‘Boss it!’ – ScienceGrrl at Kensington Town Hall

The ScienceGrrl panel at Celebration of Science

The ScienceGrrl panel at Celebration of Science

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea hold an annual two-week Celebration of Science, discussing everything from bird eggs to smart cities and high-performance sports. On their opening day seven ScienceGrrls descended – on a mission to ‘boss it’. In this guest post, Dr Jess Wade reports back on an eventful panel discussion:

The celebrated Dr Ceri Brenner (@CeriBrenner), a laser physicist who works with academics to turn their laser research into reality from the high-energy Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Harwell, spoke about the barriers women face in academia. As a STEMNET ambassador and winner of “I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!”, Ceri has been an inspiration to hundreds of young people, alongside publishing in heaps of academic journals.

Carole Kenrick (@HelpfulScience) is a physics graduate who is not afraid to break the rules: after reading a job advert written by primary school children requesting a blue-haired inventor in residence, she ditched her job as Head of Physics to excite young minds in Islington. Carole and her classes create: they use their hands, they take things apart and they reconfigure them to do what they want. Carole spoke about the need to capture young people’s imagination early, teaching them to question, make and do. 

A woman of Carole’s heart, Sophie Deen (@Sophie_Deen) left her job as a lawyer to work with the Department for Education and Google creating the National Curriculum for Code. Sophie’s educational technology company “Bright Little Labs” was crowdfunded on Kick Starter and her first book, Detective Dot, about the Children’s Intelligence Agency and their work investigating the origins of objects around them. Sophie is bold: as a female founder of a start-up (women make up 4 – 8 % of start-up directors) she’s challenging her own biases when it comes to employing people. Sophie is endlessly being asked to sit on panels, “so that they are not man-els”- but she doesn’t care and uses it to her advantage.

Eleanor Loh is a neuroscientist who works in brain labs between MIT and UCL, using functional MRI to decode the neural network within our heads. Eleanor’s endlessly bored of being asked about the differences between men and women’s brains, and sees her “job in 2016 is to make the system fairer, and to turn up to an imperfect game”. Eleanor is hopeful that one day London will catch the innovation bug that illuminates the innovation mecca that is MIT. 

Julia Attias (@JuliaAttias) is a PhD student at King’s College London, designing responsive space suits for astronauts. She studies the impact of extreme environments on the human body, and hopes to create materials that can prevent us from falling apart when we’re extra-terrestrial. Julia discussed how impostor syndrome (the idea that one is not as good as those around them) effects everyone, not just women. Her research is relatively new in the UK but has been thoroughly explored internationally- Julia feels like we’re newbies on the scientific scene. She’s one of few women in her research group, but sees it as an “an opportunity to break the mould”. She’s likely the only one who teaches spin-classes after work… 

Amy King (@GlamSci) is a chemistry teacher, owner of a small business and one of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 175 faces of chemistry. She’s also studying an undergraduate degree in chemistry with the Open University. Amy named her company “Glam Sci” after endlessly being told she was too glamorous to be a scientist, and has used it as a platform to make science fun in greater London schools.

Our final panelist, Mary Sarfas, is just beginning her STEM journey- she’s hoping to study biological sciences after finishing her studies at the American School. Mary’s friends have questioned why she wants a career in STEM – is it for the money? Is it for the men? She’s sick of hearing it – she wants to make a difference in the world.

During the discussion, we focused on the King’s College London ASPIREs report, the IOP’s Girls in Physics research and the Royal Society’s Shut Down or Restart review of Computer Science in schools. Carole also introduced us to a piece of research she became fascinated by during her undergraduate physics degree – when young girls do well in homework, they think they’re just ‘lucky’, whereas boys think they ‘worked hard and achieved it’. We discussed the government’s efforts to alleviate the decline in A-Level physics entries, which has cost tens of millions of pounds and never been based on evidence. Instead of ploughing money into shallow engineering competitions, the panel decided more should be done to support teachers and encourage more into the profession. Despite the colour scheme surrounding us on the day, Amy and the panel agree that science doesn’t need to become more “girly” to appeal to girls. Instead, we need to develop the resilience and confidence of all young people starting in primary school, and encourage them to step-up, take on challenging subjects and feel satisfied for hard work.

Despite the slightly unusual environment of a council room in Kensington Town Hall, the discussion was electric from the start. In our audience were ScienceGrrls from across the capital, including a future coder from Holland Park school, who is 1 of only 4 girls in her 26-person class. We’ve obviously got work to do.


About the author: Dr Jess Wade a researcher in the Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London and Senior Outreach Officer at King’s College London. Jess is an educational consultant for the Institute of Research in Schools and sits on the WISE Young Women’s Board and the Institute of Physics South East Branch Committee. @jesswade