Humboldtians in Private

Bridging the Gap

By Carolina Doran, recorded by Teresa Havlicek

In the picture you can see me at Tempelhof Field in Berlin preparing for a Soapbox Science event I was helping to organise. Soapbox Science takes science to a broader public and makes female scientists more visible: women present their research at the events, in public spaces where many people pass by; they give short talks using simple language that is easy for the general public to understand.

Carolina Doran
Carolina Doran (Photo: Humboldt Foundation / Nikolaus Brade)

Soapbox Science was inspired by Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, a London tradition, which is also where Soapbox Science originated. In Germany, too, the speakers stand on wooden boxes like the one I’m carrying in the picture. The Tempelhof Field event in 2017 was the first of its kind in Germany. I initiated it after coming to Germany from the UK as a postdoc.

For me, it’s perfectly natural to get involved in something like this: I believe a certain basic understanding of science is absolutely essential for a healthy society. The gap between what people think scientists do and what they really do is often huge. To help bridge it, we scientists have to communicate more about how we work and what we are working on. This empowers people to be more critical in their own judgments. If you know something about science you are in a better position to question how serious someone is being when they claim to know, for instance, how we can cure every form of cancer in the next ten years.

The gender aspect is very important to me. There is still a great need for information on the topic. I experienced this myself. I have always been interested in the role of women in science, but I had never really looked at the facts and figures and didn’t realise the dimensions extent of the inequality until the Equality Act came into force in the UK in 2010. Since then, universities have been required to disclose what they are doing about gender equity as well as ethnic and religious equality. This initiative really opened my eyes – for example about the distribution of roles in lab teams, that it is not actually a given that the women in the team should automatically do the admin or even make the coffee, things I had always accepted in the past. That’s what I like so much about Soapbox Science: women’s role is exclusively to present their research.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 109/2018

The Portuguese-Brazilian biologist Carolina Doran is a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin. Prior to that, she completed her doctorate at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom.