Professor Sophie Scott on neuroscience and stand-up comedy

I met with Professor Sophie Scott, Deputy Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of the University College London to talk to her about her career in science and ask for her thoughts on the subject of confidence.

She told me about research of her colleague, professor of psychology Adrian Furhnam, which revealed that whilst on average men and women are fairly equal in terms their IQ, women tend to underestimate their scores and men perceive their IQ to be higher than what it really is.

It’s remarkable, but not surprising. Sophie herself never thought of a career in academia, until her tutor suggested she considers doing a PhD. She found that research really suited her. Her work has been focussing on the neurobiology of speech perception and evolution of speech. She is also interested in laughter and its many social functions.

“I absolutely love what I do: it never ceases to fascinate me how our behaviour can be explained in a consistent, scientific way.”

Sophie concedes that in research, as in corporate institutions, women don’t put themselves forward but things are changing. The Royal Holloway College of the University of London has now established a rule among its academics who have to nominate themselves for promotion every year. Other Colleges have career surgeries, opening up opportunities within research.

Since I met Sophie at a public speaking event, I had to asked her whether she was naturally confident to go on stage or whether it was an acquired skill.

“I used to be terrified of public speaking even when I enjoyed it. I then came across the UCL’s Bright Club, where UCL researchers become stand-up comedians for the night.”

The club offers performance skills training for the unlikely comics, but confidence is something you just have to wear on the night.

“Sometimes you have to make yourself do things you’re uncomfortable with and then it gets natural and easy.”

I fear Sophie got hooked on stand-up comedy. She now regularly appears on science comedy panels, participates in comedy festivals such as Festival of the Spoken Nerd and Sceptics in the Pub.

What can you do with Ladies Who Impress? They may underestimate themselves but they deliver and then some.



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