Technically Speaking | a science and engineering discussion is our podcast. It's:

A unique blend of humour, fact and personal stories that is entertaining and enlightening. We might have diverse backgrounds and expertise but we‘re united by our curiosity about the world and, as trained scientists and engineers, we end up applying critical thinking skills to just about anything which leads to some oddball conversations. Our conversations uncover nuances that are sometimes overlooked, and touch on how economics, politics and society shape science and engineering as well as how these technical disciplines shape our lives. We also share personal experiences and references to pop culture to help explain our viewpoints, and these things usually become conversation starters! Sometimes we‘re funny, often we‘re opinionated, always we‘re entertaining.

Here's our proof on twitter

Our team is diverse and ever changing. There are currently 12 people in our team. Answering questions today are:

  • Laura - A freelance science writer. PhD Computational Chemistry; MSc Process Analytics; BSc Earth Science with Astronomy. Laura has also worked in the nuclear industry and done research in radiation science.
  • Antonia - A sustainability analyst in the energy sector with a degree in Chemical Engineering (for the first 2 hours).
  • Emma - Studying a degree in Physics, codes in her free time and works on a robotic arm that will play chess.
  • Ghinwa - Chemist and Chemical Engineer.

Ask us anything about:

  • how we learned to podcast
  • being a woman in a male dominated field
  • our episodes about zero waste, thermodynamics, learning to code, battery technology, nuclear energy, and more....
  • random things about science and engineering

Edit: We're going to sign off now but Emma will check for posts occasionally over the weekend. Thanks for joining us and asking questions, its been fun!

Comments: 273 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

peppernickel69 karma

What do ya'll actually science?

TechSpeak_podcast52 karma

Loads of things. Some of the team do experiments on materials to see how they perform in certain environments, others are at university learning about biochemistry or physics. Some of us do experiments outside of work. One of us is currently testing the urban myth that if you stop washing your hair it eventually washes itself. So far, we're not convinced that hypthesis is true!

[deleted]2 karma


AssaultimateSC22 karma

Did I just have a stroke?

TechSpeak_podcast4 karma

No, it was our browser that did

-alphex54 karma

There's a million podcasts, especially from people with a background in academia. What makes yours special and should make me want to check it out?

TechSpeak_podcast-19 karma

Well, before I joined the podcast as a presenter, it happens that I listened to the podcast as a listener and it catches me because it is a mix of fun and science and I could just do my morning routine and listen to a group of women motivated about sciences to a point that they want to bother talking about it in a podcast! (Ghinwa)

We are group of women with different backgrounds which makes the conversation very diverse and interesting. We are diverse in our scientific background, our cultural and social backgrounds as well as our ages! If you have a headset, listen to us while doing your morning or evening routine and let us know what you think. Cheers!

Areil2637 karma

I worked as an aerospace engineer roughly 30 years ago. When I went to school, women made up about 10% of the engineering students. Did you find that there are more women in engineering school now?

Also, I personally found that I suffered very little discrimination from being a woman, and, as a matter of fact, I feel as though I was recognized for my work more often than my male counterparts due to the fact that I stood out. That said, as a mom of two adult daughters now, it definitely feels as though issues of discrimination and harassment have gotten worse rather than better over the last 30 years. What have your experiences been regarding these things?

Thank you for taking time to answer all of these questions! I'll have to tune in to your podcast!

TechSpeak_podcast3 karma

From what we've seen it's still fairly unbalanced. Like you, we haven't personally encountered discrimination but we've heard some horror stories from others about incredibly sexist comments. We've even heard a few guys say that they prefer it when there's a woman in the room as it tones down some behaviour from men that makes them uncomfortable. It probably depends on the culture and dynamic within any given team.

JustHell024 karma

Oops, things have to be a question here

Naww, good for yooou.

Is this just self promotion or an attempt at native advertising? What makes your pod special beyond 'females"?

