Getting selected for the BBC Academy’s Expert Women Day was one of the most exciting things that has happened to me in a long time, and was totally unexpected.
In September my mum sent me a link to an advert on the BBC Academy's website saying that they were looking for female experts who wanted to be TV presenters or contributors. Naturally I ignored it, thinking “I’m not good enough for this”, but after several friends tried to persuade me how perfect this was for me – I’m passionate about science and explaining it to others, have a PhD in cancer research and spent the last eight years working as a science communicator, actress, teacher and private tutor – I eventually got the hint and applied.
I was genuinely shocked to get through to the next stage, and when I read the intimidating descriptions of the other 29 terrifyingly talented women selected from over 2,000 applicants I nearly decided not to show up.
But that, I learnt, is the whole point.
According to the editors and producers who were consulted in the making of the day, when expert women are contacted and asked to contribute our knowledge or opinions, we tend to believe that we’re not expert enough, saying “ooh, it’s not quite my field, ask so-and-so down the corridor”.
It seems that if they need a female expert and they phone six, one may say yes. If they need a man, often they only need to phone one.
It’s something I’ve experienced myself. Within my first year at Cambridge I’d dropped physics and switched to biology instead, intimidated by the confidence of my fellow – predominately male – students. I later learned that I’d done better than most of the guys in the physics exam.
Even today, many of the smartest girls I tutor feel they’re not clever enough to do science. One even said that when she told her teacher she wanted to study science at A-level she was advised to do biology, as “physics and maths are for boys”.
So perhaps this is why the BBC got us there - to boost the representation of expert women in the media by giving them an injection of good old-fashioned self-belief.
The training day itself was brilliant. I’d never been surrounded by so much passion, intelligence and talent. From psychiatrists and space scientists, to architects and sociologists; everyone I met spoke engagingly and articulately about their specialist fields.
Following some inspiring talks by key industry figures and current presenters such as Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, we then went into a studio in small groups to record a Start the Week-style radio discussion.
I learnt that while preparation is key, when it comes to the crunch it’s best to leave your notes at home and just be real. I was worried I’d forget what I wanted to say but the conversation just flowed. I learnt so much from the other women around me, and we all felt that we got really helpful feedback.
Next, a great session on ‘walking and talking’ where we did a pre-prepared short piece to camera and tried not to trip over. Again, the take-home message was for us to just be ourselves, albeit an enthusiastic and heightened version.
The third session involved a mock One Show interview. Having done some camera work before I’d hoped it wouldn’t be too scary, but nothing prepared me for the terror and excitement of live TV.
Even though I’d been worried that my topic was not specifically my expert area, I realised that it didn’t stop me having something intelligent and interesting to say. It was astounding to learn that most of the other experts, who spoke so impressively and confidently on their topics, had never been in front of a camera before - and that they were just as terrified as I was.
For me, the highlight of the day was the opportunity to chat to an amazing variety of industry professionals. I even managed to pitch a few ideas to them! I’ve already got some meetings set up, so I’m excited to see what happens next.
It was a wonderful experience and I’m grateful to the BBC for offering women like me this opportunity. I came away with my confidence soaring and raring to go, and I hope other women will be encouraged to believe in their abilities and to step forward as experts and role-models for the next generation.
I can’t wait to get out there and inspire people with my passion for science. Watch this space!
Dr Emily Sidonie Grossman (@DrEmilySG) is an expert in cell biology and genetics who teaches and tutors all science subjects and maths at all levels. She specialises in using her own analogies to help visualise and explain complex scientific concepts.
Contact her via her website.
This exercise was part of the Skillset: Creative Solutions scheme, aiming to increase skills in the creative sector. UKCES has co-invested through the Employer Investment Fund, . You can read more about this project on the our website.
This article first appeared on the BBC Academy blog. Click here to read it in its original context.