Soapbox Science in Oxford inspires the next generation of female scientists

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Soapbox Science Oxford

Oxford Brookes supported a highly successful Soapbox Science event on the streets of Oxford earlier this month (Saturday 18 June).

The initiative is a novel public outreach initiative for promoting women scientists and the work they do. Soapbox Science involves the transformation of public areas into a place for public learning and scientific debate. 

The Oxford city centre event saw 12 brilliant speakers and a number of staff and student volunteers from both Oxford Brookes and the University of Oxford engaging with enthusiastic crowds and bringing the work of female science to a wider audience. 

The ethos of Soapbox Science is for no middle man, no powerpoint slide, no amphitheatre – just remarkable women in science who amaze with their latest discoveries, and to answer the questions that anyone may have been burning to ask. 

Dr Ravinder K Kanda, Senior Lecturer of Evolutionary Genomics at Oxford Brookes, commented: “The speakers bought some great props with them which engaged the audience, young and old alike. Many of the speakers continued to engage with the public after their talks, and some of the visitors even ended up staying all day, going from speaker to speaker. 

“We saw great coverage through the press and on social media and everyone had a very enjoyable experience - in fact, we literally had to drag the speakers off their soapboxes at the end of their allotted hour!”

Soapbox Science is a relaxed, informal, informative and fun event run by women to address the imbalance of female scientists in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) careers. The main aim of the event is to bring cutting-edge science to the public, in an accessible, fun, and unintimidating way. 

Unlike other science events, the great thing about Soapbox Science is that the people the speakers engage with will not have necessarily planned to come and learn about science. It therefore inspires people who never normally get exposed to science, or feel science isn’t for them as they may have been turned off at an early age.

At the same time, by providing female scientists with a soapbox we hope to help increase their visibility and improve their profile - a powerful way to help build opportunities for themselves and increase the likelihood of them staying in STEMM careers.

Many of the speakers continued to engage with the public after their talks, and some of the visitors even ended up staying all day, going from speaker to speaker.

Dr Ravinder K Kanda, Senior Lecturer of Evolutionary Genomics

At school, girls are more likely to rate science as their favourite subject, and out-perform boys at GCSE, A-level and Degree-level. Even so, STEMM subjects have been found to account for only 35 per cent of the higher education qualifications achieved by women - that’s remarkable when you consider that the numbers of male undergraduates in these subjects is more than three times that of female undergraduates. And yet women account for only around 15% of UK science professors so why are women so woefully underrepresented when it comes to key positions within STEMM-based careers in the UK?

Oxford Brookes recognises that we all need to make STEMM careers seem more relevant to young women, and to give them confidence that choosing to study one, or more, of these subjects is something that they can achieve, and which will open a wealth of career pathways in the future. 

Soapbox Science Oxford is jointly organised by Oxford Brookes and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, and is sponsored by Oxford Brookes University and Oxford Sparks.

Further information on Soapbox Science is available online and via @SoapboxSciOxf on Twitter.