Elsevier’s Early Career Researcher UK Awards 2018

Catherine is a PhD researcher in the Centre for Research in Ageing and Cognitive Health (REACH) at the University of Exeter. Her PhD research examines how people with dementia use social media. In 2016, Catherine graduated from the University of Bath with a BSc (Hons) degree in psychology. She is a cyberpsychologist interested in online communities and health research. She is also interested in internet-mediated research ethics, digital methods, and body image. Catherine is also the Vice-Chair of PsyPAG, a national organisation for postgraduate psychologists.

On Thursday 4th October, I attended Elsevier’s Early Career Researcher UK Awards ceremony at the Royal Society. I attended this event because I had been shortlisted for Elsevier’s Researchers’ Choice Communication Award. Elsevier’s Early Career Researcher Awards recognise and reward outstanding early career researchers who make a significant contribution to their field of research. I felt extremely honoured and nervous to attend this event as I was the only PhD student who was shortlisted for the science communication award. My nerves soon subsided after I met everyone, who are all friendly, like-minded people with a passion for research. Attending the event gave me the opportunity to meet a number of early-career researchers, professors, and people working for Elsevier who were able to advise me on my career. Meeting these inspirational people reinvigorated my love of research and boosted my confidence to pursue a career in this field.

What is Science communication?

Science communication is a fantastic way of enhancing public awareness of science and provides us with the opportunity to engage with and consider different perspectives (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2017). Scientific findings should be available to all and by communicating the findings of our research, we can ensure our findings aren’t limited to a journal which is only accessible to fellow academics. There are many different ways of engaging in science communication such as using social media, engaging with journalists, giving public talks, and using the arts.

Why was I nominated?

I was shortlisted for the award because of my research which examined the culture of bonespiration – an online trend that encourages social media account holders to achieve extremely thin bodies (Open access paper available via https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-017-0170-2). Following a number of radio interviews and discussions with journalists, my research received international media attention. I also worked with Devon-based artist Phillippa Mills to produce an exhibition which was influenced by my research. This was a great way of relaunching my work. It was incredible to see my research translated into art where so many people could look at the issue I highlighted from a different perspective.

Dr Caroline Ardrey, Dr Joanne Jordan, and I were shortlisted for the award. Dr Caroline Ardrey is a a lecturer in Modern Languages at the University of Birmingham. Caroline is currently in the process of putting together a new project which uses Social Network Analysis techniques from statistics and the social sciences to analyse the creative networks of Paris in the 1860s and 1870s. Through a range of events, including the launch of an augmented reality smartphone app which simulates engagement with archival materials, and a series of hackathons for school pupils, this project seeks to make research findings accessible to a wider audience.

The winner of the Researchers’ Choice Communication award was Dr Joanne Jordan. Dr Joanne Jordan’s project ‘The Lived Experience of Climate Change’ is based on research looking at urban climate resilience and how land tenure affects adaptation to climate change in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The project engaged residents of an informal settlement in the research findings, and built awareness and action on their everyday accounts of living with climate change through an interactive theatre performance. Subsequent theatre performances, documentary films, educational programmes, and public events were then used to engage a much wider set of international and national audiences. Joanne has brought her work to over 235,000 people including study participants, policy makers, practitioners, academics, students and the public.

Attending this event was a fantastic opportunity and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I would like to extend my congratulations to Caroline and Joanne. Even though I didn’t win the award I am extremely grateful to have been shortlisted. I hope this blog post will encourage postgraduates to not shy away from science communication!

References: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Communicating science effectively: a research agenda. National Academies Press.

Written By: Catherine Talbot, PhD Researcher in College of Medicine and Health. You can find out more about Catherine and her Research by following her on twitter @Catherinetalb

Why have we started Women in Climate – and why you should do the same!

Dr Freya Garry graduated from the University of Southampton in 2013 with best in class for Master of Science in Oceanography. She remained based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton for her doctorate, co-sponsored by the Met Office, during which she researched deep ocean heat content and how it is observed. In January 2017, she became a researcher in the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter, where she studies Atlantic Ocean climate over the last millennium. 

Twitter: @freyagarry

Dr Penelope Maher is a climate scientist specialising in convection and large-scale circulation of the atmosphere. She is an early career scientist from Australia who joined Exeter’s mathematics department in 2015.





