In August 2016, Nicole Spencer sent an e-mail to the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) explaining that her daughter, Sophia, who was seven at the time, was being teased for her love of insects and entomology.

She hoped that the ESC would be able to put her in contact with a professional entomologist who could answers Sophia’s questions about insects, which led to more than 100 messages and ultimately, a scientific paper examining science communication and social media.

“I am still blown away by the amount of support, encouragement and kindness that was offered to Sophia from people all over the world,” says Nicola Spencer.

“It has been an amazing help to her and has given her faith to continue to follow her path in life and to stand up to bullies.”

Children looking for insects
Children (not Sophia) looking for insects. © FatCamera/Getty

With permission, the ESC put an anonymised version of her letter out on Twitter, using the hashtag #BugsR4Girls, and asked for interested entomologists to contact them.

They received 135 messages from professional entomologists and scientists, and people who wanted to express their support for Sophia.

“In a matter of days, Sophia had offers to talk about bugs from entomologists around the globe, as well as hundreds of notes of encouragement from scientists and people of all walks of life,” says Morgan Jackson, the social media editor who sent the original tweet for the ESC.

“The internet is often derided as a pretty terrible place, but I think that this was one instance that demonstrated just how much good there is in the world, and how the interconnectivity of social media can bring that good together in support of a little girl who needed some help and encouragement.”

A young entomologist with a butterfly
A young entomologist (not Sophia) with a butterfly. © Alys Tomlinson/Getty

Jackson was approached by a colleague about writing up the story for a special issue on science communication for the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, and he invited Sophia to be a co-author and tell her side of the story directly.

“I felt really good about what happened last year,” says Sophia. “I got to see so many girls in science and that a lot of them got bullied too, but they still became what they wanted to be.”

‘”I liked that because I know I can do what I want, even if other kids don’t like the same stuff as me.”

Read the full paper in Annals of the Entomological Society of America


Megan ShersbyNaturalist, writer and content creator