Once Bullied For Her Love Of Bugs, 8-Year-old Co-Authors Scientific Paper

Once Bullied For Her Love Of Bugs, 8-Year-old Co-Authors Scientific Paper

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8-year-old girls are not often encouraged to play with bugs and insects, yet Sophia Spencer has become an entomological prodigy—and a role model for other girls interested in biology.

The youngster had been teased for how much she loved bugs. Whenever she was seen playing with grasshoppers, the other second graders at her elementary school would call her weird.

“She is often teased at school by her peers because she will proudly display her current bug friend on her shoulder,” wrote Sophia’s mom Nicole.

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Worried about her daughter’s confidence in the scientific field, Nicole sent a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada last year asking for encouragement.

“She has asked me for over a year if this is a job she can do one day, exploring and learning more about bugs and insects. I have told her that of course, she could; however, I am at a loss on how to continue to encourage her.”

“I was wondering if a professional entomologist would speak to her over the phone to encourage her love and explain to her how she could make this into a career. I am constantly looking for articles and information on the species and how to recognize them, but find the lack of answers to her questions unhelpful.”

“If someone could maybe talk to her for even five minutes, or who won’t mind being a penpal for her, I would appreciate it so much. I want her to know from an expert that she is not weird or strange (what kids call her) for loving bugs and insects.”

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The society then tweeted the letter to their followers asking for help and support – and the response was overwhelming.

Hundreds of entomologists – female and otherwise – flooded the society’s inbox with kind words and offers of assistance under the hashtag #BugsR4Girls.

One entomologist told Sophia that she was free to visit their lab anytime. Another scientist offered to send her any nets, papers, supplies, and books she might want to pursue her insect interest. Another offered to show Sophia her bug collection.

Sophia made such a big splash in the scientific community, she became a co-author of a paper published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America with Morgan Jackson, a P.h.D of entomology from the University of Guelph in Ontario.

The paper, entitled “Engaging for a Good Cause: Sophia’s Story and Why #BugsR4Girls,” explores how Twitter can be utilized by the scientific community.

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“After my mom sent the message and showed me all the responses, I was happy,” she wrote in her portion 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. 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.”

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

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

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(Photo by Nicole Spencer)

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