A young woman sits at a table and smiles at the camera. She has an information leaflet lying in front of her.
Sarah Sauvé is one of the organizers of the Soapbox Science NL event on Saturday at the St. John’s Farmers Market. Soapbox Science NL aims to foster female and gender diverse scientists and their research. (Henrique Wilhelm/CBC)

Raise awareness about the gender gap in science and reach a wider audience for women-led research. That was the goal of the event held at the St. John’s Farmers Market on Saturday.

This was arranged by Soapbox Science Newfoundland and Labrador, who want to promote their research with female and gender-diverse scientists.

Co-organizer Sarah Sauvé said the need for gender equality in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and medicine) is a key message, especially here in the state.

“Newfoundland and Labrador are among the regions with the widest gender gaps in science.They have the least gender diversity,” said Sauvé.

Soapbox Science NL will virtually launch in 2020, modeled after its UK counterpart founded in 2011.

The platform was named after the concept of that event. A speaker literally stands on a soapbox and addresses a wide audience.

“The idea is to put science in the spotlight for women and gender diverse people, and bring science directly to the public,” Sauvé said of Saturday’s event.

Eight female scientists spoke about their respective areas of research, spanning everything from gut microbiome to cancer and heart disease.

One of the speakers was Francine Burke. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in neuroscience at Memorial University’s St. Her Johns campus.

Burke joined Soapbox Science NL to introduce her work as a female scientist to a wider audience outside of academia.

A woman in a white coat stands on a wooden soapbox and leans against a sign in front of her that says Sevtap Savas. She looks at an elderly woman in front of her.
At the Soapbox Science NL event at the St. John’s Farmers Market, eight female scientists literally stood on or next to a wooden soap box discussing their research. Researcher Sevtap Savas, pictured here talking to her visitors, was at the event to discuss her research on cancer. (Henrique Wilhelm/CBC)

“Women are underrepresented in science,” Burke said. “It’s really important for us women to come together at public events like this to show everyone what we can do.”

She says she experienced the gender gap first-hand in a science class at university.

“Especially when you go to college…there are hundreds of people in the class, and I’ve been underrepresented as a woman in those courses,” Burke said. In the harder sciences and the harder mathematics courses.”

According to Burke, the platform is a network that empowers women and gender-diverse scientists.

“It’s great to be with a group of like-minded, hard-headed women who are genuinely interested in what they do and are extremely passionate about why they’re doing it,” says Burke. said.

A young woman appears to step away from the camera.
Francine Burke is completing her master’s degree in neuroscience from Memorial University in St. John’s. Burke, she says, was told when she was a teenager that she couldn’t be a neuroscientist. Now she wants young people to know that she can be anything she wants to be. (Henrique Wilhelm/CBC)

According to Sauvé, male dominance in science has long been a problem.

“Historically, many people have been deliberately alienated from science,” says Sauvé. “But we want to change that, and it’s changing… It’s important to have different perspectives. The more diverse perspectives you have, the more you discover.” ”

Some studies suggest that the gender gap in science is narrowing in some countries, Sauvé said. She emphasizes that the biggest gaps are not found at the college admissions level, but in what is called the “leaky pipeline” for higher degrees.

Suspicion from others as a teenager could not stop Burke from pursuing his dreams. Now she wants to encourage young women and people of all gender diversity to do the same.

“Sometimes people laughed at me. Others said I couldn’t make my dreams come true,” she said.

“I think boys are sometimes told, ‘You should do bigger things,’ and that’s absolutely not true.”

Read more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador



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