Good Things: March 2019

HOW IS IT APRIL ALREADY?! Seriously, this year is going by at an unbelievable pace and it’s beginning to freak me out. I’m back today with my Good Things post for March. I started doing this in January as a way to open up a bit more and make this blog more personal, but I then didn’t do a one at the end of February because the start of March was filled with things that were very much Not Good, and it didn’t feel right.
The 6 broad categories that I used in January seemed to work pretty well, so I’m sticking with them for now – let me know if there’s any other categories you’d like to hear about!

Excellent humans

I’m starting off this post in a hugely mushy way – bear with me, this kind of slushy shit won’t be around for long. At the start of this month I lost a friend to suicide. It was really, really horrendous, and I’ve thought about him a lot over the last few weeks. The only good thing that came out of that entire horrendous ordeal was making sure the people around me knew how much I loved them. My partner, my Mum, and my friends, have all been highlights for me this month. I feel lucky to have such a fabulous group of humans surrounding me, and this month has been very much about making the most of free time spent with them. I’m sure there are other excellent humans in the world that I don’t know personally, but right now I’m pretty sure that my tribe trump all others.

Cool places
Lunch at Bonobo, Aberdeen
  • A few weeks ago I went to a local vegan cafe for the first time. I’d wanted to go for ages, but it was actually waaaaay more gorgeous than I thought it was going to be. If you’re in Aberdeen, go to Bonobo, but don’t go too often because I want to make sure that I get a table every time I go.
  • At the start of March my partner and I went away for a weekend, nowhere super exciting, but we had such a lovely time. We went to the cinema in Dundee, stayed in a hotel near Edinburgh and got room service and watched Crufts (I really love dogs ok), and on the way back we went to St Andrews for lunch and a wander around. It was the perfect little old couple day, and I loved St Andrews so much that I then met a friend there for lunch later in the month. It’s a super cute little city, and I’ll definitely be visiting again over the coming months.
  • In a really sickening way, I’ve loved being home this month. Aberdeen is bloody lovely when the evening start to get brighter.
Wandering about in Aberdeen
Book(s) of the month
Online media
  • Podcast: Polarised – Denialism, with Caroline Lucas & Keith Kahn-Harris. Polarised is a podcast from the RSA that aims to investigate ‘the political and cultural forces driving us further apart’, and this episode was the first one that I listened to. I listened to it when I was driving from Aberdeen to Edinburgh for an event, and found myself having to pull over multiple times so that I could pause it and scribble down ideas that I was having as a result of the points the guests and hosts were making. Expect a few blog posts that refer to this over the coming weeks.
  • Blog post: Public engagement can fight against health inequalities – but only if we do it right: Imran Khan for the BMJ blog. Imran Khan is the Head of Public Engagement at Wellcome, so it’s not at all surprising that he’s managed to perfectly articulate the value of public engagement and the potential impact that it has on health research. This piece made me a bit emotional, and I’ve bookmarked it so I can send it to people in the future.
  • Article: False balance – what it is and why is it dangerous? Sophie Cremen. If I remember correctly Sophie wrote this about a year ago, but reshared it on Twitter which was how I came across it. In short, read it, it’s bloody brilliant and raises crucial points about the way ‘balance’ is presented in the media, particularly when it comes to stories about scientific topics.
One specific moment

A few months ago my wonderful friend and colleague, Dr Heather Morgan, asked me to design the artwork for the new podcast that she’s launching. I agreed to, but was nervous to actually do it because doing design work for people is terrifying because I’m not a designer. When I eventually got round to doing the thing and sending the image to Heather, I got the biggest warm fuzzy feelings ever.

Artwork for Higher Education, Human Employment (HEHE)

I’m sneaking another moment into this category because it was so lovely that I can’t not mention it. The wonderful team at NUI Galway sent me a huge hamper of Irish goodies! I’ve worked with these incredible humans for a few years now, and I have loved each and every project we’ve worked on together. The fact that they sent me this gift complete with PhD-related congratulations actually made me tear up. So unexpected, so unnecessary, and so bloody lovely. I am so lucky to work with this team, and I hope the collaboration continues for many years to come! (Also, strawberry and champagne jam is up there with the best things I’ve ever tasted)

Irish goodies gifted from colleagues at NUI Galway
Work thing

Earlier this month one of my fab colleagues, Dr Katie Banister, went into a few of the local schools to talk to students about clinical trials. She invited me to go with her and it was SO FUN! We talked about the trials that are going on at the Aberdeen Trials Unit, as well as the subjects we chose at school and University that then led us to the careers that we’re in. I left feeling suuuuuuper passionate and motivated to get stuck into work, just like every other time I do meaningful public engagement.

