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What are scientists doing in the lab now? What can scientists do in the lab? How many (current) female scientists have you heard about? Do you know what they research(ed)?
If you don't know the answer to these questions but they sparked your curiosity, Soapbox Science is the event for you. In this yearly event, selected female scientists talk about their research in public. Everyone is invited (kids too!), and questions and discussions are encouraged and appreciated. The goal is to get people interested in what is going on in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research branches while bringing women scientists and their contribution to our expanding knowledge to the forefront. If we look at the impact that Soapbox Science could have, though, it doesn’t only visibilize female scientists, but also helps to debunk stereotypes about them. The recent event in Munich (Saturday, 1st June) was a great example, since there were not only health scientists and biologists, but also women researching climate change, working on robotics and physics and even archaeologists. All together they set an encouraging example for girls that consider science or technology as their career path.
Starting in 2011 in the UK, Soapbox Science has now expanded to many other cities in Britain, but also to other continents (an Asian representative is still missing) and other countries. Soapbox Science season has already started and the scientific gatherings are planned for many places. You can check out the cities and dates here, or follow Soapbox Science on Twitter (@SoapboxScience), Facebook (@soapboxscience) and/or Instagram (@soapboxscience) to get the latest news. Be quick, it might be happening next week in your city!
But maybe the key question is "does it work?". The continuous expansion of Soapbox science within the UK and to other countries, the recognition of the founders through several prizes, the increasing list of applicants to speak, not to mention the high number of visitors (around 1800 in a scarce 3 hours during the event in Munich) seem to say it does. In this Saturday's event, there was no speaker that didn't have a small crowd gathered around her. People that knew about the event came specifically to Odeonsplatz to listen, but many of the visitors were just walking by and got so engaged that they decided to stop. But it didn't end there: some of the observers enquired about volunteering for next year, and the potential for new sponsors and speakers hung densely in the air. We will see what comes of it.
A question that I have been pondering since being at the event on Saturday is: if it's normally hard to get people interested in science, why did people stay and listen to the talks all the way through? What could be the key to the success of Soapbox Science? I think there are several things that captured the public. First of all, the location. If you have an event in an open space where everyone is free to roam, and not in a conference room, it seems like people are meant to stop. Once you've caught their attention with a bunch of ladies in lab coats standing on boxes and preaching their science, they are kind of caught up in the narratives. The second step comes in here: make it simple. As Einstein said, “if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough”. And who can explain research better than those who are performing it? It is difficult to step out of the specialist jargon when you listen to it every day, but it's good to get a breath of fresh air. It reminds you of the bigger picture of your research and of who you are trying to help when you are in the lab. It's also rewarding to see that, if you explain it clearly enough, everyone can understand what you do with your days.
Did I get you excited about science communication and/or female scientists? Want to apply to speak, volunteer or attend a Soapbox Science event in your town? You can check if there already exists a Soapbox Science team in your city on the main website. And if there still isn't anyone coordinating the event in your town, why not get it started?! You can check the application steps here to help in making science approachable for everyone.