What is Soapbox Science?
Soapbox Science is a unique platform for scientists to do communicate their research to the public – it promotes women scientists and the science they do. Events transform public areas into an arena for public learning and scientific debate; they follow the format of London Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner. There’s no middle man, no PowerPoint slides, just a 12 speakers with a few props talking about why they are passionate about their research.
I took part at this year’s Edinburgh event, which was based on The Mound – a busy part of the city centre, meaning high footfall and lots of people to speak to!
Preparing for the event was tricky because I really had no idea how long people would stick around and listen to me for. I needed to make sure I could communicate key messages in a short time, and ensure that those messages were repeated so that when newcomers joined the group they would not feel that they couldn’t catch up with what was going on.
I decided on a few key points so cover:
- What is a clinical trial?
- Why are clinical trials important?
- How can people get involved with trials?
- Where can people find out more about my work?
The event itself
We were not lucky with the weather this weekend! It rained all afternoon and before I’d even got to The Mound to start my talk I was already soaking. We soldiered on though! One plastic poncho, one rain coat, and a lab coat over the top and I was ready to go. I also had my lovely friend Becca with me as a volunteer assistant; she spent the majority of my hour-long slot holding an umbrella, which was very much appreciated.
I was nervous to begin with because I really thought no one was going to turn up – the weather was so bad and there was a protest a few metres in front of us too (I’ll be clear here, no one was protesting our presence…). After the first person showed interest I made sure I asked them a question, that meant they then stayed to talk to me for a few minutes. Once one person had heard about my work, more people felt comfortable coming up to my soapbox to hear more – it’s that safety in numbers thing, meaning more people join as they see others engaging.
The people I spoke to were really diverse – students and researchers were the first to arrive as they had heard about Soapbox Science online, but after that we had children, psychologists, office workers, a few retired people who just happened to be walking past. This diverse group meant that my talk changed slightly every time a new person came over – I found it was more like a platform for a conversation, which I really liked. The atmosphere around the Soapbox Science arena felt very safe and relaxed; people asking questions who were genuinely interested to hear the answers, and it didn’t feel like anyone was afraid to ask.
Overall, I really enjoyed taking part in Soapbox Science, and I would recommend other PhD students get involved too. It’s a relaxed and fun environment that gives you a chance to talk about your research and get input from the public too. I stood on my soapbox for an hour and it went by so fast, I would happily have stayed up there for another hour!
Keep an eye on the Soapbox Science Twitter and Instagram pages for pictures of the other speakers – and follow #soapboxscience on Twitter to see highlights from the Edinburgh event and the rest of the events taking place over the summer.
How to get involved
I found out about Soapbox Science via Twitter, after seeing a call for speakers for one of their events I went online to see what I could do to get involved. Soapbox is growing every year, and there are now events taking place outside of the UK – hopefully summer 2018 will see even more events across continents!
To become a local organiser of a Soapbox Science event in your town, take a look here. To find out more about events, and to check what’s going on in your area, take a look here. This summer there are still UK events taking place in Brighton and Milton Keynes, as well as dates to be announced for Science and Art talks too.