Podcasts by Scientists: I Belong Here
In the next in our Podcasts by Scientists series, we shine the spotlight on I Belong Here! Created by Dr Noelia D Falcon, a senior research associate at the School of Pharmacy, University of East Anglia, UK, this fantastic new interview series aims to showcase and share the stories of women in STEM from all around the world.
We spoke to Noelia to find out more about the podcast and how it all came about.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about your background as a scientist?
Noelia: I am a Senior Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the School of Pharmacy, UEA, in Norwich. I work in Dr Aram Saeed’s Lab, and our research is based on tissue engineering and biomaterials. We combine polymeric scaffolds, cells, and biologically active molecules into functional implants or grafts. The goal is to repair or restore damaged tissue in the body, for example, tendons or bones. The platforms we create in the lab could also be used for drug screening and the development of in vitro models. I have always been interested in science; it is the best job in the world! I did my BSc in Marine Sciences and my MRes in Biomedicine back in my country of origin, Spain. Then I moved to the UK around 6 years ago, to get some work experience and eventually my PhD. My background is mostly in biology and molecular biology. However, I am now well immersed in biomaterials science, and I just love merging the two worlds. It is fascinating to create a material and study its effects on cells or on a particular therapeutic target.
How did the podcast come about?
Noelia: My interest in Women in Science movements has always been tangible. I am lucky enough to work in an environment that supports me as a scientist regardless of my gender, but I know other colleagues do not run the same fortune. One day, on my way to work, I was scrolling down my Twitter feed, and I realised that I follow a lot of amazing women scientists. They are spread across the world, they do fantastic research, and they work hard for their beliefs, and I realised I wanted to know their stories, and most importantly, to share them. That is when I thought about founding the podcast, entitled “I Belong Here”. I wanted to create an accessible platform in which I could interview women across the globe, with assorted stories, backgrounds, gender assignments, skin colours, and academic or industrial positions. The first aim of the podcast is to let my guests share their stories. I want to be a part of telling the world how amazing and successful they are, despite any bias against them. The second aim of the podcast is to inspire the next generation of girls who are dreaming of being a scientist, but they think they might not fit in. I hope they see themselves reflected in the women I interview, because each woman is an example of a successful scientist. These women are diverse, they have different backgrounds, and have been going through different challenges, therefore I hope the podcast serves as a pool of inspiration for all those little girls and young women who listen to us. The podcast also has two excellent male ambassadors. They are the perfect example of male colleagues who believe in the incorporation of women in STEM jobs, and not only do they advocate for it, but they try to understand and listen to us too.
Is this the first podcast you have produced?
Noelia: Yes, it is, I am a podcast newbie. And let me tell you, I am terrible with technology! So, it was quite intimidating to prepare everything and launch the initiative. It is also difficult to study audio quality and edit the episodes. But like everything in life, it is a learning curve! And I am enjoying it so much.
Who is the podcast aimed at?
Noelia: Honestly, anyone that wants to listen to fantastic stories from the marvellous guests I have. Nonetheless, the podcast is particularly designed for the next generation of female scientists. I don’t want any girl or young woman to feel they don’t belong in science, because they have never seen someone who looks like them or has a similar background to them. Hence, I hope they find inspiration in the diverse role models I wish to showcase.
Why is it important to you to celebrate women in scientific roles?
Noela: Strangely, even nowadays women face gender bias in science. It’s been happening for decades, but one should think we are progressing. Although I think things are moving forward and people are more vocal and aware about the many situations a woman can face, we need to do more as a community. Women are capable of fantastic things, and our voices deserve to be heard. It is outrageous to think a female scientist will perform worse than a male colleague, or have fewer capabilities as a leader, or scarcer opportunities because of motherhood. This causes a massive gender breach, and if we are not careful, the next generation could be raised in an environment that automatically makes them think they do not belong in STEM jobs. Therefore, as a community, I think we need to do more to include women in STEM and celebrate those who are rocking it. This is what I wanted to do in the first place with this podcast. We need to raise awareness and showcase great examples of scientific role models, so that the next generation is encouraged to access STEM jobs and feels welcome!
Who are your female role models in science?
Noelia: Many! Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Chien-Shiung Wu, Alice Ball… I could go on for hours. But I must say that all the women I have interviewed so far have become my role models too. What an impressive gathering of inspiring women!
Which has been your favourite episode so far?
Noelia: That’s a very difficult choice! I have been immensely amazed by all the women I have interviewed. They all are incredibly inspiring, and I am so proud of each of them. The male ambassadors of this podcast have also been a huge source of inspiration and learning. I am afraid I can’t pick one!
If you could interview absolutely anybody, who would be your dream podcast guest?
Noelia: Wow, that would be Jane Goodall, without a doubt. She has been a role model to many generations, and she has always been very present in my career. She is so tenacious, and she loved her work so much despite the “impositions” that were going on back then. I would need to take a chill pill before the interview though!
What are your plans for the podcast long-term?
Noela: I want to keep running this podcast for as long as I can. For now, I have guests lined up until the end of this year, which blows my mind! I have so many ideas to do special episodes, such as interviews with other women in science organisations, or even with other podcasters. It is growing well so far, these things take time, nonetheless, but the podcast has been well-received, so I expect it will keep growing the more episodes I upload.
What advice would you give to other scientists who are keen to get into podcasting?
Noelia: I would say define the idea very well, something that you see people engaging with. I had a clear vision about my message, and the structure/aesthetics of the podcast kind of came afterwards. I think one should dedicate time to whatever their passion calls for, and the idea of the podcast is thus very important. Also, have someone around to help you with technology if you are as hopeless as I am with fancy equipment and software! And finally, invest in a decent microphone at the beginning. It does not have to be super fancy, just a basic podcast microphone that will allow you to record pristine conversations.
Aside from I Belong Here, which other science-themed podcasts would you recommend?
Noelia: Great question! Off the top of my head, “Her Royal Science” is a very good podcast. Dr Asma Bashir celebrates minoritized individuals in STEM, and it has helped me so much to understand the themes she navigates. “Research in plain English podcast” is also a very cool idea. Danny Ward explains published scientific papers in an accessible way in less than 10 minutes! How cool is that? And “The Stem Cell Podcast” is one of my favourites. My research is largely based in stem cells, hence this podcast is great to listen to.
How can our readers listen to your podcast?
Connect with Dr Noelia D Falcon:
Connect with the I Belong Here podcast:
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