– Cordon Purcell & Nicole George –
In the fall of 2016, we were both in our first year of grad school and living together in Montreal (Cordon was sleeping on a crappy air mattress in Nicole’s living room). As friends from undergrad, we were happy to both be in the same city for our next adventure; we were both beginning Master’s programs; Cordon in music therapy and Nicole in neuroscience. We helped each other transition into graduate school and deal with the events happening in the world.
We were both disheartened and distraught at the state of the U.S. election; the era of misinformation, alternative facts, fake news, mistrust of science, and the hateful rhetoric towards women, POC, LGBTQ+ and other minority groups. We spent most of our nights talking about science, women and feminist issues, and our struggles and triumphs in academia. We read Rachel Ignotofsky’s book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World and watched Hidden Figures, all while fighting back tears of inspiration and anger at how wronged these amazing women were and how they didn’t get the recognition they deserved. We joined the Women’s March in Montreal, and participated in the Pussyhat Project.
We felt a growing need to do something. We knew that we had the privilege of being white women pursuing higher education and wanted to use this to help instill positive change. We wondered: how can we use our voices to raise and support the voices of other women scientists? We chose to “rebel with art.”
We had casually tossed around the idea of a podcast potentially focused on conversations about feminist issues. We finally settled on the idea of a podcast specifically about women in science, and from there the ideas for content grew. We wanted it to focus on women in all forms of science, beyond the traditional ‘hard sciences’ of STEM. It was very important to us that the podcast be for women and by women.
In the winter of 2017, we designed a podcast called Superwomen in Science with the mission to highlight the past, present, and future of women in science. Each episode consists of a discussion section about relevant issues, a story of a past lady scientist, an interview with a current lady scientist and a section highlighting an opportunity for the next generation of women. The goal of the podcast is to increase exposure to women in science as motivation for young women entering scientific fields and to provide a supportive community for current lady scientists.
Over the past few months, we’ve launched our website and our first few episodes. It’s been an immensely rewarding journey so far, but it has also been quite the learning experience. One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced has been transparency. We both feel immense pressure to disclose that we are Master’s students and we do everything on a Mac and via Skype. On top of organizing the content for each episode, we are trying to figure out audio, social media, editing, and visuals all by ourselves. We are not professionals. Therefore, we also struggle with gaining ground and an audience. We have been warmly welcomed into the science communications community on Twitter, but are still working towards reaching a larger audience.
We recognize that it’s a learning experience, that our podcast will continue to grow and improve over time, and that our audience knows and accepts that as well.
The other main challenge we face is time. This is a wonderful project that has already grown so close to our hearts, but it takes a lot of time and energy. We are both finishing our Master’s degrees, completing our theses, and trying to find our own paths professionally. We would love to spend all of our time working on this podcast if it was possible!
Challenges aside, the podcast has been an extremely fun experience. We’re now living 2 hours apart, and working on a project we feel so passionately about has been a great way to stay connected. It’s been so wonderful to discover different grassroot projects designed for women in science and meet and connect with scientists from around the world. Each milestone still feels surreal; gaining followers, getting feedback, skyping with our first guest who wasn’t just one of our friends, and posting our first episode.
If anyone is interested in starting a similar initiative, we absolutely recommend it. We advise people to not feel too intimidated by the process, and just jump in. Find a topic you’re passionate about, and someone else who wants to listen to you talk for hours on end. We’re proof that you don’t need to be an expert with expensive equipment to begin. As academics, we both struggle with perfectionism and have found it somewhat difficult to release something out into the world when we feel it still has some problems. However, we recognize that it’s a learning experience, that our podcast will continue to grow and improve over time, and that our audience knows and accepts that as well.
In terms of future aspirations, we have a couple of plans carefully written on a dream board hidden somewhere in Nicole’s apartment. We plan on applying for science communication grants to improve our audio equipment and update our website. We would love to attend conferences on behalf of our podcast and meet other women in science. Someday, in our distant future, we hope that this podcast will open doors to public speaking opportunities, such as a live recording of the podcast or hosting a question panel, so we can reach out and connect with everyone who loves women in science. We would also love to run camps or other workshop/learning opportunities for young girls to experience science in a fun, welcoming, and approachable way. Mostly, though, we hope to do this for as long as possible. We hope that this podcast will continue until we both retire to our dog-filled houses and pass the torch on to someone else.