Thinking of applying to be a Soapbox Science speaker? Do it.

Soapbox Science highlights the work of female researchers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), raising their profile as well as the visibility of women in these fields. It’s a unique opportunity to for the public and researchers to interact, crucially in a location and a way that doesn’t normally happen.

Having helped to organise a few Soapboxes in Cardiff, here are my top tips if you’re thinking about applying.

Why apply?

Because you deserve to be heard. Because your research frankly kicks ass. Because your work is publicly funded (probably). Because the public don’t get many opportunities like this. Because we need more female STEM role models. Because you’ll get so much out of it. Because you matter. I could go on…

Can I do this without making an idiot of myself?

Of course you can. There’s no denying it’s daunting, exhilarating, challenging and rewarding as well as a communication model we’re completely unused to. But you’re absolutely not going to be left alone: the local organising team (organisers) will provide support and usually training and there’ll be a volunteer supporting you during your slot. You can ask someone you know to volunteer if you like. If you’re really nervous about it you could volunteer this year to see what it’s all about and apply to be a speaker next year.

The Soapbox Science Cardiff 2018 Team. We all work together to support our speakers and each other.

How should I write my application?

Imagine you’re trying to explain your research to a member of the public — don’t use acronyms you haven’t introduced and only use jargon once you’ve explained it. The organisers assessing your application and are unlikely to be experts in your field: it’s really off-putting (though not a complete deal breaker) to have to do a load of Googling before you can understand it. This suggests you haven’t thought about your audience, the most important part of any science communication.

What if I don’t get an audience?

You will, the organisers and volunteers help with that on the day. And it’s weird, once people see one or two people watching something they’ll join them: audiences accrete. There’s probably a technical term and a complete body of research for this but I’ve no idea what it is.

How do I explain my research?

This will be slightly different for everyone, but the key thing is to think about your audience, what matters to them and how they communicate. Look for the key element that links your work to people — there’s usually one somewhere — something we all share. The organisers will run training to help you with this as well as some if the practical aspects of presenting outside.

The Obee Reardon model of science communication/public engagement. Don’t worry about asking the public, there’s evidence from previous Soapboxes that the approach works well.

How do I manage without PowerPoint?

It’s actually very liberating: there’s nothing to hide behind and refreshingly no risk of death by PowerPoint. It’s an opportunity to do something a bit different, maybe get some props made or bring something from say the kitchen and put it to an unexpected use (see the pictures below). Remember you’re going to be outside so props must be potentially rain proof, can’t act as a sail if windy, everything needs to be carried and you can’t put any reagents down a street drain (they can lead straight to a local water course, things like water and fizzy drinks are fine).

You’ve got this

There are more questions than I have space for, but the organisers and Soapbox Science HQ will be more than happy to answer any questions. You can absolutely make a success of this, and it’s going to be an exciting, scary and exhilarating ride along the way. But none of this can happen unless you apply. Good luck!


Cover photo: Soapbox Science Cardiff 2017 in front of the Alliance Statue, Cardiff Central Library.

To the best of my knowledge all photos are copyright Soapbox Science Cardiff and are used by kind permission. If I’ve made an error please let me know and I will credit you/remove it.

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