I'm a woman so fail to see what's being done here that hasn't already been done better by thousands of other people before

TechSpeak_podcast15 karma

This AmA is a celebration for 1 year of podcasting for us, after a challenging few years for everyone we are really happy we have continued to do this podcast in our spare time, and we have enjoyed the conversations thus far! So we wanted to see if anyone had any questions. Our podcast is special as it is special for us, and we truly enjoy conversing and talking about science in any way our minds go to.

Podcasting is now a very large space, and although you don't have to agree, we're quite proud of what we do and how we contribute to the space. We hope you can get the chance to listen and give us feedback to what you think we could be missing, we're open to constructive criticism.

3lobed22 karma

As women in what are typically male dominated fields, can you each eat 50 hard boiled eggs in 60 minutes?

TechSpeak_podcast12 karma

Hmm, none of us has ever tried and its not something we want to find out.

Joshuages214 karma

Does STEM need to come down to the level of the general public when it comes to communications? Right or wrong, people only seem to care if it's shiny. Should STEM invest more in rhetorical analysis and application and find a way to include it in ethics?

TechSpeak_podcast5 karma

Hmm but shiny is shiny so can we blame them?

A proper answer: we think STEM by large is for the benefit of humanity so it's important to keep the public informed even if the masses might not seem interested. It's kinda an ethical duty in itself, someone who doesn't spend all their time in the topic might not know what they don't know.

Not sure what rhetorical analysis is. On the basis rhetoric being the art of arguing, if you're trying to make a specific point with analysis, you may be putting bias into your results... Which we don't think is the point you're trying to make? So if you're saying we should give people shiny things with applications rather than blue sky thinking, we're in that world 😊. Research is funded towards specific problem solving but also to getting a better understanding of our world and its systems. 

rei_cirith9 karma

How did you all meet?

How do you fight that imposter syndrome? Every time I'm not 100% on my game it creeps in again. As a woman in a male dominated field I feel pressure to be stellar to 1) represent the gender, 2) not feel judged.

I had never ever felt discriminated until I've had one experience with an extremely toxic team that actively excluded me because I'm not "one of them." And the professor I made a complaint to literally just said he understood where they were coming from and that I should just smile and ask for help and I'll win them over. Now when I get emails asking me not for technical expertise, but to read test status/data storage location off a spreadsheet that's accessible to all, I can't help but wonder whether I'm getting these emails because I'm a woman, or because they think it's my job title is "secretary" and not "analyst". It's taken me years to build up the spine to stop bending over backwards to be helpful and just send auto-responses with a link to the spreadsheet. What other strategies do you gals have to set interpersonal boundaries professionally.

TechSpeak_podcast3 karma

Thanks to TigLyon for helping to answer your question about how we met. Everyone in our team has probably felt that impostor syndrome at some point and you're right, it's damn hard to ignore. We all got where we are because someone believed in us. Whoever offered us a job, gave us grant funding, or selected us to do some research did so because they recognised that we were capable. We always try to keep in mind why we got the job/funding in the first place and what we're there to achieve.

We've also occasionally had to remind other people that they are competent enough to do things like find data on a spreadsheet. Your working environment sounds pretty tough and you must be pretty hardcore to stick with it for as long as you have. It sounds like you know your worth and have gotten good at reminding yourself of it.

TigLyon8 karma

First of all, thank you for doing this AMA...I know what I am going to be binge-watching this weekend. :)

As a male in a very male-dominated field, (basically petrochem) I see a lot of exclusion anywhere from the passive to the downright obstructionist. A lot of it I feel is part of the "it's always been this way" but there is definitely plenty of "and we're gonna keep it this way"

What methods would you feel are appropriate for highlighting some of these issues in order to foster a more welcome environment for gender diversity? I am trying to avoid being patronizing as well as outright conflict. Thank you


Edit: Wow, all the stupid stuff I say that gets upvotes...and this is what gets downvoted? lol

TechSpeak_podcast4 karma

Aww thanks for being you, hope you enjoy the pod! 