Despite many STEM undergraduate and postgraduate degrees having a reasonable gender balance, there is a rapid loss of women in STEM subjects post-PhD. In particular, there are significantly less senior women in climate science. Post-doc and lecturer positions frequently demands mobility which is often harder for women. Additionally, women are more likely to may take career breaks for their children.

Mentoring relationships can be hard to retain and informal mentoring is not as common for women, who are less likely to be taken to the pub by their senior colleagues for example. Generally, women will delay applying for promotion until the meet every criteria rather than just ‘giving it a go’. Perhaps this is also true in applying for grant funding. Typically women find failure more difficult. There is evidence of unconscious bias in recruitment against female applicants. In addition, there is evidence that women leave male dominated professions (regardless of age) after a few years because of lack of senior role models. Of course all of these points are generalisations and not all women will relate; equally, those with other gender identities may relate to these points.

The name of our network, Women in Climate, reflects the gender imbalance that exists amongst academics in climate science. The aim of the network is to support the retention of women in climate science and promote diversity in all areas. We hope to achieve this aim by hosting events and discussion groups to try and address some one issues listed above. Therefore our events are open to all genders and we hope the topics for discussion will benefit anyone who feels disadvantaged in academia. We encourage senior staff to attend as well as early career researchers; senior staff can share personal experiences and opinions and network with their younger colleagues.

The core event of the network are monthly meeting on a Friday afternoon. These events have free snacks and refreshments! We use these events to meet new people, to network and to discuss a diverse range of subjects. Some of these might be discipline specific, and some very general. We typically ask relevant climate scientists or subject specific experts (e.g. we asked psychologists to come talk to us about the ‘imposter’ phenomena) to help lead the discussion and offer experiences/opinions that can frame open discussion.

The relaxed atmosphere, where we can talk freely with our colleagues, is a positive step in building a positive work place culture where we (a) don’t feel alone in struggles associated with the academia life, (b) can share experiences and ideas for coping with some of the things we find hardest about academic life and (c) promote diversity and the ideal of treating colleagues as individuals regardless of gender (or race, or sexual identity).

Organising such events on a smaller local scale (ie similar research interests, in our case the climate) by colleagues you know and where everyone can help shape the meetings, seems to be a recipe for success. We hope to organise numerous one-off events over the coming year to provide specific skills training and bigger networking events, in addition to maintaining our monthly meetings. There is no doubt that this comes at significant time cost to the organisers, but we feel the benefits already only a few months in and have received good feedback. We would encourage others in setting up similar within their own departments or subject areas.

The Joy of Posters! Designing a poster that your audience will want to read

Caroline Nye is a social science researcher at the University of Exeter, having completed her PhD in rural sociology at the Centre for Rural Policy Research. She holds an MA (hons) in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh, a diploma in International Development from London School of Economics (with a focus on environment) and has several years’ experience working on organic farms and in environmental education. She has also spent several years working further afield on international development projects and in industry in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Caroline’s research expertise focuses on agricultural labour in the UK, examining the changes and challenges associated with farm labour in the transition to sustainable intensification. She is also currently working on a research project examining farmer motivations to participate in conservation-focused farmer clusters, as well as working on a project for Defra.

Academic poster presentations are an important method of sharing your research. But in an age where multiple stimuli are constantly competing for our attention, our brain usually decides within seconds if it wants to continue focussing on any one thing before shifting its attention elsewhere. Attracting a captive audience is, therefore, a challenge. Below are ten things to consider in designing a poster that will catch the reader’s eye. If somebody walks away having retained any information about your research, then your poster has had, yes it’s that magic word, IMPACT!

