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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 31 May, 2016

‘No limitations’: Ireland’s top women scientists gather to showcase their work

A free event happening in Dublin today aims to get more girls and young women interested in the field.

Young woman scientist
Young woman scientist

SOME OF IRELAND’S top female scientists will take over the front square at Trinity College Dublin this morning to get the public talking about the subject.

Soapbox Science, which is free to attend, will take place at the univeristy from 12-3 pm today.

The event was launched in London in 2011 and this year marks the first time it has been expanded to other cities.

Aside from Dublin, sister soapboxes will also take place in Swansea and Bristol.

Yvonne Buckley is the chair of Zoology at TCD – she is the first woman to hold the position. Her presentation at today’s event will explore the interaction between animals and plants.

Buckley said there is an equal gender split in terms of students and staff at TCD’s Zoology department. However, she noted that a big decline in numbers occurs when women go for their first academic job.

Women look at the career and don’t see that many successful women.

She said there is “lots of pressure” on women to combine work and motherhood as the time they need to “accelerate their career coincides with their last chance to have children”, often leading to them choosing an alternative job.

I’ve got a young daughter and it’s only since I’ve had children I see how much gender plays a role in children’s lives and how sometimes it can limit them.

She noted that cartoons often show women in more caring, maternal roles while the male characters get to be businessmen, doctors and engineers.

“We need to change the way we think about women and what it means to be successful.”

Science Soapbox will help show girls and young women that they can “build robots and be like Indiana Jones”, Buckley said.

‘No limitations’

Erin Williams, a lecturer at UCD’s School Of Veterinary Medicine, will be giving a particularly interactive presentation to examine how important cow health and fertility are for the production of safe milk.

Williams said that the public have a general interest in dairy farming from a consumer point of view.

She will be encouraging people to unleash their inner vet and roll up their sleeves to guess what household items have been hidden “up the backside of a cow”. (Don’t worry, it’s of the papier-mâchè variety.)

Veterinary often comes down to “feeling and not seeing”, Williams explained.

shutterstock_126089306 Cow on a summer pasture Source: Shutterstock

She said that when people think of scientists they usually picture “older gentlemen with fuzzy hair and glasses working away in an underground lab”.

Women who show ambition can be seen in a negative way, not always intentionally – it’s ingrained in our society.

Williams noted that events like Soapbox Science are necessary to show young girls that there are “no limitations” for them in the sector.

‘Accessible and Interactive’

Other topics that will be explored today include genetics, antibiotic resistance, bird flu and how nature provides new drugs to combat diseases.

TCD’s Thomas Deane helped to organise the event. He said it will be “very accessible for the public so it’s something that kids and older people will get something from”.

“It’s not just one of these things where people get up and lecture, it’ll be very interactive,” Deane said.

“Science still has that moniker of being boring and taught in a lab by white coats … We’re breaking it down, making it accessible.”

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