to pursue a career in science. I hope that the Soapbox Science event turns out being very productive in engaging young (and not so young) girls in science. I am also very attracted to meet other woman in STEM, and hopefully create networks for future collaboration or public engagement events.

 

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

ECL: Fun

 

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

ECL: The way of informing and communicating our research to the public. Scientists usually feel more comfortable to communicate their research to other members of the scientific community. However, more efforts should be made to reach a wider public and empower people to have critical thinking. In my opinion, some people could change their mind about topics such as GMOs if there were more information about the biology and methodology behind them. However, the public is bombarded with all kind of pseudoscientific information. Furthermore, public engagement needs to be a two-way process, where public could express their concerns on different topics. As an example, plant-pathologists should work and engage with growers and industry to share knowledge and come up with feasible strategies for crop management.

 

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

ECL: I would tell them to be perseverant and always believe in their potential. To get involved in a wide range of University or public engagement events and to build their network and collaborate with other researchers.

 

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The world is run by people who show up: Meet Erin McCloskey

Erin McCloskey (@ER_IN_RESEARCH), Canterbury Christ Church University, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “Being an expert in not being an expert: How peer support programs help mend broken hearts”

 

 

 

 

 

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

EM: In 2015, I came to the UK to study a MSc in global mental health at King’s College London and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Originally, I came to study women’s addiction, but was surprised to find I had developed a strong interest for stillbirth bereavement. I knew I wanted to continue my career in academia, so I spent time looking for an institution that would be the right fit for my PhD. I interviewed for a PhD studentship at Canterbury Christ Church University in 2017, and was delighted to receive an offer for a fully funded scholarship and stipend. I began my program in February 2018. Currently, I’m in the process of developing my final proposal where I plan on researching how bereaved parents of stillbirth participate in peer support programs and how participating in these groups impact their grief journeys.

 

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

EM: As a child, I wasn’t encouraged to pursue science since it wasn’t a strong area in my studies.  My mother was chronically ill which meant that I was preoccupied with tending to her and worrying about her health, that I couldn’t concentrate on my school subjects.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would become a doctoral student! Fortunately, my grandmother encouraged me to enroll first in a community college and then a four-year university. Later, I received academic support from my female professors. Patricia Jensen JD, was a consistent form of support throughout my MA at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. The most valuable lesson she taught me was to show up. “The world is run by people who show up. You don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to be the most, but you do need to show up”. As simple as this advice may sound, it’s much harder to follow through with it on a day-to-day basis. However, it is now a guiding principle in my life.

 

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

EM: Although my subject area is heavy and very sensitive, I love the fact that I can work directly with bereaved parents and with charities. A lot of the work I’m doing currently involve meeting with people and hearing their experiences of losing a child and perspective of mental health care after their loss in the UK. These parent’s experiences are the fuel for my research. I enjoy developing a project that will impact programming and support for families who experience baby loss.

 

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

EM: I’m an avid believer in women supporting women, and Soapbox Science serves as a vehicle for scientists to meet each other outside formal settings. In addition, I love that this event brings the public and researchers together to break down societal silos.

 

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

 EM: Luminosity.

 

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

EM: The glamorization of the ‘imposter syndrome’ is something I actively want to change on my campus. It’s so common for novice researchers to feel inadequate to others in their field, and to internalize their fears as fuel to do their work. It’s normal to hear fellow doctoral students to devalue their skillset and to belittle their own work! If they couldn’t succeed, they wouldn’t have been selected to do a PhD program. I would love to see self-confidence grow on campus and gain a presence to counteract the inadequacy of the imposter syndrome.

 

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

EM: No one else can do the work you can do.  There is plenty of room at the table for you, and the work you want to do. Your interests are important, and your perspective is needed. Finally, choose the institution with the most support rather than choosing the institution’s brand and reputation.

 

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Share your findings and improve trust in science: Meet Michelle Hulin

Dr Michelle Hulin (@michhulin), NIAB EMR, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “Hop, skip, jump: How bacteria evolve to infect new plant species”

 

 

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

MH: I am currently a postdoctoral researcher. To get here, I first did a BSc degree in Biology at the University of Bath. I had the opportunity to undertake a summer research placement in the university molecular biology labs during my second year working on molecular detection of spoilage yeast. In my third year I transferred these skills to work on detection of Fusarium wilt oil palm disease for my dissertation. These experiences and the supervisors convinced me that I would really like to continue working in science, so I applied for a PhD at the University of Reading/NIAB EMR, supervised by Prof Robert Jackson, Prof John Mansfield and Dr Richard Harrison. This was looking at the evolution of pathogenicity and host specificity of bacteria on cherry trees. I aimed to understand what genes allowed the bacteria to cause disease. In my final year of my PhD I helped write a research grant to continue my current research. I am employed as a post-doctoral researcher at NIAB EMR working on this grant. My main interests are bacterial genetics and evolution, combining molecular biology with bioinformatic analysis. I’d like to apply these skills to other important bacterial plant diseases.

 

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

MH: I really enjoyed studying biology at school and university. Science is a very rewarding and interesting career path as you can put your all into trying to understand the world around you. During university, I enjoyed microbiology courses and studying the interactions between microbes and higher organisms such as plants and animals. I was interested in what drives some microorganisms to become pathogenic. I also enjoyed plant science modules, so brought the two interests together to study plant pathology in my PhD.