  1. Look upon it as an exciting opportunity. Here is a chance for you to exercise your creativity in a way you may not be able to during other phases of your academic career. Embrace your inner artist, leap outside of the box and brandish your metaphorical paintbrush with pride. Designing a poster should be a fun project which gets your research out there visually and assists you in defining the key points of your project.
  2. Know your audience. If designing a poster for a mixed audience, start by assuming that your audience knows nothing about either your subject or your discipline. Make it easy to understand and use language that won’t have your reader yawning three lines in. If your poster is for a specific event, a sheet stuffed full of technical jargon can still be overkill, so mix it up to ensure your reader is informed whilst being entertained at the same time.
  3. Before you even begin to add any text, play around with some images that might link your research to the rest of the world. Decide whether you want a backdrop image, images dropped between the text, or a combination. Make sure any pictures you use are relevant, interesting and fun. If a picture can tell your reader what your work is about as soon as they walk into a room, then you’re already winning.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Many students follow a set format which can often make posters look similar and difficult to remember. Innovative examples of poster design include the use of texture, colour or 3D materials (glasses included). One extraordinary design was completed entirely by hand. Be inspired and you will inspire others.
  5. What information do you want your reader to take away with them. What is NEW about your work and what message do you want to get across to your audience? This is your story. You can choose how you tell it.
  6. You cannot fit your entire thesis on to an A3 sheet. The ability to be concise is key here. Identify the principal goals of the thesis, your methods in brief, KEY findings and MAIN conclusions. This will ensure that your poster retains much needed space for visual aesthetics, making reading it a less daunting task for the innocent passer-by.
  7. Font is key! Don’t assume your reader has 20/20 vision. Try not to make the text any smaller than 24pt, and intersperse this with bigger titles and sub titles. It is fun to play around with font styles but many can be hard on the eye for a poster so plain styles can work better alongside good, strong images.
  8. Check sizing and margins before you print. These is nothing more frustrating than adding the final flourish to your masterpiece and then sending it to the printers and unrolling a mess. Text that pushes right up to the edges and poor quality images might reveal unpleasant surprises on print day.
  9. Print it before presentation day. Leaving the printing until the last minute is a common mistake for any student, be it your poster or your actual thesis! Try to print it at least a day early in case you see any glaring mistakes.
  10. Show up! Accompanying your poster with a smile and some enthusiasm will cast a happy, colourful light over your work as you both hang out there proudly. It is an opportunity to show passion for, and knowledge about, your subject on a friendly one-to-one basis. So enjoy!

Written by: Caroline Nye

Twitter: @curlystem

If you wish to enter PGR showcase full details can be found on the PGR showcase webpage. Deadline to apply is: Sunday 22nd May.

ERIC Conference 2018

On 21st March, the fourth Exploring Research in Cornwall (ERIC) Postgraduate Research Conference was held at the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), Penryn Campus. ERIC is an annual event supported by the Doctoral College but organised by a postgraduate researcher committee.

ERIC hopes to celebrate the quality and diversity of research across the University of Exeter and allows early-stage researchers to attend and become more familiar with a conference environment. It is also an opportunity for PGRs to deliver a talk or present a poster on their research. This year’s themes were: Creative Methods, Changing Worlds and Understanding Nature.

We were delighted to be able to hold ERIC in the ESI and welcomed Professor Juliet Osbourne, Director of the ESI and Chair in Applied Ecology for Exeter University to deliver an opening speech. Ten students then presented talks on their research throughout the day and the breaks provided an opportunity to network and browse the posters. It was fantastic to be able to accommodate talks and posters from students across diverse disciplines, from politics and geology to the Life Sciences.

We also welcomed two keynote speakers from the University. Dr Frank van Veen, Associate professor of ecology and conservation provided an insight into his research on conservation and tourism in Kruger National Park and illustrated how the research from the Cornwall Campus is far-reaching and helping to answer important questions internationally.

Professor David Hosken, an evolutionary biologist and Dean of Strategic Development of the Cornwall Campuses also explained his work on sexual phenotypes, and particularly those associated with sexual selection and sexual conflict. To close the day, David presented his ‘top tips’ for early researchers, including, perhaps most importantly, ‘enjoy it’!

The prize for the best poster was awarded to Mel Weedon: Effects of parental ageing on offspring body mass trajectories in wild European badgers.

The runner up for best poster was Silu Lin: An evolutionary explanation to fertility decline.

The prize for the best talk was awarded to Emma Lou: The home-ranging behaviour of reintroduced orangutans.

The runner up for best talk was Beki Hooper: Killer whales, yellow slime and spa trips: using leftover DNA to elucidate ecologically relevant information.

Overall, the day was a great success and we hope that ERIC can be held again next year. Thank you to all our speakers and to the students who attended or participated and to Sean Meadon and Katie Shanks for acting as judges and providing great feedback on student talks and posters.

Special thanks to Dr Chris Wood and the wider Doctoral College team for their support throughout. Thank you also to the ESI team for allowing us to hold the event in the ESI and their help in making the event a success.

ERIC Committee: Alexandra Gardner (Chair), Ben Phillips, David Sünderhoff, Shari Mang, Thomas Pownall, Angela Hayward, Amina Ghezal, Rachael Smith and Emily Carter.

