Eight-year-old bug enthusiast defies bullies to co-author scientific paper

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Moya Crockett
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In today’s edition of ‘Young Girls Smashing Stereotypes and Living Their Best Lives’, we bring you the marvellous story of eight-year-old Sophia Spencer, a young bug enthusiast from Canada who recently co-authored an academic study.

Sophia, from Ontario, Canada, has always been fascinated by bugs, particularly grasshoppers. She loves nothing more than finding out more about the world of insects, and often lets her tiny bug companions ride on her shoulder at school. But this used to see her mocked and bullied by her peers, who told her that her hobby was “weird and gross”.

Last year, uncertain as to how best she could support her daughter’s interests, Sophia’s mother, Nicole Spencer, got in touch with scientists.

The letter she sent to the Entomological Society of Canada went viral, setting in motion a chain of events that have now resulted in Sophia earning a byline in a prestigious scientific journal.

In her letter, Nicole asked if a professional entomologist might be happy to speak to Sophia over the phone to encourage her interest in bugs, and explain how one turns a love of insects into a scientific career.

“I want her to know from an expert that she is not weird or strange (what kids call her) for loving bugs and insects,” she wrote.  

Morgan Jackson, a PhD candidate in entomology, was overseeing the Entomological Society of Canada’s Twitter feed when Nicole’s letter arrived. He tweeted it out with the hashtag #BugsR4Girls, prompting a flood of responses from entomologists offering Sophia advice and encouragement.

Jackson and Sophia have since written a study together about how Twitter can promote women in science, recently published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

“After my mom sent the message and showed me all the responses, I was happy,” Sophia wrote in her section of the paper. “I felt like I was famous. Because I was!”

“It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs,” she continued. “It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers.”

In an interview with NPR, Sophia explained how the outpouring of support on Twitter encouraged her not to give up on bugs, whatever the bullies might say.

“I really thought loving bugs wasn’t the best hobby,” she said. “But after I realized bugs are for girls I thought to myself, ‘Well, I think I should start loving bugs again, because just because people say they’re weird and gross doesn't mean I shouldn't like them.’”

Sophia added that since #BugsR4Girls went viral, many of her classmates now ask look to her as an insect expert.

“Kids now, after I told them the whole story, they’re like, ‘Oh, well – could you teach me more about bugs?’” Sophia says. “And I'm like, ‘Sure.’”

“And a lot of the kids stopped bullying me about it,” she continued. “I feel really good.”

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