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My Soapbox Science Experience

Soapbox Science is a global public engagement initiative which aims to promote the visibility of #WomenInScience and inspire young people to pursue science careers. Founded by Dr Seirian Sumner and Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, the event has grown from 1 event in London in 2011 to 56 events across 15 countries slated for 2020.

My journey with Soapbox Science started in 2017 when I volunteered at the maiden Brighton edition. This was my first time at a science outreach event. I was instantly hooked by the mode of delivery – using fun and engaging props to catch the attention of unsuspecting passersby on the Brighton seafront. Speakers are not allowed to use PowerPoint presentations and public address systems for their talks.

As a volunteer, my key roles involved event setup and takedown, monitoring visitor engagement and supporting speakers during their talk. It was exciting to listen to True to typical British weather, it rained heavily towards the latter half of the event. Nonetheless, I fell in love with Soapbox Science and applied to speak at the Brighton event in 2018.

Can you spot me in the photo below? (Hint - purple box)

Photo credit - Soapbox Science Brighton

Fast forward 2018, I was selected as 1 of 12 speakers for Soapbox Science Brighton which was held again at the seafront. Using simple props such as hair strands, balloons and tennis balls, I talked about my PhD project which focused on using tiny particles called 'nanomaterials' to remove toxins that build up in the body during disease and injury. Before the event, I found it challenging trying to communicate key aspects of my PhD research in an easy-to-understand format without watering down the science. Having a trial run with my supervisor helped me minimise the technical jargon.

On the day, I was on the soapbox for an hour (split into 4 x 15-minute sessions). Apart from props, I included a quick experiment which used dyes and graphene nanoplatelets to demonstrate how nanomaterials can adsorb toxins from the body. My talk went really well and I got some stimulating questions from the audience. It was exciting to see that people were interested in my project with some even going to the extent of suggesting other potential applications for my nanomaterials. The weather was also great (super sunny) which made it even more enjoyable!

You can watch my talk here.

With 2019 came an amazing opportunity to host a Soapbox Science event in Lagos, Nigeria alongside an amazing team. The event, which was held at the popular Adeniran Ogunsanya Mall, Surulere, was well attended with positive feedback received from attendees.

Hopefully, we will be able to bring Soapbox Science back to Lagos in 2020, the #COVID-19 pandemic permitting.

Photo credit - Soapbox Science Lagos

It has been an exciting journey from volunteering at Soapbox Science Brighton to organising Soapbox Science Lagos (Nigeria). Soapbox Science introduced me to the wonderful world of public engagement and helped me gain valuable skills including science communication and event organisation. It also enhanced my professional visibility. For example, last year, I was invited to give a talk about my public engagement experience at my university’s PGR Festival.

If you are a female researcher in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine), I encourage you to get involved with Soapbox Science. Find out more here.

New to public engagement? Check out my top tips.


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