How art can help communicate science

Anna Sowa is a documentary film producer with a strong background in international affairs policy and academic research. After completing her BA in Arabic with International Relations, Anna continued her professional and academic interest in international development at SOAS, University of London where she graduated with a distinction MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development. She is the co-founder of Chouette Films–  an award-winning production company committed to using film as a tool for social change. She is a PhD by practice candidate at the London Film School/ University of Exeter researching the role of the producer in collaborative documentary filmmaking.

A piece of advice that I remember from my school drama teacher years ago, is to always practice and test your acting by performing in front of a young child. If the child stays focused and interested, even without necessarily understanding the piece, then you have successfully achieved a genuinely engaging performance. At the same time, this teacher also used to encourage us to be authentic and to stay genuine to ourselves. I now understand how these two pieces of advice are interlinked. The teacher wanted us to find our own way of expressing each piece, to create a performance which both felt natural and was uniquely captivating. Rather than exaggerated or over-dramatic acting, simply for the sake of being shocking or different, innovative and heart-felt acting is the key to engaging an audience.

Although drama lessons may sit on a very different branch of the arts to academic posters, I still find my old teacher’s advice very meaningful to the process of design.

Firstly, testing your work is of pivotal value to poster design. It may seem like a peculiar choice to start with this focus on testing, because it is often under-estimated as a minor and latter part of the design process. However, from my experience it is crucial to continually test an idea from its conception through to its completion as a final product. Share your ideas with someone who works in your field; share them with a stranger; share them with a child. The more diverse the group, the more well-rounded the feedback. Show them your sketches and scribbles to see what catches their interests. Testing ideas gives you the tools to analyse, reshape and build on your design.

Secondly, authenticity is vital to the meaning and impact of a poster. So, make it personal; make it yours. My work investigates the very role that I play: that of the producer. Since the perspective of my study is self-reflective and my PhD is practice-based, it felt natural for the poster to depict myself in action at a film shoot. From afar, the poster’s graphics resemble a regular film poster. Visually, this creates an instant association of the poster with film, no matter how unfamiliar the viewer may be with the subject matter of my research. It is important to make sure that your individual vision for the project remains integral to your design. Pinpoint the key images that represent your work, and experiment with ways of building graphically around these concepts.

Thirdly, I believe that the golden rule of poster design is “less is more”. The busier the poster, the less comprehensive and compelling. Too many sentences can cloud its meaning. Instead, use headlines and bullet points and let the images speak for themselves. Clear and aesthetically simple designs can be the most powerful. Pick out the key words from your research and strip back any unnecessary jargon, so that your poster communicates to every viewer, even a child.

After all, the simple truth behind academic poster design is that art can support science. Far from being its antagonist, art can enhance the clarity of conceptual scientific descriptions.

Written by: Anna Sowa-  Film PhD by Practice Researcher

Chouette films website
Twitter: @ChouetteFilms

Interested in this year’s competition is open until Friday 20 April, full details about Postgradaute Research Showcase, the poster competition and our other competitions, 3 Minute Thesis and Tweet your Thesis can be found here.

3 Minute Thesis- What made me enter!

Elisabeth is a final year PhD student studying astrophysics. In her research she aims to detect planets orbiting other stars, and understand how these interact with debris dust – similar to the Asteroid and Kuiper belts in our own solar system. When not worrying about writing a thesis, she enjoys running and playing the flute.




I’m in the unusual position of having given three minute pitches of my PhD four times: twice with the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition, and twice through a similar Three Minute Wonder competition run by the Institute of Physics. I was lucky enough to compete in the Three Minute Wonder final, where we spoke at the Royal Institute in London. Having grown up watching the RI Christmas Lectures I was pretty star-struck by that experience – and it’s not every day that you get to speak on the same stage where Faraday and Dirac have delivered lectures.

I would definitely recommend this competition to anyone, since it’s a really unique and exciting way to be able to share your research. For me there have been several clear benefits.

Firstly, it’s opened doors: I’m passionate about science communication, and I’ve been offered science communication opportunities as a direct result of these competitions. In September the IoP invited me to spend a week touring the South West and visiting schools to deliver science talks: I delivered 16 talks, to over 1000 kids, and had a brilliant time in the process. I was also invited to give an academic seminar at Bristol by someone who had seen my 3 minute piece, which is of course useful for forging academic connections.

