Meet Nathalie Pettorelli, co-founder of Soapbox Science

Nathalie Pettorelli is a scientist moving mountains in the conservation community and is also a fantastic science communicator. She talks to ScienceGrrl’s Jessica Simpson about working with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), her opportunities for creativity and Soapbox Science; a face-to-face initiative she co-founded to encourage interaction between scientists (many of whom are woman) and the public.

What does your job entail at the Institute of Zoology?

Nathalie Pettorelli Soapbox Science

I am a scientist working at the Institute of Zoology, the research branch of the Zoological Society of London. My job is about figuring out how to make use of the wealth of cool technology available to us to inform conservation science. I’m particularly interested in how to make a better use of satellite data to advance ecological science and environmental management.

What is the best part of your job?

There’s so many! Traveling to incredible places and meeting new people and new cultures, having no routine, the opportunity to be creative, to develop my own ideas and projects (to take responsibility for these) and the opportunity to do something useful to more than just me.

Did you always want to be a scientist and what steps did you take to get where you are today?

Not at all. When I grew up, I had no idea that the job I do now existed. I chose science at high school in France because this was the best way not to have to specialise. I was interested in philosophy, languages, history and geography as well as STEM topics and didn’t want to have to drop anything. I ended up registering in Biology at University, as this was one of my favourite disciplines. There, I started to learn about ecology and being a scientist and got really interested. I therefore pursued a MSc in ecology and modelling in Paris, and then started a PhD in population dynamics in Lyon. After the PhD, I went to Norway and Canada for my post-docs, and eventually ended up taking a position at the Institute of Zoology in 2006.

As co-founder of Soapbox Science, why is your work important to you?

Soapbox Science is unique in so many ways; it’s a science communication event that reaches out to people who wouldn’t choose to hear about science. It does so by invading busy streets, away from the old amphitheatres and lecture rooms, trying to open up a dialogue between scientists and the general public. Importantly, it challenges the perception that science is done by old men, and that women have no place in the STEM community by specifically showcasing the fantastic work done by female scientists all over the UK.

I’m extremely proud of Soapbox Science. It’s important to me because it supports the vision I have for the STEM community I belong to; a diverse, egalitarian, collaborative and communicative one.

What would be your advice to young people interested in a science career?

There is no rule as to what a scientist should look like or what he/she should be good at. We are all doing things our own way, contributing to increasing general knowledge on our own terms. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough, that this isn’t for you, that you should do something else. And if you are not sure that this is the career choice for you, then just reach out and talk to a scientist – you’d be surprised how many live just round the corner.