Cambridge Science Festival

This is a guest post by Brianne Kent, who is a Gates scholar at the University of Cambridge where she is researching the neurobiological basis of memory.

Each year, the University of Cambridge hosts a two week science festival that welcomes 30,000 visitors and hosts over 250 events. The aim of the festival is to provide “the public with opportunities to explore and discuss issues of scientific interest and concern and to raise aspirations by encouraging young people to consider a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.”

This year we presented the She Blinded Me With Science collaboration in the Department of Psychology. The Violet Transmission/Science Grrl music video was projected on a large screen at the back of the room and played continuously throughout the day. We also had individual monitors playing the interviews with the ScienceGrrls that appeared in the music video. Visitors were able to listen to the music video or the interviews through headphones hooked up to the display.

Cambridge Science Festival ScienceGrrlThe department had a constant stream of people coming to learn about the research happening in Cambridge. The day started with an older crowd of adults but as the day went on, more and more young children visited the department.

Most of the other displays were put together by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and used educational games to teach the visitors about a wide range of topics such as the Stroop Effect, autism, social networks, implicit learning, and how feelings of disgust can affect decisions of morality.

The #SheBlindedMeWithScience display was a big hit and attracted listeners of all ages. As one of the visitors remarked, “It is great to see the young girls listening to the interviews. They get to see that women in science careers are normal women. They are just like women in any other type of career. This is such an important message for both girls and boys to receive at an early age”. Comments like these were repeated throughout the day, such as when an older woman said candidly “It is a wonderful message that you don’t need to be frumpy to be a scientist. These women in the video are feminine and have big brains”.

One mother who had brought her young son to the Science Festival praised the mission of the project. She said that it is “amazing how much implicit bias there is about gender,” and even though her and her husband tried to avoid it, her son picked up on normative gender expectations at a very early age. She continued by saying, “It is so important for young children to see real women in science careers. By the time they are teenagers, it is too late, they already have it in their heads that there are boy careers and girl careers”.

Another woman visiting the display explained that her neighbour’s young daughter who was exploring the festival with her, wants to be a scientist when she grows up. She said that this is because the young girl knows female scientists, and thinks that “she likely would not have that ambition if she didn’t know a woman scientist.”

Brianne Kent

Brianne Kent

Overall, the exhibit was a great success. However, the coordinator of the event has urged us to take it to “the next level” next year and make it more interactive because children don’t enjoy sitting still and watching videos. Is there a way to make the interviews and music video more interactive? Will there be #SheBlindedMeWithScience computer game in the future?

Brianne Kent @Brianne_Kent