Secondly, it’s a huge confidence builder. The competition feels like a very high pressure form of presentation because of the precise time limit (and the huge clock!). The first time I performed a pitch, I literally froze in on stage and my brain went blank. That was pretty horrible experience – but by repeatedly going through the process I’ve become much more comfortable presenting my science, which has been hugely beneficial at conferences and when giving seminars. If I had to freeze somewhere, I’d much rather it be at a relatively low-stakes competition like Three Minute Wonder than at a conference where there might be potential employers in the room!

I love my research, and I love talking about all things exoplanets – and events like this have given me more understanding of what the public do and don’t know about my field, and how I can simultaneously make my subject accessible and avoid dumbing it down. I really value that this means I can speak about my work in a more casual setting, and that my friends and family can start to understand what I do with my time. I am also excited by research more generally, and watching the other competitors – and talking to them afterwards – was a fascinating overview of some of the diverse research happening across the university – from microchips to autism.

Finally, I recently had a postdoc interview where the opening question was “So how about you just give me a two minute summary of your research so far?”. Interviews terrify me, and this one was at a very highly ranked university so I was definitely feeling the pressure – but I think managed to get garble a decent two minutes out, and I’m sure that my Three Minute Thesis and Three Minute Wonder experiences helped me to do so. And you know what? I got the job.

Written by: Elisabeth Matthews

Why enter PGR showcase?

I completed my Biological Sciences degree here at Exeter, before continuing on into an MbyRes. I undertook a joint project between Dr Helen Dawe and Dr Isabelle Jourdain here in Biosciences, which has now progressed into a PhD funded by the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship. My project focuses on ciliopathies, a class of severe diseases caused when your cells signalling antennae – called “cilia” – do not form or function correctly. A ciliopathy patient with a mutation in a mystery protein was discovered back in 2012, and it is my mission to figure out how this mystery protein helps to build cilia!

I think I heard about the PGR Showcase from an email newsletter that circulated around the department. My first thought was that the event was probably only aimed at PhD students. After all, I was only a few months into my MbyRes, and figured that I didn’t really have enough data to present. However when I spoke to my supervisors about it, they told me that I could definitely produce a poster from what I had so far, and that it would be a useful exercise in learning how to present my research. So I decided to go for it!

My poster ended up being about 50% explaining the field, and 50% my own results, so I needn’t have worried about not having enough data. The best advice I received from my supervisor was to take out as much subject-specific jargon as I could, keep it simple, and to make the poster as visual as possible. After all, the showcase is a University-wide event, so I needed to convey (in my case) Biological Sciences research in a way that someone who studies English Literature could understand.

I considered the day a useful learning experience, and just assumed that Best Poster would be awarded to a PhD student. So I was very surprised and grateful when I won best STEMM poster, along with a £250 voucher! I think it’s great that the competition is judged not on the amount of results you have, but on your ability to present your research to an audience who are not familiar with your field (or even your discipline!).

As well as presenting your poster, getting to walk around and have a look at all the other entries was a great opportunity to learn about some of the other PG research that is going on across the University. The competition was also good practice – when I had the opportunity to present my results at a national conference later on that year, I not only already had experience making a poster and organising my results into a story, but also more confidence when explaining my research to people I had just met. I’d really recommend applying, even if you’re a Masters student – you’ll get a lot out of the day, and a shot at a great prize!

Written by: Lauren Adams (1st Year- Biosciencse PhD Student)

Twitter: @L_Adams08
LinkedIn: laurenadams08
Email: lauren.adams@exeter.ac.uk

International Women’s Day 2018- Why I got involved?

Skye is working towards a PhD in Biophysics at the University of Exeter. Her research looks at the physical properties of cell membrane and how these affect susceptibility to a parasite toxin, amoebapore. In general, she is interested in parasitology and multidisciplinary approaches to science. In addition to practicing research skills, Skye hopes that she can improve her teaching abilities and contribute towards the postgraduate community during her time at Exeter.

For International Women’s Day 2018 the Doctoral College will be holding an event to showcase the valuable women we have in this research-focussed community. This event is not only important for our community but emphasizes that we are engaged in a global celebration of progress towards gender equality. The first International Women’s Day was in 1911 and it is gratifying to see the changes that have been made. It is a day both to reflect on our progress and to motivate us to continue making changes for the better.

