Ontario girl who was teased for love of bugs gets name in science journal

She’s going through the scientific process and making her own discoveries about insect behaviour

Sophia Spencer hated it when classmates taunted her for her love of insects, but seeing them kill her pet grasshoppers for fun was even worse.

Her first-grade peers couldn’t understand what she found so fascinating about bugs of all sorts or why she’d devote spare time to catching them, reading about them, and generally carrying on like a budding entomologist.

As Sophia listened to schoolyard jeers that called her weird, or was forced to watch as her much-loved bugs were taken from her hands and stepped on for sport, she felt her confidence begin to wane.

Her mother, fearing her child would lose her independent streak, reached out to a national organization of insect researchers in search of a mentor for her daughter. Hundreds of entomologists responded, and now Sophia’s name appears alongside one of them in an international publication devoted to the study of insects.

She is listed as a co-author in a paper published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America that explores ways social media can be used to engage the scientific community.

The story, held up for scientists as an example of social-media savvy used for the advancement of the profession, is a form of validation for the eight-year-old co-author.

“A lot of the kids saw it, and a lot of the kids knew that if they tried to bully me it won’t really matter because … I won’t really care,” Sophia said in a telephone interview from her home in Sarnia, Ont. “They just realize that I like bugs and I won’t stop.”

READ MORE: ‘Moving away from the fear factor:’ Bringing insects to the dinner table

READ MORE: Beehive stolen from Summerland orchard

Such confidence seemed impossible for Sophia back in August 2016, according to her mother Nicole Spencer.

Anxious after a year of bullying from schoolmates, the child had become more withdrawn and less inclined to play with insects as she’d done since she was a toddler.

Spencer said she wanted to find a mentor to help bolster her daughter’s flagging confidence and reassure her that her passion for bugs did not have to be a source of shame.

She wrote a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada outlining Sophia’s struggles and soliciting a penpal to help reassure her daughter.

The letter fell into the hands of Morgan Jackson, a PhD student at Guelph University who helped maintain the society’s Twitter account. Moved by the story, he posted a screen shot of Spencer’s letter along with a call for volunteers accompanied by the hashtag #bugsR4Girls.

The tweet got an almost instantaneous response. Would-be mentors began messaging their willingness to support Sophia within seven minutes of the tweet going live, according to the paper, and the post itself was shared thousands of times in the following weeks.

The call to action then found its way into newspapers at home and abroad, cementing it in journal editors’ minds as a prime example of social media outreach done right.

When publishers planned a special edition on the issue of communication, Jackson said he was asked to contribute an account of his efforts on Sophia’s behalf. He said it seemed natural to include a section recounting the campaign’s effects written from the perspective of the person it was meant to help in the first place, which is what led to Sophia’s byline on the piece.

“After my mom sent the message and showed me all the responses, I was happy,” reads Sophia’s section in 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.”

The paper concluded that when offered a stage with an audience of a million people, entomologists can use it to make a positive impact.

“By encouraging a young girl’s love for insects and entomology through an outpouring of community support made possible via social media, entomologists and insect enthusiasts not only made a difference in the life of that one girl, but spread their influence and enthusiasm across the globe,” it said.

Jackson said Sophia shows a natural aptitude for science that bodes well for her future as an entomologist.

“She’s literally going through the scientific process and making her own discoveries about insect behaviour in the process of playing with them,” Jackson said. “That really struck me as being something special.”

Sophia said the bullying has tapered off considerably since last year, a fact that’s as much of a relief to her as it is to her mother.

“It’s fantastic for a kid to see that it’s not going to last, that the bullying’s going to stop and she can be who she wants to be,” she said. “That’s all I want for her.”

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Slide on Momma Bear run causes Polar Peak to close

One individual trapped in slide, rescued by CARDA

Fernie Skating Club performs annual show

On Saturday, February 18, the Fernie Skating Club braved the cold, and… Continue reading

Outstanding support for Blankman family

“There’s no shortage of support in this town if you need it,” said Maggie.

Ghostriders accelerating towards playoffs

Fernie’s first playoff game of the season is this Sunday, February 25 in Sparwood.

City of Cranbrook culls 50 urban deer

In an effort to reduce incidents of deer aggression across the community,… Continue reading

President praises nearly 1,800 volunteers at B.C. Games

Ashley Wadhwani sits down with the Kamloops 2018 B.C. Winter Games President Niki Remesz

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

The way government learn someone has died is getting a digital overhaul

Governments in Canada turned to private consultants 2 years ago to offer blueprint

Bobsleigh team misses Olympic medal finish

Canadian team finishes four-man event 0.84 seconds behind first place, 0.31 seconds from podium

B.C. Games: Athletes talk Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018

From Andi Naudie to Evan McEachran there’s an Olympian for every athlete to look up to

Snowboarders sliding into fresh territory at B.C. Games

Athletes hit the slopes for first appearance as an event at the B.C. Winter Games in Kamloops

Looking back at the 1979 B.C. Games: Good memories, even better jackets

39 years later, Kamloops is hosting the Winter Games again, with some volunteers returning

OLYMPICS 101: Oldest and youngest Canadians to reach the podium

This year, Canada sent its most athletes in Winter Games history, here’s a look at record breakers

Fly Fishing Film Fest coming to Fernie, March 1st

On March 1, the doors will open at The Vogue Theatre to… Continue reading

Most Read