For sure it's going to be a challenge to face "it's always been this way" culture. We have come across this on technical things which you can at least point to numbers. On the softer subjects like diversity, it's not as objective (but there are stats to show diversity is better) and in general people don't like to be told they are wrong. Finding allies help so you're not alone and when faced with a point you don't agree with, I ask for clarification. They might have a good reason and if they don't, I just say that's not good enough 😅 maybe that's a bit confrontational. Bearing in mind there are some people who won't change their mind so you have to choose your "battles". 

When it comes to the point that the culture is behind, it will change. We've seen it with sustainability where companies are advertising what they're doing to not fall behind.

Sorry no silver bullet but for sure we're keeping an eye out for tips. Take care of yourself! 

talltatanka8 karma

I've just subscribed, and not sure if it's answered previously, but which episode did you thoroughly enjoy participating in and creating?

Or do you have a suggested funny episode to start me off with? I'm gonna use post as a reference for my nieces' suggestion list. Thanks for doing this AMA.

TechSpeak_podcast6 karma

Hi! Thanks for your support. I really enjoyed helping to create ep21 "How easy is it to learn to code?" as I recently really got into programming and love talking about it. I really loved listening to the episodes "What are nanobots for?" and "How do you build a skyscraper?". But my best advice is to read the titles/descriptions and see what speaks to you most, as they will probably be the eps you enjoy most.

Hope you enjoy! - Emma

ImFrank6938 karma

Does being women in a male-dominated field bring about more cohesion/camaraderie with your women coworkers?

Do you have any anecdotal stories on your experiences/perspectives as women improving things at work?

How did you go about starting your podcast? Learning, coming up with ideas, finding the right group, etc.?

Thanks for doing the AMA!

TechSpeak_podcast19 karma

Does being women in a male-dominated field bring about more cohesion/camaraderie with your women coworkers?

Some of us have been the only woman in a team so there couldn't be any cohesion! Others have found that we’re so focussed on the technical stuff that gender hasn’t been important. So for us and our experiences, we’d have to say no!

Do you have any anecdotal stories on your experiences/perspectives as women improving things at work?

One of us has worked with some fantastic women who have put a lot of effort into improving the social life in the lab by organising events and making sure everyone can get there. We can think of one person who's job is to support people who are visiting the lab where they work and they always go the extra mile to make sure the visitor has everything they need.

How did you go about starting your podcast?

Two members of our team recorded an episode for The University of Manchester's faculty of Science and Engineering podcast and really enjoyed it so they got talking to a group of friends and threw some ideas around. We kinda settled on the format of having a conversation between a small group of people as we were in lockdown and missed those interesting conversations you get in the lab or at a conference. Sometimes we struggle to come up with topics that enough of us could talk about with confidence but generally, there are so many of us that we can always think of something. The podcast has grown organically as other people have contacted us and then ended up joining the team.

Thanks for some great questions!

littlestseal8 karma

How did yall choose things to focus on past graduation? Have you swapped between many fields or stuck within one sector? Was field your primary decision point, or was area/benefits a larger sticking point?

  • a chemical eng student graduating in may

TechSpeak_podcast12 karma

I've swapped quite a few times. My decisions depended on what opportunities I could find when I decided it was time for a change. I guess one thing to ask yourself if you're thinking of changing to a new field is 'what would I get out of doing it'? It doesn't have to be money, it could be about the location, work/life balance or the people you'll get to work with. For me, when I graduated I didn't mind where I went or what I did as long I was doing science.

What's really important is knowing what your transferable skills are e.g. presentations, writing, data analysis, influencing and management skills. These things can take you so many places. Your undergrad degree mainly shows you can learn a subject to a certain high standard so it also suggests you can keep learning.


TheMightyPatrikos6 karma

How do ye manage to stay focused on research or work in your fields?

I'm finishing an undergrad in biotech but there's so many interesting topics and fields out there, even in workplace.

TechSpeak_podcast21 karma

That's something we've never managed to do long term. We do the podcast because we're so interested in so many things. When there's something we need to focus on we generally find that it helps to give yourself plenty of time to work on it and to not put yourself under too much pressure. It probably helps to have a space dedicated to work and setting milestones - something every PhD graduate in our group has had to learn!