The World Economic Forum 2017 global gender gap report indicated that, as it stands, it will take 200 years to reach gender parity. Therefore, the official theme for International Women’s Day 2018 is #PressforProgress. This theme reinforces the need to keep putting the pressure on to achieve equality. The IWD website urges us to choose one action to #PressforProgress, giving five areas to choose from. My favourite two are to forge positive visibility of women, and to celebrate women’s achievements.

These two actions will be showcased in the Doctoral College International Women’s Day event on Thursday 8th March 2018, 10am – 12 midday. This event will celebrate the contributions from our female and non-binary PGRs and ECRs. We have a fantastic group of women who will present either their own research or their experiences as a female within their field of research.

I have personally involved myself in the organisation and think it will be a great and emotive session. I jumped in because I have previously benefitted from professional development groups designed for women at the University (e.g. Sprint). In addition, as a PGR, I appreciate supportive environments to communicate research, and I realise the importance of role models in a job made up of many self-directed tasks.

We have had confirmations of attendance from invited inspirational senior members of staff. These include Debra Myhill and Kim Soin who will attend and speak at the event. This mix of women from both early and established career stages will provide valuable networking opportunities and better visibility of potential role models.

Alongside the event there will be an online gallery of inspirational female and non-binary PGRs and ECRs who have been nominated by the University of Exeter community. If you are interested please do come along; the event is free! and registration can be accessed through Eventbrite.

Written by: Skye Marshall (PhD Researcher in BioPhysics)
Twitter: @SkyeMarshall1
Research Group Webpage
Personal Research Webpage

Soapbox Science: a celebration and cheer for female scientists, and one of the best experiences I had during my PhD

Isabel is a PhD student in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group as part of the Alzheimer’s Society Exeter Doctoral Centre. Her PhD focuses on evaluating genomic consequences of Alzheimer’s Disease pathology.



It all started with an application…

I was introduced to Soapbox Science in 2016, a few months after I moved to the United Kingdom to join the University of Exeter as a PhD student. When I first heard about it, I was very happy to find there was such an initiative in place, immediately feeling very enthusiastic about participating in it. Although I was not very confident I would be selected, and was afraid it would be too early in my career to do it properly, I still decided to turn my enthusiasm into an application to be a speaker anyway. To my surprise, my application was successful. I could not put into words my excitement when I read the email telling me I was selected to be a speaker at Soapbox Science Exeter, and little did I know then that it would turn out to be one of the best and most fun experiences I had so far as a PhD student – from the preparation, training, interviews, networking, inspiration from other female scientists, to actually standing in the soapbox per se. From that moment on, Soapbox Science won a very special place in my heart. Even after my involvement as a speaker came to an end, I remained accompanying Soapbox Science closely, always wishing to return and continue being involved. Two years later, Dr Safi Darden and Dr Ana Neves challenged me to join them as organizer of Soapbox Science Exeter and my answer could not have been other than “yes”. The three of us are looking forward to receiving enthusiastic applications for Soapbox Science Exeter 2018 from inspiring female scientists, which can be submitted here.

Exeter Soapbox Science organising team. From left to right: Dr Ana Neves, Dr Safi Darden, and Isabel Castanho.

About Soapbox Science…

Soapbox Science was co-founded by Dr Nathalie Petorelli and Dr Seirian Sumner to increase the visibility of women in science and challenge gender stereotypes about the ‘typical’ scientist. The first Soapbox Science event was held in London in 2011, reaching Exeter for the first time in 2015.

Even today, the public perception of ‘a scientist’ is still that of the male researcher, so initiatives such as Soapbox Science are irrefutably vital to change misconceptions and highlight that women can be (successful) scientists as well. Moreover, science, as many other areas, is still male-dominated, particularly in higher positions. An example of this is that less than 10% of all professors in the UK are women. And the problem does not seem to be related with attracting more girls to science. Although some fields are more unbalanced than others (Maths, Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering, as a few examples of scientific areas with a higher percentage of males compared to females), the major problem seems to be related to career progression, particularly when it involves balancing a successful career with building a family, which can become quite challenging and often impossible for some women. By having an all-female group of speakers, Soapbox Science events aim to raise these issues and promote and encourage female scientists and the science they do. Needless to say male colleagues are more than welcome to join as collaborators and volunteers.

Join us!

Soapbox Science is open to any enthusiastic female scientist, from PhD students to Professors, from academics to industry researchers. Come bring your work to the streets and help us inspire and encourage the next generation of scientists.