What did you love about March? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

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Good Things: January 2019

My last post was a bit of a downer, so today’s blog post is intentionally designed to combat that. It’s all about good things, and I think I’m going to make this a monthly thing. If you enjoy it, let me know – give it a like, leave a comment, or perhaps think about ending your months by focussing on the good things.

As I’ve been exploring creative science communication techniques over the last few months I’ve been consuming a lot of online ‘content’ – YouTube videos, blog posts, Instagram and Twitter posts etc etc. A big focus of the Fellowship that I’m currently on involves exploring how science bloggers and micro-bloggers can learn from people doing creative things in other fields, and it’s becoming more and more obvious to me that science bloggers focus on science. That sounds dumb, but hear me out. People that blog about science tend to focus purely on science; often they’re not opening up and talking about their other hobbies and things they want to achieve in their personal lives for example. Clearly that’s a sweeping generalisation, but I think it holds at least some truth. In contrast, other fields of bloggers – usually ‘lifestyle’, ‘beauty’ or ‘fashion’ bloggers tend to open up a bit more, and that in turn makes it easier for people to engage with the content they produce. Ultimately these bloggers become sort of virtual friends to their viewers, and I think that’s a really nice way to improve engagement. I think we should be doing more of that it the sciences. Lots of these ‘other’ (clunky word, but basically I mean non-science bloggers) end each month with content that involves reflections on the best products they’ve used, books they’ve read or experiences they’ve had, so I’m bringing that to my blog for 2019.

So, enough waffle! I’m going to split things into 5 broad categories for now, mainly as a reminder that every single good thing about a month should not be related to food.

Good things about January 2019:

Excellent humans
Heidi with Dawn Bazely

This is the biggest category because I’ve been travelling and having so many incredible conversations with so many incredible people. I’ve chosen to highlight the 3 people that have made me think, inspired me to do better, and made me laugh, in that order:

  • Dawn Bazely – a powerhouse of a woman. I met Dawn in Toronto to talk all things science communication and engagement, not only did she spend time recounting her experiences with me, she boosted my confidence, made me laugh and invited me into her home. We need more people like this in the world.
  • Kyle Marian Viterbo – another incredible woman. Kyle is working hard to change the landscape of science communication; to make it inclusive, diverse and valued. After speaking to her I was simultaneously angry at the state of things now, and hopeful that there are people like her (and now me!) making a conscious effort to improve things.
  • Krishana Sankar – I’ve been following Krish on social media for aaaaages and we finally got to meet when I was in Toronto earlier this month. It felt like catching up with an old friend; lots of shared experiences and laughter, and I’m so glad that she’s part of the science communication community I’ve met online.
Cool places
Street art at Blagden Alley
  • Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, Washington DC – wonderful book shop that opens late and has a restaurant that serves incredible desserts. If I ever go missing, look here first.
  • Blagden Alley, Washington DC – two blocks of incredible street art with loads of good brunch places nearby.
  • ARTECHOUSE, Washington DC – a brilliant immersive art/science/technology experience.
  • STATE Studio, Berlin – teeny art/science studio that explores big science questions using art.
Book(s) of the month
Online media
One specific moment
  • Seeing my friend Lacy in New York after 5 years of communicating via very sporadic Skype sessions. We had a huuuuge catch up which was well overdue, when I was ill she brought me noodles and medicine, and she didn’t get too embarrassed when I shouted ‘I looooove youuuuuu’ down the hallway as she was leaving.
Work thing
  • Being invited to present work from my PhD at a conference later this year – this sounds like something really small, but being invited to talk anywhere still feels massive for me.

Writing all of that down makes it clear just how hectic and wonderful January was. Not every month will be so jam-packed (at least I hope not!), but I think it’s important to take some time to reflect and celebrate the good things, however big or small.

