Scientists – more than socks and sandals!

By Monika Bohm (@MonniKaboom), Zoological Society of London


All scientists wear socks and sandals, right? Well, I happen to own socks (several pairs, in fact) and also a pair of sandals or two, but to be honest, I have yet to wear them together at the same time. I am also one of those scientists who don’t even have to wear lab coats on a day-to-day basis – nor do I peek through a microscope all day long.  So what do I do? Like many people these days, I spend the vast majority of work hours in front of my computer: the species I work on are of course all real, but in most cases I will probably never get to see them in real life!


IMG_3010In a nutshell, I am interested in how we can monitor species and how this translates into conservation action on the ground. For one part of my job, I study extinction risk in a large number of different species groups – from reptiles to dung beetles, with my personal favourite, the freshwater molluscs, also thrown into the mix. The reason why I am looking at a large number of different species groups is to derive an indicator that tells us something about the state of our planet, specifically the state of our species. All too often, research efforts only focus on the more charismatic species such as mammals and birds. But what about the invertebrates and plants which underpin many of our ecosystems and help them to function properly? And how do we best assess species vulnerability to new emerging threats, such as climate change? Given the current extinction crisis and pressure on our planet, it’s probably not the most cheerful job, but it provides important answers on how we prioritise our conservation efforts.


Galapagos tortoisesBut it’s not all doom and gloom. For starters, I am based at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and visiting some of my favourite species in the zoo always helps to cheer me up. Also, I get to meet and talk to a lot of experts on a large number of different species.

My personal highlight? Probably some of the species’ assessment workshops I participated in, on freshwater molluscs, dung beetles and cone snails – by the end of which I have always found myself taken into the fold of the particularly expert group in question, making lots of great friends along the way.

Bangladesh workshopLastly, and maybe most importantly, we are working closely with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on providing training in extinction risk assessments around the globe, so that countries can steer their conservation policy in a meaningful way. Again, this has provided me with a lot of lasting and wonderful memories – and very good friends from around the globe.



ComedySo yes, I am a scientist, and I love to travel the world and find answers to important questions. But to dispel the myth about sock and sandal wearing scientists even more, I also enjoy cooking delicious curries, playing sports, a walk in the park, comedy, eating cheese… you know, normal stuff. Above all (and you may have already picked up on this), I really like meeting and talking to people – scientists and non-scientists alike. So public engagement is another favourite of mine as it combines a lot of my interests – though I am still working on how I can combine curry making with talking about extinction risk. Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to be involved in a number of UCL Public Engagement events, including our very own ZSL BrightClub last November – where ZSL scientists became comedians for the night.  And by doing so, hopefully proving that scientists can be funny – and really are people too.

I can’t wait to bring extinction risk assessments to the public at Soapbox Science. I hope it will be interesting, educational and – most importantly – an interactive bit of fun for the entire family. So if you would like to find out about – and get involved in – the science behind the headlines of global species declines, come to South Bank on 30th of May. I’m looking forward to meeting you!

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