Science is for everyone, and no one should be bullied for living and sharing their passion.
February 10, 2021
In November 2020, as part of the Museum of Nature’s Nature Inspiration Awards, NSERC had the pleasure of presenting the Youth Award to an 11 year-old girl who is already an inspiration and a leader in the natural sciences.
Dr. Danika Goosney, NSERC Vice-President of Research Grants and Scholarships sat down, virtually, with the winner of the 2020 Youth Award, Sophia Spencer. Read the interview* between a girl and a woman who both share a passion for science and encouraging girls and women to pursue their interest in natural sciences and engineering.
Danika: I wanted to mention at NSERC how important we think it is and how exciting it is to promote science and engineering to students like yourself. I get super excited about what kind of possibilities studying science and engineering open up. So I’m really, really happy to meet you because you have been doing such a phenomenal job at getting other kids excited about science.
Sophia: Thank you.
I also wanted to congratulate you on your award. It is such an honour to meet you. I really am looking forward to talking with you and hearing more about your story. So to start with, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you became interested in science?
It started when I was 2 ½ years old, I went to a butterfly conservancy which is like a zoo for butterflies, and a butterfly landed on my shoulder and I thought it was so cool. I like how detailed they looked and how you could tell what they were doing and what they were thinking.
Since then, I’ve always been the odd one out at school because whenever there is a spider in class I’m always saying no, don’t kill it, put it in a cup. Everyone’s like why, it’s just a spider. I’m like well yeah, you got to save it.
When I went into grade one I had switched schools from kindergarten and it just wasn’t the same there because I wasn’t there when I was younger and when it first happened. So no one liked me for it, everyone would bully me for it. They would say that I was gross and that I was weird and at some point I just told my mom I don’t want to like bugs anymore.
So for a while I was really bummed out and sad because even when I stopped liking them I was still getting bullied for it. I got called really hateful names at school and one day I came home from school and my mom told me she wrote a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada. Then a few days later they contacted us and Morgan Jackson asked if they could post this online to get the attention of entomologists and women across the world.
After a few days the tweets and the messages and the videos started just pouring in, people from the different side of the world saying it’s okay to like bugs, keep up your passion and that really encouraged me.
Then, almost four years ago, the book company contacted me and said we’d like to make a book about your story and me and my mom were both like yeah, that would be incredible. So four years later my book got published, a few days after my birthday which was really cool. I still think its super cool today.
I think all of us are very impressed by that. So when you got all of these letters and videos and tweets coming in, how did that make you feel to know that there was that many people supporting you?
It made me feel much more encouraged because I realized just because these 20 kids at school think that it’s not cool to do this one thing that I think is cool, that doesn’t mean that everyone thinks it’s bad. So I was way happier after that, I wasn’t as sad all the time.
Ah, that’s really good. So what made you decide to write the book? It was such a great opportunity I know but were there other things going on that made you decide?
Well there was a few things, but one of the biggest things was I wanted to get my story out there, I wanted to get my story to people who hadn’t seen the messages and the tweets and I was super excited for it because I wanted for other kids that had hobbies, other things that people consider weird or not normal to know that there’s other people out there who like the things you like.
You love your bugs. When you grow up do you think this is something that you’re going to be studying as a career? Is this something you’d like to do?
I would say at the moment yes, but you know my hobbies change all the time. But right at this moment I’d say yeah, my passion is still for bugs, I would love to study bugs when I’m older.
I studied bugs but they were bacteria, so not the same thing but I really loved bacteria. I’ve seen your media coverage, it’s phenomenal. You’ve talked to your classmates and students around the world. What message do you want to get across to students like you to remember your experience?
My message to kids out there that have seen my story or haven’t would be don’t give up what you love, don’t give up your passion. It might be hard to think that these kids might be thinking what’s the point, I’d rather have friends, I’d rather be liked than keep doing what I love, but it’s not going to help, you’re still going to be miserable giving up what you love.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and your leadership in showing that science is for everyone, and that no one should feel alone or bullied for their love of bugs or for any other interests that they have. You really have inspired me so thank you. Congratulations again, and I wish you all the best for years to come!
Learn more about Sophia and her story through the book she co-authored, The Bug Girl, and by following #BugsR4Girls on Twitter.