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More than 160 female scientists will take their science to the streets of 13 UK cities across England, Wales and Scotland this summer for the Soapbox Science Festival.  Now in its sixth year, Soapbox Science challenges perceptions of who a scientist is by celebrating diversity in women in science.

On Saturday 18 June Soapbox Science will be making its debut in Oxford. From 2-5pm, 12 incredible female scientists will be taking to their Soapboxes on Cornmarket Street to share their passion for science with the public.

Soapbox Science Oxford will feature many fascinating talks which will give the public an insight into how science is tackling a diverse range of issues, from helping us fight tooth decay, to saving elephants in Mali, discussing whether nuclear energy is green or even what a teabag can tell us about soil!

In the UK, women account for 35 per cent of PhD science graduates, but only 11 per cent of senior lecturers and less than eight per cent of professors. The UK has an annual shortfall in domestic supply of around 40,000 new STEM skilled workers.  One solution is to retain the women currently being lost from science.

Implicit bias – an unconscious cognitive phenomenon where we negatively assess a person’s ability – is also driving the loss of women scientists.  Both men and women can be guilty of implicit gender bias: for example, pilots are generally thought of as being men and nurses as women.

Soapbox Science co-founder, Dr Nathalie Pettorelli of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said: “Soapbox Science gives female scientists the much-needed boost to their visibility and profile they need to help achieve equality in science.  In the five years of Soapbox, we have seen real impact on the career paths of our speakers, raising their profiles and opening new opportunities for them within the science communities. “

Recent studies show that implicit bias is a big problem among scientists and the public alike.  For example, academic employers rank CVs with a female name lower than identical CVs with a male name.  In applications for science funding, women need to be 2.5 times as productive as men to receive the same ‘competence score’.  The public believe that the explanation for the so-called ‘leaky pipeline’ (a metaphor for the continuous loss of women in STEM as they climb the career ladder) is that females ‘lack ability’ to be high-level scientists.

The 2016 Soapbox Science festival challenges these perceptions of who a scientist is by celebrating the diverse backgrounds of women scientists, with speakers from several different nationalities, speakers who started their scientific careers late in life and speakers with disabilities. 

Soapbox Science co-founder, Dr Seirian Sumner of the University of Bristol said: “This year, we are delighted to be able to showcase women from a huge range of backgrounds.  These women show that there is no one ‘type’ of person who is a scientist.  Soapbox Science aims to break down pre-conceptions of who a scientist is, and inspire a new generation of girls into science irrespective of their background.”

Last year, Soapbox Science events reached more than 30,000 members of the public, with feedback showing they not only enjoyed it – they plan to come again. 

With speakers ranging from PhD students to professors, Soapbox Science represents the full spectrum of the academic career path, and gives speakers themselves the chance to meet and network with other women in science.

Events are open to the public, free of charge, and great fun.  Expect hands-on props, experiments and specimens, not to mention bags of passion and enthusiasm.

Dr Sumner said: “By showcasing the diversity of women in science, we hope to challenge both the public and scientific communities to think again about who a scientist is: there is no ‘typical scientist’.  By challenging perceptions among people of all ages, we hope to influence the choices of the younger generation and their families and friends, making it acceptable and normal for girls from any background to follow a career in science.”

Speakers at Soapbox Science Oxford include:

Ms Anna Bobak, Bournemouth University. Face recognition-a very special super power.

Dr Susan Canney, University of Oxford. How have Mali’s desert elephants survived and how long have they got?

Dr Jessica Davies, University of Oxford. From DNA to disease: how single letter changes in our genetic code can change our risk of disease.

Miss Sarah Duddigan, University of Reading. What can a tea bag tell you about soil?

Elise Facer-Childs, University of Birmingham. What makes you tick?  How your body clocks affect your sleep, your brain and your performance!

Dr. Goedele De Clerck. The University of Manchester. Deaf life stories: What they reveal about the potential within all of us.

Dr Caroline Hartley, University of Oxford:  Infant pain: how can looking at brain activity help us to understand pain in babies?

Dr Verena Kriechbaumer, Oxford Brookes University. Using plants to detox methane in soil.

Dr Dong Liu, University of Oxford. Is Nuclear Energy Green? Is it safe?

Dr Hao Ni, Oxford-Man Institute.  Data Science – Demystified!

Miss Minh Tran, University of Oxford. The quest to surpass Nature- what does she know that chemists don’t?

Dr. Irina Velsko, University of Oxford.  Brushing away the film - clearing confusion for cleaner mouths and healthier lives.