Soapbox Science may be just the platform you need to launch your academic career. Gill Hill looks back over her personal successes of the past year, since her appearance at Milton Keynes, and urges all female scientists to take the plunge.
About this time last year I noticed an announcement on the University of Buckingham‘s round-up email. It was a call for female scientists to take part in our local Soapbox Science event, to be held in Milton Keynes shopping centre in the summer of 2016. Although initially hesitant, I talked myself into applying, thinking it would be good for me to have to talk about my PhD research to a public audience.
One year on I thought I’d reflect on my Soapbox experience, in the hope of encouraging other female scientists to apply.
The day: Soapbox Science MK, 9th July 2016
The research title: ‘From Elephants to Uh-ohs: The psychology of insight‘
Preparation for the event had been good: I’d already attended a training session in London, earlier in the year, and I had also been encouraged to contribute to a Q&A blog talking about my research and my motivations for taking part.
The MK team met up before the event, so on the day it was like getting together with old friends. We were all nervous, not quite knowing how the ‘Soapbox’ format would translate to an indoor shopping centre, but the support was fantastic. Most of us stayed for the whole three hour afternoon session – our own hour on the Soapbox, and two hours to support our fellow speakers.
We rocked up to the Centre MK, props in arms. For me this meant:
- 1 x giant game of Connect 4
- 1 x 3D printed brain
- 1 x 3D printed heart
- 1 x set of elephant ears
- 1 x borrowed tree branch [aka elephant food]
When my turn came I wasn’t as nervous as I anticipated: we had a great team of volunteers to support us, as well as the other Soapbox speakers.
In my hour I had engagement from so many passers-by. Games of Connect 4 raged underneath me, as I spoke about my research into Aha and Uh-oh insight moments.
Competitors included children and adults: one striking and well fought game took place between a 20-something young man and an older lady (likely in her 70’s). Neither knew each other, but illustrated perfectly the Aha! experiences that Connect 4 elicits (and which I’m engaged in studying).
The undoubted stars of the show however, were my human ‘elephant’ demonstrators who showed how we measure insight in animals!
In a local hostelry, post-event, we basked in our successes. It was exhilarating, and we had over 1000 members of the public engaging with our stands over the afternoon.
Little did I appreciate then how this experience would impact on me, one year on.
Soapbox Science: One Year On
I write this now, about to submit my PhD thesis. I am five weeks into my new job, a full time Psychology lectureship that I believe is in part due to the impact I was able to evidence through speaking at Soapbox Science.
After Soapbox I took the research I talked about to an academic conference in Barcelona. Compared to speaking to an unknown public audience, this suddenly seemed easy.
One of the aspects I was asked to evidence in my job application was the impact of my research. Soapbox Science provided the perfect evidence for my commitment to public engagement in science and creating impact for my research.
So, if you are unsure whether this event is right for you, I’d encourage you to go for it. Soapbox Science encouraged me to critically evaluate my research in a non-academic context. This strengthened the arguments I developed in my thesis and gave me confidence in speaking to diverse audiences about my work.
So go on. You never know what you’ll be writing One Year On.
Find out about Soapbox Science here.
Gill’s studies are part of the research into Creativity, Performance and Expertise which we conduct at the University of Buckingham: do get in touch with us if you want to know more.