Nova Scotia

Downtown Halifax 'soapbox' event showcases women in science

Soapbox Science showcased some of the research women in Nova Scotia are pursing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Girls urged to not to drop math and science heading into high school, 'to keep those doors open'

Jennifer Parker brought her six-year-old daughter, Madelyn Hanscomb, to Saturday's event promoting women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). (Emma Davie/CBC)

Standing on wooden boxes along Halifax's waterfront Saturday morning, 12 women in science spoke about everything from cancer research to pipelines and energy.

The Soapbox Science event showcased some of the research women in Nova Scotia are pursing related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

It also gave the hundreds of people headed to the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market on Saturday cause to stop and learn.

Dr. Paola Marignani with Dalhousie University speaks to the crowd at Soapbox Science on Saturday. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Jennifer Parker was there with her two young children on Saturday. She works in science and knows that women are still underrepresented in the field.

"I think supporting women to go into science, into other areas of STEM ... is really important and I think it's important to start young and to keep career options open for all of our kids, especially our young girls," she said.

"As a woman scientist myself, we face different barriers that other people may or may not [realize], but I hope events like this may change things."

Her six-year-old daughter, Madelyn Hanscomb, is already showing an interest in science, Parker said.

"They do lots of science experiments in school. She recently released butterflies this week and she's really interested in all areas of science."

Dr. Sarah Wells of Dalhousie University's school of biomedical engineering says she wants to see more girls pursue STEM subjects. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Dr. Sarah Wells with Dalhousie University's school of biomedical engineering said its important for both young girls and the general public "to see that these are strong, intelligent, smart women that are very proud of the work we do. We're not afraid to be scientists and to talk about our research."

Wells said while some fields, such as medicine, are seeing more women, many areas like engineering and mathematics still have few women.

But even in fields that have more women, Wells said the numbers still drop dramatically when you look at leadership positions.

"As you go up the pipeline, it's a leaky pipeline as they describe it. The number of women in leadership positions is decreasing. So it's a struggle for some fields to get female students in the programs and also to keep them in positions of leadership over time."

Wells said they hope the event will encourage more girls to think about careers in science.

"One of the things I found when we do outreach into schools, I find girls in Grade 10, 11, they're very interested in biomedical engineering, they're very enthusiastic and say, 'I'd really like to pursue this. What do I need to do?' And then in talking to them we discover that they stopped taking math in Grade 9," Well said.

"It's a concern that there's not an awareness there for girls at younger ages in particular, that they need to keep taking math and physics and chemistry, stay in all of these subjects in order to keep those doors open."