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Am I too Sensitive for Science?

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Am I too sensitive for Science? A question that Dr Emily Grossman has considered on a number of occasions throughout her life. Dr Grossman, a ‘Science Communicator’, talked eloquently and passionately at Bolton School about the challenges she has faced as a woman in science – touching on confidence issues, imposter syndrome, fear of failure, unconscious bias and online misogyny - and discussing the need to dispel the out-dated stereotype that all scientists are cold, hard, unemotional... and male; a stereotype that prevents many young people, especially girls, from seeing a place for themselves in science. She explored the value of emotions in science, in both men and women, and discussed how emotional openness can lead to three Cs; compassion, collaboration and creativity - qualities that are as essential in science, and indeed any workplace, as they are in life.

Emily opened the evening by asking the public audience to describe what a scientist looks like? Male, old, mad, nerdy, thin, cold and white were just some of the adjectives used. It is vitally important, Emily stressed, that this stereotype be broken down and that young people be made aware that Science needs people from a range of backgrounds and with a range of personality types. Describing her own life journey, she said it had taken four careers and over 30 years to reach the point she is at now, where she can combine her two passions of science and acting. She told how, from an early age, she has always asked “Why?” and had wanted to be a scientist but that she had also always had a love of singing, dancing and acting too. She spoke of her gaining inspiration from her father, himself a scientist, and from her nurturing teachers, friends and family. She told the young people in the audience to try and follow a career in something that you enjoy and, if you face a choice of what to do, “do the thing first which will be hardest to come back to later in life.” Emily related how she had a crisis of confidence in her undergraduate days at Cambridge and in her PhD days at Manchester. After completing her PhD and a period in research, she went to drama school and then spent her time acting and when there was no work available, teaching science. It was not until 2013 when she was chosen for a scheme called BBC Expert Women, where she learnt media skills and gained confidence again, that her life as a science communicator began to take off.

At various points along her varied career path as a research scientist, actress, and science teacher, Emily said she wondered if Science was “not for people like me”. She explained how she was often confronted with the idea that perhaps she was “too creative, too emotional, or too sensitive for science” - a concern she had also heard expressed by many of the female students she had taught. Emily told how in 2015 she was invited to take part in a debate on Sky News, during which she supported women in science and commented that it's OK for scientists to cry. Following the interview she received a barrage of sexist and misogynistic abuse on social media. Six months later she delivered a critically acclaimed TEDx talk at UCL called "Why Science Needs People Who Cry". 

The evening ended with a question and answers session and Emily revealed details about two books she will be releasing shortly, one in September for children called “Brain Fizzing Facts” and one out next year, aimed at adults, about the Science of Love, Sex and Relationships. 

Dr Emily Grossman is an internationally acclaimed science author, public speaker and TV personality. She is an expert in molecular biology and genetics, with a Double First in Natural Sciences from Queens' College Cambridge and a PhD in cancer research. Emily has also trained and worked as an actress and singer, and as a maths and science teacher. She now combines her skills as a science broadcaster, writer, educator and trainer. She is best known as a science expert on Sky1’s celebrity panel show "Duck Quacks Don’t Echo". You can learn more about Dr Grossman's work and the talks she offers in schools here – or follow her on Twitter @DrEmilyGrossman


This evening presentation was part of an ongoing series Arts and Sciences Enrichment Lectures hosted by the Girls' Division. Click here to view the full programme of events for 2018/19.

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