Soapbox Science Exeter: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/research/events/soapbox/
Soapbox Science Exeter on Twitter: #ExeterSoapbox
Soapbox Science website: http://soapboxscience.org/
Soapbox Science Twitter: @SoapboxScience

Written by: Isabel Castanho- PhD student in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group as part of the Alzheimer’s Society Exeter Doctoral Centre




Dementia Researcher’s cycle to Paris fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Society

Eilis Hannon is a Bioinformatician in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group in the University of Exeter Medical School. Eilis’ research focuses on improving our understanding of the molecular processes involved in the development of schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders. She has an interested in the dynamic nature of human brain development and the way genetic variation influences this process.


About a year ago, 6 researchers from the University of Exeter signed up for the Alzheimer’s Society London to Paris fundraising cycle ride. We all work on different aspects of dementia and have benefited from funding from the Alzheimer’s Society, so this was our opportunity to give something back whilst pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone of sitting behind our computers, or in our lab coats.

In the spirit of the ride we combined forces when it came to the fundraising and therefore set ourselves an ambitious target of raising £12,000. A few posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media got us off to a good start but we knew we would need a few traditional fundraising activities to maintain the momentum and interest in our efforts – so we geared ourselves up for a few cake sales. All the cyclists (and many colleagues) got involved with the baking and we offered a wide range of cakes, biscuits and some bespoke themed delicacies including neuron cupcakes and the main event – the brain cake. A classic 3 layer Victoria sponge on the inside, covered in fondant worms and glazed with raspberry jam. It worked well as a centrepiece to draw passers-by in to the stall with some people even willing to try a piece. Across a coffee mornings and 2 cake sales held in the Forum at Streatham, St Luke’s campus and the RILD building we raised more than £1000 towards our total.

With the fundraising in hand, our attention turned to training for the actual cycle. In addition to commutes, quick spins before or after work and extended weekend rides, we also tackled some local Sportives such as the Dartmoor Classic, Jurassic Beast and the Nello. There were sore knees, thighs, close calls with tractors, flat tires, lots of energy bars, jelly babies and unfortunately one broken wrist which meant our six was down to five for the actual event.

The start point was Blackheath Common in South London and early on Wednesday morning, along with 100 other cyclists all raising money for the same cause, we set off to Paris via Dover, Dunkirk, Cambrai and Soissons. The first day was arguably the hardest; busy roads through London, windy lanes with steep up and down stretches through Ken,t and the added pressure over getting to the Ferry on time! Once in France the main challenge was the distance (70-100 miles per day) and hours in the saddle. Personally, I suffered tightness and an ache between the shoulder blades from hunching over the handlebars, although this did distract somewhat from the other side effects of cycling for 8-10 hours. The “hills” in the route were no match for those we had tackled over Dartmoor, Exmoor, Blackdowns hills and Quantocks in our training, and in some ways were the most enjoyable bits. As promised, France truly was a joy to cycle through, with far fewer cars, and the wider more open roads across rolling terrain making for pleasant viewing.  After four days in the saddle, covering 250 miles in the sun, wind and rain, we cycled the final few miles across the cobbles (!) around the Arc de Triomphe and up towards the Champs D’Elsysee en masse, all wearing our blue and red Alzheimer’s Society Jerseys.

Most of the other participants were taking part because someone close to them had, or has Alzheimer’s Disease. The Alzheimer’s Society not only funds scientific research but also helps support patients and their families with small grants, Dementia Cafes, Singing for the Brain® sessions, and Dementia Advisers, Dementia Support Workers and Side by Side volunteers. Most of our fellow cyclists were more familiar with the support and information services that the Society provides, and while they whole heartedly support the research aspect, it is an area they are less familiar with. I think it was mutually beneficial, therefore, for us to hear about individual experiences, spend time and discuss the work we do. As scientists rather than clinicians, we perhaps forget all too easily the reality of having Alzheimer’s for both patients, family and friends. We know the statistics on the numbers affected and the cost to the economy, but this experience, more than anything, renewed our perspective and focus on the ultimate goal of what we do day-to-day. With the proof of our exploits posted on social media, the final donations came flooding in. Combined with all the other riders we raised an incredible £321,066, showing the value of these group efforts in generating momentum and enthusiasm for the cause, which ultimately leads to more donations.