What have you loved about January? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

 

Inspiring People: Wendy Mitchell

Another post late in the day… this Blogtober thing is no joke! I feel like I’ve been busy all day, and yet it’s currently 9.45pm and I’m only just getting to writing today’s post.. Anyway, it’s been over a week since I’ve written an ‘Inspiring People’ post, and today is the turn of Wendy Mitchell.
Wendy was diagnosed with young onset dementia in 2014 at the age of 58, and after being shocked at the lack of awareness of the condition, she set up her blog; Which me am I today?

Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian
Wendy Mitchell of York, North Yorkshire, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the aged of 58. She is pictured with her daughters Gemma (left) and Sarah.
Why does Wendy Mitchell inspire me?

After Wendy was diagnosed with dementia, she was forced to retire early from her job as a non-clinical team leader in the NHS; people didn’t know what to say or how to modify her role so that she could continue to work – even those that had extensive clinical experience (she worked in the NHS for goodness sake!). That in itself is both shocking and upsetting, and I say that as someone who has limited experience with dementia. Older members of my family have had it, but I’ve never been a carer for someone with the disease, and I’ve been distanced from those individuals by physical location rather than emotion. It’s difficult to say what you’d do if you were diagnosed with dementia; surely no one really knows until it happens to them. That said, I don’t think I’d deal with it very well. Honestly I can only just visualise myself doing everything that Wendy does now, as a healthy 26 year old, but I can’t imagine deciding to start a blog, contributing to support groups, travelling around the country to be involved with research projects, and giving talks to student nurses having been diagnosed with dementia.

I read and reviewed Wendy’s book, Somebody I Used To Know, in March this year, and her work continues to inspire people as she spreads knowledge and awareness of life with dementia; last month Wendy’s words featured in The New York Times, yes, the actual New York Times.

One day I would love to write a book, and I would be stunned if I was ever able to write for The New York Times; but Wendy demonstrates that these things are possible. She raised her two daughters, she had a brilliant job within the UK’s health service, and then life threw her a curve ball. Instead of collapsing and admitting defeat, Wendy make a new career for herself. She is an author, a public speaker, an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, and an active research partner. She has found her own way through Alzheimer’s disease, compiling her own tips and tricks to help her live with the condition in an independent and comfortable way. She shares these tips so that others can continue to maintain their independence too – see the video below that she filmed for the Alzheimer’s Society.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about what Wendy is up to, I would recommend that you follow her blog and Twitter page. I’d also recommend reading her book, which you can get here (it’s currently reduced to £11.49 so grab it whilst you can!).

Other articles I’d recommend reading:

Wendy Mitchell’s 5 tips for supporting somebody with dementia
I had Alzheimer’s. But I wasn’t ready to retire. (The New York Times article that I mentioned earlier)
I have dementia and I take part in research: Here’s why
Dear Diary, I know I can live well with dementia
Dear Diary, I want to talk about public perception of dementia
Don’t call us sufferers – it makes us lose all hope

Do We Still Need Ada Lovelace Day?

Every year since 2009, on the second Tuesday of October, the world celebrates Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as being the world’s first computer programmer, and the day aims to raise the profile of women in STEM by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating ‘new’ role models.

How did the Ada Lovelace Day come about?

From the Finding Ada website:

The inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day came from psychologist Penelope Lockwood, who carried out a study which found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models. “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success,” she said, “illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”

So, in the tenth year of celebrations – do we really need an Ada Lovelace Day?

In a time when people can seriously suggest that ‘separate labs for boys and girls’ might be a good way to stop women crying (biochemist Tim Hunt in 2015), and others are claiming that entire scientific subjects (in this case physics) was ‘invented and built by men’ (researcher Alessandro Strumia just a few weeks ago), it is perhaps unsurprising that I think we need Ada Lovelac Day now more than ever. Though I do have a few caveats..

For Ada Lovelace Day

The general ethos behind Ada Lovelace Day is something that I completely agree with – we should be encouraging people to talk about women working in STEM subjects, and we should be working specifically to highlight their achievements. That’s not because women should be celebrated more than men; it’s because the achievements of men are already being highlighted and celebrated, and they have been for decades.

