Opportunity knocks for Woman scientists: maximise your voice

By Karen Halsall (PhD Researcher in Geography and Planning)

Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE

Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the new presenter of the Sky at Night

For me, giving presentations is a nerve-racking experience. Although it could be worse, according to Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the new presenter of the Sky at Night, En Hudu Anan, the first woman Astronomer and Babylonian High Priestess had to wear a beard when presenting her studies on the stars so that she looked more like a man. Personally, I am always keen to improve my presentation skills and have often resorted to hiding behind rustling papers and a plethora of PowerPoint slides but perhaps a beard would be one step too far! So I was very pleased to receive a grant from Athena Swan (Charter for women in science: Recognising commitment to advancing woman’s careers in STEMM academia http://www.athenaswan.org.uk) to attend a one day course led by Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Screenhouse Film Company.

The day was in two sections; the morning was spent listening to Maggie and the producer presenting very useful and insightful information into some of the pitfalls and highlights of ‘being on the telly’ with clips of various science experts on news programmes. We also heard that women are currently being sought after by journalists to comment on topical science stories. One of the delegates at the course said she was already promoting herself in this way to the chagrin of her colleagues as she was away from her desk so much! During the afternoon, we were filmed 3 times presenting a 90 second story of our own choosing – no script mostly off the cuff talking. We got feedback after each review on how to improve speech pace, energy and non-verbal skills. This was very useful. I practiced controlling the talk by leaving a few seconds silence between sections (also a useful opportunity to breathe). We talked about the merits of gesticulating and I found that it’s OK to let your arms/hands join in.

So why, you may be asking, is this women only course necessary? Recent research has highlighted that many young female students are not choosing science subjects at A Level. Maggie said “This is because there can be a lack of female role models in schools and that some female students have misconceptions about science being for people who are socially inept”. (Maggie works freelance as a Science Communicator promoting science in schools). So this course was set up to encourage/train more female scientists to stick their head above the parapet and discuss their newsworthy scientific research in a way that is understandable to non-experts.

The day encouraged us to look for opportunities to become more media savvy. For example; by presenting at science fairs, writing press releases and writing blogs (e.g. www.thewomensroom.org.uk/ and www.hersay.co.uk). We gained an insight into the work of a currently sought after scientific expert, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and I picked up some useful tips that will (hopefully) improve my presentations. So it was all together a useful day that I would recommend to other women. It has certainly encouraged me to look out for opportunities to share my research with a wider audience and the value of being skilled in interpreting and communicating complex scientific concepts to non-experts; so thank you Athena Swan! .

Athena Swan (Charter for woman in science: Recognising commitment to advancing woman’s careers in STEMM academia) supported me by paying for registration and travel through a competitive application. Are you already media savvy? If you are not like Professor Alan King and more like Maggie in this News Night clip then now is the time to be an opportunist!

Too short but such a valuable experience – A visit to Liverpool from Brazil


My experience in Liverpool was without doubt an incredible one. When I first arrived at Manchester airport, the first thing that really caught my attention was the strong accent. From the first moment, it didn’t sound like English, but maybe a mix of other languages all together. For a while, it was the most difficult aspect for me. Now I am almost finished I almost always understand what liverpuldians say, but it is time to go back to Brazil!

I have spent four months in Liverpool as a visiting MSc student from Sao Paulo, working in the Department of Geography and Planning with Dr Neil Macdonald. It has been a really valuable experience; I am leaving with much more than just the academic knowledge, but everything else I have learnt and experienced. In only four months it was possible to learn about the culture, life, behaviour, cooking (the second most difficult point for me), thinking, and the most important – how people can be receptive in a foreign country. The University environment is really pleasant, the staff and students are friendly and committed – almost every day they have some time together for tea and usually they share cake. I have found this really helpful in learning about the people, research and developed some strong friendships. Moreover, the experience as a postgraduate student in the University of Liverpool made me feel valued, as I could work with the different research groups and have different experiences and it helped me become more intellectually mature.

“The city is magic”! It does rain quite often (relative to Brazil anyway), in the beginning it was really weird for me, but I have become familiar with the weather over time. In my country, if it is raining we don’t do anything outdoors; it means that is not possible to take a walk outside, because the rain is short and much heavier than here. An aspect of the weather that really surprised was the temperature; before coming I was scared I would become sick because of the low temperatures, but I was wrong! I felt really pleasant, even though I had never lived in this sort of climate, it was easy to adpat. That’s exactly what makes this city seem magic.

One regret is not having enough time to see more of the UK. This country has a lot natural beauty that should makes fieldwork a fantastic experience. During my time in the UK I have been able to travel around much of Europe, having visited Edinburgh and London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris and Rome.

Liverpool has a great nightlife –  I’ve never seen before a city with this amount of pubs and bars. I loved it! Even if the temperature of the beer is higher than I am used too!

Lucinete Ferreira de Andrade