Biotech seems like a degree that could take you in to loads of different fields so you'd probably find it really easy to move into something new. You could keep on moving on to something different every few years if you wanted to. Check out Laura's bio - thats exactly what she did.

Streacher5 karma

why accent the point that you are "female"?

Are you scientists or female scientists?

Why include gender?

TechSpeak_podcast1 karma

Raising awarness about equality, diversity and inclusion comes in different ways, we choose to highlight the flag that we are female scientists in that term. However, if you dig deeper down in our group, you would see that our ED&I is not limited to the sexual orientation, we are a very diverse group in so many ways, we come from different cities and different countries even and we embrace that and learn from each others. Take the time to listen to few episodes of our podcast, and you will notice the accent differences and the way we approach differently the same subject. If you have any good reason why we should not emphasis the fact that we are female scientist please let us know.

boezou5 karma

How do you balance purpose, compensation, and the rest of your life/needs when approaching your work? What is the balance and how consciously did you make changes to create that balance?

How do you deal with internet trolls and haters? And how has your reaction to them changed over the years.

Excited to check out some episodes!

TechSpeak_podcast10 karma

Those are some deep questions! It can be so easy to get burned out. We've leared to spot signs of burn out and to take some time for ourselves. The balance is different for each of us but it was a very concious decision.

Trolls and haters: We find that its easy to ignore them, especially because we're quite a big team so we can support each other.

Opposite-Beat-52433 karma

I am a mom who is trying to educate myself in plant science as food sustainability has always been something I am passionate about. I am struggling to find my flow as a student again. Do you have any recommendations for someone trying to get into the mind set of learning again?

TechSpeak_podcast11 karma

That's a great topic to educate yourself about, especially when there's so much missleading information out there about sustainability! We think that short youtube videos are a great resource for learning and so is having conversations with other like-minded people.

Short bite-sized chunks of learning are really good so that you have time to absorb the information. Give yourself time to reflect on whatever you've just watched/read/listened to so that you can fit it in with whatever bits and pieces you've already learned. One of us found that setting aside about 20 minutes every day to do 10 minutes of learning then 10 minutes of reflecting was relly helpful.

We actually plan to do an episode about fake meat at some point so keep an eye on our podcast feed and feel free to follow-up with any any questions.

Good luck with your education journey x

TechSpeak_podcast8 karma

Just to share a personal experience that it is very dear to me. My mum was a mum of 4 when she decided to go back to University and study a degree in History. She was always passionate about becoming a teacher and she did. She finished her degree at 45 years old, and this year she is retiring at 64 years also. I have seen her enjoying everyday at work. I can't deny that it was stressful balancing being a mum and a student but it is all about time management and intrinsic motivation and get the mindset of learning again by perseverance and by "forgetting" being a mum for the few hours she was studying - Good luck! Ghinwa :)

Opposite-Beat-52435 karma

This made me tear up! I found this drive after my mom passed, she was a teacher. She always pushed me to find my own path and momma I'm doing it! My kids sacrificed their friends so we could move for my school. My husband has supported me 100 percent too. But "forgetting" being a mom has been a struggle. This posts timing and advice could not have been better for me<3

TechSpeak_podcast7 karma

Your story is so inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing it x - Laura

567fgh3 karma

How can I expose preschool girls towards more science and engineering content - is there a particular toy or book or show that comes to mind?

Hoping that if they find interest starting from this age maybe they will be more inclined to sticking to that track as a career. Thank you for the advice.

TechSpeak_podcast10 karma

Some of us just grew up curious about the world and asked a lot of questions, I think every other episode we mention a show or film that is really not educational but inspired us towards science anyway! I guess we weren't deterred from science and encouraged to work out how things work.

In terms of toys or books, there are some great home experiments that could be fun and safe. For the less safe ones, there's like a big bang roadshow in the UK, imagine a magic show but with chemistry and loud noises by properly trained people.

wwplkyih3 karma

Why is Emmy Noether not more famous? Given how important her contributions were, it's unfortunate that her name is not well known beyond mathematicians and physicists. (I've given so many friends' daughters books about her as gifts.)

