Swansea professor gets on her Soapbox to promote women in science

Hilary Lappin-Scott, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Microbiology at Swansea University, has been on her soapbox – literally – to promote the cause of women in science.

Professor Lappin-Scott has just taken part in Soapbox Science, an annual public science communication event that transforms London’s South Bank into an arena for public learning and scientific debate. She was one of six distinguished women academics chosen to take part in the 2013 event and take to their soapboxes to talk passionately about their subjects and answer questions from the public.

“I read the tweets and blogs from Soapbox Science last year and thought it was such a cool idea! I found myself wishing that I could be there and I decided that day that I would apply to be part of it in 2013. I feel really lucky to have been chosen,” said Professor Lappin-Scott, whose talk for the event was entitled “From gums to bums, bacteria through the body”.

“It was really hard work – I had never addressed an audience like that before, in a large public space – but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was great to be part of something so positive. As well giving me the chance to communicate about microbiology, which I am passionate about, this event is so important because it showcases women in science.

“When I was growing up and decided I wanted a career as a scientist, there weren’t any female role models to inspire me, and later on when I was studying there were generally only one or two female academics in a department. That is changing now but we still need to do more.”

Professor Lappin-Scott has now become a role model herself, having juggled a family while getting to the top of the career ladder. She was the President of the Society for General Microbiology (SGM) from 2009-2012: this makes her the first female President of the SGM to be elected in 65 years and only the second ever female President of the Society.

She said: “When I started as a scientist I decided that the best way to encourage more women into science was to be as strong a role model as I could be and show that there are plenty of opportunities for women to succeed too. However the loss of females from the ‘talent pipeline’ is such an increasing concern to me that I feel I need to do more and am committed to do so.

“I consider it is a big part of my job, and a huge privilege, to mentor younger female scientists. I have the lead role for Swansea University as the Equality and Diversity Champion, and initiated the same role for the Society for General Microbiology. I have to ensure that I make a difference in both of these roles and events like Soapbox Science help me to do that.”