 

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

MH: The part of my work that I find most fascinating is how bacteria can rapidly evolve to adapt to their environmental conditions and how they interact with plants. These interactions are often called an arms-race where the pathogen and plant species are constantly evolving to overcome the other. Our work on cherry pathogens, has shown that these bacteria have gained and lost multiple pathogenicity genes during their evolution and that this has helped them adapt to cause disease towards this particular host plant. Some of these important genes have been gained on plasmids which are small circular pieces of DNA that bacteria can transfer to each other, whilst another important gene has been gained within a bacteriophage sequence (a bacteria-infecting virus).

 

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

MH: I really want to engage more with the public about science, I think it is important to share our findings and improve trust in science. I’d like to inspire young biologists to study plant pathology as this is an area of key importance for future food security and we do not want there to be a generational gap in experts in this area. You can study fundamental questions about evolution and ecology using plant-microbe systems making them just as interesting as human and animal pathogens!

 

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

MH: Rewarding

 

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

MH: I would like to improve the way science is communicated to the public. There is a lot of mistrust in science such as fears of genetically modified food and doubts about climate change. Science is often misconstrued and over-hyped by the media and it seems that every food item can cause or prevent cancer leading to a lot of confusion! I would really like there to be more training on scientific communication from schools upwards.

 

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

MH: Don’t be afraid of failure, science doesn’t always answer your questions straight away and often experiments will not work. Do the science that you enjoy doing and present it to others with pride!

 

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Don’t be afraid to dream BIG: Meet Heather Ferguson

Dr Heather Ferguson (@hethstar81), University of Kent, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “Me, myself and I: your social brain in old age”

 

 

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

HF: I always wanted to be a vet, but during my A’levels discovered that I wasn’t smart enough to get in! Back then, A’level options were relatively limited, but I got my first sneak peak of psychology in my English Language lectures where I learnt about child language acquisition, and I was hooked! I studied for my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Glasgow for 4 years. My ambition then was to become a clinical psychologist, which would have involved another 3 years of specialised training, but this was hugely competitive. After a meeting with a clinical psychologist I realised that I would have a better chance of getting onto the clinical training if I had a clinically-relevant PhD, so I applied for funding, and was lucky enough to be awarded money to fund my masters and PhD at the University of Glasgow. Before that first year was up, I knew I’d found my home in research, and wouldn’t be going back to clinical! After my PhD I took up a 2 year postdoctoral position in Linguistics at University College London (following a chance meeting and job offer at a conference), then joined the University of Kent as a Lecturer in Psychology in 2009.

 

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

HF: Probably my A’level chemistry teacher, Mr Jeal. I was terrible at chemistry (ironic since my identical twin sister is a pharmacist, and all round chemistry genius!), and I didn’t really the subject. But then, in the second year of the A’level course we had to complete an independent research study- formulate a hypothesis, design an experiment, run it, analyse the data and write it up. I LOVED it, and for the first time in two years on that course, I excelled. Mr Jeal was incredibly encouraging, helped me apply that energy to understanding other aspects of the course, and even awarded me a certificate for best project!

 

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

HF: Generally, my favourite thing about being a researcher is coming up with a question, designing an experiment to answer it, analysing the data and (hopefully) discovering the answer at the end- it’s a very satisfying cycle. Specifically related to my own research I think the most fascinating thing is that I study social communication: how people interact and understand each other, especially how they infer meanings, intentions etc that might otherwise be hidden. I think it’s fascinating because social interaction is central to almost everything we do- we do it all the time, in hugely complex ways, usually without much effort- and yet it can go catastrophically wrong! I want to find out why.

 

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

HF: I already participate in quite a lot of events to share science with the public (e.g. Pub talks, University of the 3rd age links, etc), and I find those events extremely rewarding and interesting. I’m also a firm believer that as researchers we have a duty to communicate what we’re doing to the public- after all what we’re doing SHOULD be relevant to them, and their opinion on it should matter, even more so when our research has been supported by large grant funding or involves members of the public as participants (as my research does!). The format of Soapbox science is very unusual, so I’m interested to see how that works.

 

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

HF: Busy!

 

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

HF: More transparent

 

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

HF: Don’t be afraid to dream BIG, take risks, and talk to people (including being nice to admin staff, make friends with fellow PhD students, keep up to date with academics in your dept, and don’t be afraid to approach senior acads at conferences, by email etc).

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Science is much more than test tubes and lab coats: Meet Adriana Lowe

Adriana Lowe (@adriana_lowe) is a PhD student at the University of Kent. She will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “Life and death in the forest: studying the behaviour of wild chimpanzees”

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

AL: I’m currently doing a PhD at the University of Kent. I did my BA at Durham and my MSc at UCL. During my MSc and in the following year I had the opportunity to do fieldwork in Nigeria and co-author several publications with my supervisor which helped me to win the scholarship to study at Kent.

 

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

AL: I had some very engaging teachers as part of my undergraduate and masters degrees. Once I’d got hooked on biological anthropology there was no going back!

 

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

AL: The most fascinating aspect has to be getting to see my study subjects in the wild and observing their behaviour.

 

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

AL: I love talking to people about what I do. My subject tends to grab people’s attention since everyone is fascinated by the animals and it’s a great opportunity to explain that science is much more than test tubes and lab coats!

 

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

AL: Fun!

 

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

AL: Work-life balance. There’s still a mentality that if you love your job you shouldn’t mind doing it all day, every day for very little reward. I really enjoy my research but being a scientist is only one part of who I am and I think having a life outside work should be encouraged rather looked down on.

 

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

AL: Well I’m still only studying for a PhD myself so I don’t know how much career advice I can really give! So far the key to both enjoying my work and doing it well has been wonderfully supportive supervisors and other members of staff in my department. Going forward I’ll try to remember that the people I work with are one of the most valuable resources and to look carefully at the working environment and attitude of any team/department I might apply for a job with.

 

 

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