Edit: Just to be clear, I mean specifically as an example of a trailblazing figure for historical women in STEM, like Marie Curie.

TechSpeak_podcast9 karma

Thanks so much for sharing her work with others! We guess she's not well known because there were so many scientists contributing theorems etc that the focus ended up being on men simply because that's what society was like.

umaboo2 karma

I (also a woman) balk at begin called "a female" under most circumstances as it is dehumanizing, thus I am toying with the idea of adding this term to my personal list of orange flags.

However, I find some women are comfortable referring to themselves as female-- just as you have above. So much so, that they name their organizations using the term.

What are your thoughts on this? I know the scientific community has a reputation for less than stellar inclusion/receptivity of women in general. But I don't want to personally contribute to that exclusion.

Idk lol, to split the hair or not?!

TechSpeak_podcast3 karma

We've heard a few people say they don't like the word female too. Honestly, we're not that bothered by it; it's a word that accurately describes us and we don't feel dehumanised by it.

TheChrisLu2 karma

What's your favorite dinosaur?

TechSpeak_podcast10 karma

I am not sure how many dinosaurs I know to answer this, but I've always loved the brachiosaurus. Long neck and eats trees, seems like a good answer for my favourite! -Emma

myhamsterisajerk2 karma

For Antonia:

would water pressure be a viable eco-friendly alternative for sustainable energy? I always wondered if a power plant based on water pressure would work

TechSpeak_podcast5 karma

humans have managed to harness rivers and lakes for generating electricity, we can use it for electricity storage as well. All the talk of battery technology has kind of overshadowed the long standing hydropower but maybe that's because we have built the obvious ones.

As for if it's eco-friendly... it's a difficult one, I (Antonia) did a life cycle assessment considering the environmental impacts of electricity storage and pumped hydro was pretty good compared to chemical batteries because the equipment is fairly simple (turbines and pipework) and lasts a very long time (concrete dams). But then you need an ideal location (not water scarce), low ecological harm (not damaging habits and biodiversity)... So basically it depends what's the alternative?

It's almost like this could form an entire episode...

myhamsterisajerk-2 karma

What about the bottom of the ocean, where water pressure exists naturally, and you don't need dams or water flow? Just natural pressure due to depth?

TechSpeak_podcast1 karma

that's an interesting idea, to think it through that pressure is basically due to gravity. The water above the bottom of the ocean applies a force over an area (i.e. pressure) because it has mass times acceleration (gravity). Hydropower uses gravity in the same way by creating that potential energy.

I guess if we're trying to harness it from the bottom of the ocean... it's like an inverted hydroplant?

myhamsterisajerk-1 karma

To think it through as well, couldn't you use controllable hatches to let water flow into the pumps, then close it and pump it out into the ocean again on the "other side"? You basically use the pressure of the ocean.

Maybe you wouldn't even disturb the environment? Would the outflowing water be contaminated when the whole principle is mainly mechanical?

Of course, i'm not a scientist or knowledgeable, it's just my own mind game.

TechSpeak_podcast2 karma

That sounds a bit like a perpetual motion machine, something that I think can't actually exists. Presumably the water wouldn't get contaminated unless a pump leaks. There must be some disturbance to the enviroment if you're moving ocean water around and humans still haven't discovered everything about what's down there so its probably best to leave things as they are.

- Laura (Antonia had to leave for another committment)

TigLyon2 karma

To put my 2 cents in, I think the thing that is lacking from OP's example is a pressure difference. Just like with electricity, it's not the charge but the voltage differential. If you are using the water at the bottom of the ocean...what is the differential to cause movement? It's all the same pressure. So yeah, kinda a perpetual motion device.

TechSpeak_podcast2 karma

That's a good point! I imagine to get the differential pressure it's a pipe open end at the top, and bottom end at the bottom of the ocean so water would be driving upwards... Could be a fun home experiment with a bendy straw and a glass of water @567fgh

PleberLePleb1 karma

Why did you feel the need to mention you are female?

