From a single event in London just nine years ago, Soapbox Science is now an international occasion for women to talk about their science and how they got to where they are today.

  • 28
  • JUN
  • 2018

Helen Metcalfe is putting on her lab coat this Saturday lunchtime, 30 June, and mounting a soapbox in the middle of a busy shopping centre to talk about her work with weeds and about her journey to a life in agricultural science.

Helen is a postdoctoral research scientist working at Rothamsted Research where she creates models of ecosystems to understand the effects of farming practices on the environment.

On Saturday, she is one of a dozen women at the annual Soapbox Science event in Milton Keynes shopping centre, each talking for an hour from four points in Middleton Hall between Noon and 3pm. Other topics range from astrobiology to recycling, from aerodynamics to child development.

“I have always been curious but not only about science,” she says. “At school, I loved reading and, when it came to choosing my A levels, I hedged my bets and did two sciences and two languages. From there, I went on to do a biology degree and never looked back.”

Helen Metcalfe Credit: Rothamsted ResearchSoapbox Science: Helen Metcalfe mounts a soapbox on Saturday to talk about weeds and how she got to where she is today

On her soapbox, Helen will be talking about her work with weeds, and why they are not always the bad guys, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Some weeds support wildlife on farms, which encourages a more diverse ecosystem and can bring benefits to farmers too,” she says.

Soapbox Science was started in London in 2011 by two women, Nathalie Pettorelli, now a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Zoology, and Seirian Sumner, now a Reader in Behavioural Ecology at University College London.

In 2014, the programme expanded to three extra locations, in Dublin, Swansea and Bristol; in 2015, there were 10 locations in the British Isles; by 2017, there were 19 events in five counties; and this year, there are 26 events across the globe, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden and the US.

“The aim is to promote women in science and also to bring your research to a public audience,” says Laura Crook, another weed ecologist at Rothamsted who climbed her soapbox at Milton Keynes in 2016. “Soapbox Science involves only women, and they are from all career stages.”

Nearly 600 scientists have taken part in Soapbox Science since 2011, and more than 50,000 people have attended the events. In a survey in 2014, nearly three quarters of those questioned thought it was important to know how science affected their lives, and nearly as many wanted scientists to spend more time discussing the social and ethical implications of their work.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.