Scitech | Eating it up with a spoon

Why Soup and Science matters for students

Let’s face it: McGill students are always hungry. Thankfully for the last seven years, McGill’s Faculty of Science has hosted the Soup and Science event series to nourish both mind and body. Professors from a variety of faculties gathered together in the Redpath Museum every day last week to discuss topics that define their particular set of interests.  Ranging from single-molecule biophysics to evolution, the lectures allowed students to broaden their knowledge beyond their own major and explore some of the newest research done at McGill.

Presentations of such diversity naturally attracted a large crowd, which resulted in a swarm of young undergraduates clamouring up the steps to occupy seats that were often filled in a matter of minutes.  At 11:30 a.m. each day, the heavy wooden doors at the entrance were closed, turning away many hopeful students disappointed by the lack of availability and the loss of opportunity to see his or her professor of interest.

“I had to skip my class for several minutes today because it gets [really] crowded,” explained Xavier Chen, a U0 student in Biology who was denied admittance on Monday.  Many other students shared the same struggle to acquire a seat for the half-hour lecture. Volunteers could only reply with a copy of the event’s schedule and a sombre apology.

So what really attracts such impressive crowds to the conference?  The soup or the science?  When the question was posed to some of those attending, the response was that the soup was often of equal importance as the science.

“A little bit of both for us,” answered Lydia, a U0 Biochemistry student, and her friend Jennesa, a U1 student in Physiology, as they enjoyed what remained of their potato leek soup on the front steps.  “It’s like a bonus that there is free food.” The conference was a first for both of the freshmen, who felt that “sitting here [made them] feel… a part of the campus.”

This begs the question: what if there were no soup?

“I would still probably go,” affirmed Lydia. “I really want to get to know the profs,” was a common theme voiced by the scores of students that encircled professors in the casual Q&A session where the soup of the day and sandwiches are finally presented. Plates emptied quickly and were immediately filled by dedicated volunteers sporting white t-shirts, shuffling behind tables while carefully balancing trays of small cardboard bowls of hot soup.

Regardless of the variety of topics each professor lectured upon, the scene in the museum lobby remained consistent: one esteemed professor flanked by students of varying age and majors intent on striking conversation, posing inquiries, or establishing relationships in the hopes of eventually working on research.

For Nigah, a U1 student in Cell Biology, “this was a really good opportunity to see what kind of teachers actually do research, and what research they are doing.”  For her and many others, Soup and Science presented a chance to “get to talk to [the professors] and maybe get the opportunity to actually work with them.”  But Nigah strikes a sharp contrast in comparison to the other students interviewed, as she was able to overcome the intimidation factor and speak with the professor about his research.

As the students slowly filed out to make way for an incoming class using the lecture hall, volunteers expressed surprise upon seeing that this year’s turnout was composed of primarily first years. They noted that typically there is more diversity when it comes to the age of those who attend the conference and expressed optimism that the Faculty of Science had such an involved class despite it only being the beginning of the semester.
Soup and Science was met with enthusiasm from both students and professors. One hopes, though, that the event and the professors’ words have served as lasting inspiration for the students even after the trays have been cleared and the lobby emptied.