TechSpeak_podcast4 karma

Thanks for your question. First because we are female, second because statistically women are less represented in STEM field for many and various reasons that would take long to discusss here. We are emphasizing that as female we are in STEM and we are enjoying it, trying to share our experience with others so they know, whether they are female or male, and regardless of their personal and sexual orientation they can be in STEM if this is what they want.

martixy0 karma

How do you think this AMA went?

You specifically invited gender-related questions, but most such questions seem to have been heavily downvoted or mixed-voted(controversial). What do you make of this?

TechSpeak_podcast3 karma

It got a lot of people talking which we think is a good thing as long as people can respect the viewpoints of others.

A few people have pointed out that gender shouldn't be important so perhaps that's why they were down voted; talking about science or podcasting might be of more interest.

twinned0 karma

What sparked your interest in science communication?

How advanced of a chess player is this robot arm?

TechSpeak_podcast12 karma

For some of us, it was because we kept coming across things that took a lot of effort to understand, almost as if they were explained in a way that just didn't resonate with us. For all of us, its mostly because were big geeks and like talking about science.

The robot arm has a long way to go before it can play chess. Right now its still learning to identify the different chess pieces!

TechSpeak_podcast10 karma

How advanced of a chess player is this robot arm?

Currently, the chess AI part of the project are working on adapting and improving a standard, but basic, algorithm to make the arm a "better player" and add specifics not already included. We're hoping at the end to be able to play chess with the arm, and we almost want to lose! That means we've done a good job. Thanks for the question, Emma

Fearlessleader852 karma

Will the arm flip the table if it loses badly?

TechSpeak_podcast9 karma

we will be programming that in, of course. We are calling that function "annoyed_swing". - Emma

evanc3-1 karma


TechSpeak_podcast6 karma

There's something called unconcious bias which everyone does. They range from small comments made by one person to the prevelance of the word 'man' rather than 'human' in our language. So one thing you could do is to become aware (or maybe stay aware) of unconcious bias.

Some practical stuff like pushing to having change rooms that aren't a retrofit on the other side of the car park and advocating for shared parental leave would help too!

allahu_snakbar-1 karma

What's it like being female?

TechSpeak_podcast1 karma

Compared to what?

nescent78-3 karma

Why do seagulls always steal my freedom fries?

TechSpeak_podcast2 karma

Is it only freedom fries that they steal or do they go for other foods? If so, we hypothesise that they love them so much they'll keep a beady eye out for them.

Do they steal other peoples fries or just yours? If they only steal yours then maybe they've decided that other people are too defensive of their fries to bother with.

Have you ever willing fed the gulls? Maybe they remember and now they just expect it.

Please do some experiments and report back ;)

visicircle-9 karma

May we have links to your curriculum vitae?

TheEightSea-13 karma

Gals, I feel the strong need to tell you that you're great and that you need to go to schools to teach girls they can be STEM professionals as well as the other guys.

I'd like to know where you're from and how you'd meet. Plus, do you feel you're going to be a group of few brave or will there be an increase of women in the field?

TechSpeak_podcast8 karma

Thanks for the support!

We're from the UK. Most of us have some connection to The University of Manchester so that how a few of us know each other and then others have joined the team after reaching out through social media. Most of us never knew each other before starting the podcast and, since we're spread throughout the UK, a lot of us have never met in real life but have only spoken over zoom.

We think there will definitely be more women doing what we're doing, expecially if more and more people work for equality and diversity.

could_use_a_snack-1 karma

I was going to suggest the same thing about schools. I haven't listened to your pod yet, but I did just subscribe and add it to my playlist.

Is your podcast recommended for middle school aged kids, I work at a middle school and I'm always looking for things to recommend for the teacher to suggest to students.

TechSpeak_podcast3 karma

Our podcast can be listened by everyone! There is no explicit content in the podcasts but some of the science could be challenging. However, we like to think we approach some intimidating science topics in a conversational, easy-to-follow way that could inspire those listening! We welcome your feedback, let us know what they think!