“Not only is it important to ask questions and find the answers, as a scientist I felt obligated to communicate with the world what we were learning.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it many challenges and lessons to be learned. In our position as women in STEM, one of the biggest lessons was the importance of communicating science to people, to spread the right information and fight disinformation prevalent in this era of social media flooding our lives. Keeping that in mind, IWS leaders, and a wonderful team of volunteers from Quebec City hosted a unique, annual Science outreach event called Soapbox Science for the first time in Quebec, on September 19th 2020.
What is Soapbox Science?
For a bit of context, the concept of Soapbox Science originated in the UK in 2011, inspired by London Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, to facilitate scientific debates publicly, while also promoting women in STEM. Since then, the event has been organised in 58 cities from 14 countries across the Americas, Europe, Australia and Africa. Canada has hosted the event in Ottawa, St John’s, Toronto, Waterloo and Windsor. Due to the pandemic, many of these public events were either cancelled/ postponed this year, or shifted to online platforms. However, Quebec city proceeded with the event complying with the COVID-19 restrictions, realizing the importance of science outreach, now, more than ever.
With support of sponsors, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS), Brain Canada, and CERVOLET, the event brought together eight brilliant women in STEM from Quebec city and Montreal, who talked about their scientific research/career and its relevance to the society. With talks covering COVID-19, artificial intelligence, environmental sciences, brain disorders, ecology, pain, cancer and career guidance in science, our dynamic speakers braved their public presence amidst the pandemic with one motive- to create scientific awareness.
Top left to bottom right:
Dr. Samira A. Rahimi, Eng, PhD, Ms. Amanda Gerges, Dr. Melanie Laurin, Ms. Floriane BRETHEAU, Ms.Océane Hourtané, Ms. Amelie Poulin Brière, Dr. Linda David and Ms. Isabel Plasencia Fernandez.
The societal impact
The event made us realize the willingness of the public to engage in scientific discourse, as we saw active participation from the people of Quebec City, despite temperature averaging 120 Celsius and strict COVID-19 regulations. Demographically and linguistically, the event witnessed diversity with both francophone and anglophone visitors aged ~ 06 to 65 years attending the event.
Based on the feedback, the majority of our visitors enjoyed the event and looked forward to attending similar events in the future. More importantly, while 1 in every 10 visitors reported being unaware of the scientific achievements of the women in Quebec prior to the event, all of them unequivocally advocated for the event to be held in Quebec city again, to learn more about the work of the brilliant women scientists in Quebec.
The symbiosis of science and society
“Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated, and scientists are beginning to learn their social obligations.”
— Anne Roe, The Making of a Scientist
Science and society thrive on a symbiotic relationship, where the actions of one benefit the other, and we further witnessed this symbiosis develop during this event. Not only did the event help disseminate scientific benefits to society; the organizers, speakers and volunteers too left richer with experiences, as well as personal and professional gains.
While the visitors personally thanked the speakers for the wonderful work they do for the people through their science, all of our speakers reported feeling personally motivated to conduct research and give back more to society. At the same time, the speakers were left impressed by the ingenuity of the discussion the visitors led on- from therapies to prevent the death of brain cells in neurodegeneration to the application of algae in daily life and its link with cosmetics.
“One of the best outcomes of the event however, was the fact that the visitors felt appreciative also of their own ability to understand and discuss scientific research with ease and confidence, serving the real purpose of the event.”
One of our speakers also shared her experience regarding the excitement of the visitors on knowing about the various career options that could relate their love for science and research with their other passions/hobbies.
In addition, the event volunteers provided extremely positive feedback and looked forward to future events. The networking that ensued during the event also helped the volunteers professionally. In one of the instances, the networking between a speaker and a volunteer at the event ended in a new employment opportunity for the volunteer!
The Soapbox Science 2020 event provided many important lessons. To be able to successfully host a public event amidst the challenges of an unprecedented pandemic taught us a thing or two about the power of team work and determination. But more importantly it shed light on the gaping divide between the knowledge available to the scientific community, and that disseminated to society, despite the readiness of the general public to walk a step forward towards scientific awareness. As representatives of the scientific community, the onus then falls on us to take our first steps towards narrowing the gap by creating scientific awareness through active communication. We look forward to having you on board with us in Quebec city or anywhere in Canada to facilitate change through evidence-based dissemination of knowledge.
We finally leave you with the words of Margaret Mead, an anthropologist, author and a pioneer of the feminist movement in America–
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
See you next time in Quebec City!
Volunteers: Alessandra Pecora, Laura Martínez Drudis, Raquel Rodríguez Aller, Melanie Alpaugh, Maxime Teixeira, Walid Idi, Irene Anastasia, Naomie Linteau, Natija Deeb, Charles Gora, Revathy Guruswamy, and Gisell Pazmino.
Written by: Pooja Shree
Acknowledgements: Silvia, Razan and Romina