Once bullied for loving bugs, 8-year-old Sarnia girl is now a published author

Click to play video: '8-year-old Ontario girl publishes academic paper on bugs'
8-year-old Ontario girl publishes academic paper on bugs
WATCH: Sophia Spencer from Sarnia, Ont. was once bullied for liking insects. But now, she’s helped co-author a study in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. – Sep 21, 2017

How many people can say they co-authored a study that was published in a scientific journal when they were eight years old?

It’s a rare achievement Sophia Spencer of Sarnia, Ont., accomplished this year when her love of all things creepy crawly caught the eye of the Entomological Society of Canada.

“The first time Sophia discovered bugs she was two [and] it was while visiting the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls,” her mom Nicole Spencer told Global News. “She has been in love with them ever since. A big influence also came from watching Wild Kratts’ Chris and Martin Kratt.”

READ MORE: Your child is being bullied – should you intervene?

But Sophia’s love of bugs wasn’t well received by her classmates. Often told that bugs weren’t for girls, Sophia experienced teasing from her classmates.

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“Her classmates thought she was weird and gross and [she] was told all that time that girls shouldn’t like bugs,” Spencer said. “She finds [bugs] very interesting and is amazed that there are so many different kinds. [She’s also amazed at] their abilities and how gentle they are.”

Wanting to show her daughter that her interest in insects wasn’t a bad thing, Spencer wrote a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada last year.

“I saw a happy, outgoing little girl have her heart shattered by classmates and the lack of response from teachers,” Spencer said. “She has wanted to stop looking at bugs to fit in with her peers so the bullying would stop. I knew I had to do something so I reached out to in the hopes that an entomologist would become a pen pal and encourage her to continue in a field she loved.”

In the letter, she wrote, “I have an eight-year-old daughter who loves to learn and explore the world of bugs and insects… 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 in this field of science.”

Spencer then asked if a professional entomologist would be willing to speak with Sophia over the phone to encourage Sophia, and explain how she could one day make her love of bugs a career.

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

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The letter caught the attention of the Entomological Society of Canada. The society posted Spencer’s letter to their Twitter page last summer and made a call out to anyone out there who would be willing to help out Sophia.

The responses and support came pouring in.

But it was PhD candidate Morgan Jackson – the man who posted Spencer’s letter to the Twitter page – who reached out to Sophia and asked her to help him write a scientific paper about how Twitter can help inspire more women to consider careers in scientific fields.

“Morgan Jackson was the driving force in writing the article,” Spencer explained. “He had been asking if he could write an article regarding [how] the impact [of] the original tweet from last year affected social media and reached people who had similar experiences to bullying. He then asked Sophia if she would like to co-author the paper with him. She was excited to help tell her side on how the response helped her personally.”
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READ MORE: Elementary school students with cellphones more likely to be cyberbullied: study

Sophia says her favourite part of the study was seeing the number of people responding to the original tweet and seeing the support she was getting from others.

And because of her positive experience, Sophie has some words of encouragement for others like her out there.

“I know other girls love bugs just like me and there are lots out there in the world who love bugs,” Sophia told Global News. “Don’t let other people tell you what you can like because it’s up to you what to like. Be happy with what you love and try to explain to them why you love bugs and teach other kids about them too.”

“As a single mom, I think it is important to raise a strong, confident, independent and intelligent girl,” Spencer said. “I want her to follow her own passions in life and not be guided by peer influence… I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of her and that she amazes me with her intelligence, grace and humour every day. To see the love she has for bugs and how she finally stood against the crowd and believe in herself is remarkable to experience.”

Sophia hopes to one day become an entomologist who specializes in her favourite bug – the grasshopper.

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You can read Jackson and Sophia’s full study in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

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