Dr Donna Strickland

A total of 209 individuals have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics since 1901; only 3 of those were women. One of those women was Dr Donna Strickland who won the award this year, the first woman to do so in 55 years. You might think that demonstrates a step forward – and perhaps in some ways it does, but if at all, it is a tiny, tiny step. To put things into perspective, Strickland did not have a Wikipedia profile at the time of the prize’s announcement.
A Wikipedia user tried to set up a page in May, but it was rejected by a moderator with the message, “This submission’s references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article.” It was determined, had not received enough dedicated coverage elsewhere on the internet to warrant a page. Think that through. This fantastically talented woman did not have a Wikipedia page because of her lack of internet presence.
Strickland said the achievements of women scientists deserved recognition. “We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. I’m honored to be one of those women“, Strickland said by video link at a news conference following the announcement in Stockholm.

Strickland is just one example of the problems that riddle STEM subjects; women are underrepresented and undervalued in comparison to their male peers. Ada Lovelace Day encourages people to find out about women in STEM, and that is a brilliant thing.

Against Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day may be focussed on highlighting the achievements of all women in STEM, but the fact that the day is named after Ada Lovelace is troubling for me.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, born Ada Gordon in 1815, was the only child of erratic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his mathematics-loving wife Annabella Milbanke. Ada had a hugely privileged upbringing; she was raised under a strict regimen of science, logic and mathematics. As a young girl she was fascinated with machines, immersing herself in the pages of scientific magazines of the time in order for her to learn more about the new inventions of the Industrial Revolution. At 19, she married aristocrat William King, when King was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838 his wife became Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace. Hence why she is generally called Ada Lovelace.
Lovelace moved in affluent circles, she was introduced to Charles Babbage at the age of just 18. Babbage was a celebrity of the time, and the mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer originated the concept of a digital programmable computer. Babbage described her as “that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it,” or an another occasion, as “The Enchantress of Numbers”.

Clearly, Ada Lovelace was lucky – she lived  relatively easy life moving in wealthy circles that enabled her to succeed. By highlighting that I am not taking away her talent, but it’s not difficult to deduce what may have happened to a person of a different socioeconomic class or ethnicity with just the same level of talent and determination. The thing that differentiates Ada Lovelace from others is privilege; her white-ness, her wealth, and her connections.

We are still living in a world where white middle class women are getting more attention that other women. Ask someone to name a female scientist and I’d put money on that woman being white, likely English-speaking, and probably from a pretty middle class background.

Early career researcher, Forbes writer, science communicator and all round inspirational human Meriame Berboucha has described herself as ‘minority squared’.

In one of Soph Talks Science’s Scientist in the Spotlight interviews Meriame explained, “whenever I give a talk, one of the most common questions I get asked is where are you from?, which when I answer West London, is then followed by but where are you actually from.” That is beyond ridiculous; why does it matter where Meriame is ‘really’ from, whatever that means? Would these people ask white women the same question? I’d guess not.

Ada Lovelace Day contributes to the continuing problem of exclusion of people of colour; let’s highlight all achievements, so how about we change things and rename the second Tuesday in October Maggie Aderin-Pocock Day, Asima Chatterjee Day, Dorothy Vaughan Day, Susan La Flesche Picotte Day, Rebecca Lee Crumpler Day, Nergis Mavalvala Day, Adriana Ocampo Day, or Mae Jemison Day?

What do you think; are you for or against Ada Lovelace Day? Leave a comment below and explain why – I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

Inspiring People: Jess Wade

Blogtober is going much more quickly than I anticipated! It feels like I was only posting my last ‘Inspiring People’ post a few days ago, but that ode to Margaret McCartney was in fact over a week ago.. anyway, on to another hugely inspirational women! This post is about Jess Wade. Jess is a physicist and early career researcher based at Imperial College London, she also does a huge amount of fantastic public engagement work, a lot of which aims to promote physics to girls.

Why does Jess Wade inspire me?
Jess Wade

I was first introduced to Jess (I say introduced, I’ve never actually met her – I’ve just done a lot of admiring from afar..) on Twitter, after her campaign to create Wikipedia pages for overlooked women in science hit the mainstream news. This campaign involved Jess creating Wikipedia pages for one woman who has achieved something impressive in science every single day. Now, Blogtober has been going for the grand total of 12 days now, and I’m writing this posts later and later in the day.. it’s currently after 10pm and I’m sat in my dressing gown with a decaf tea (I am so rock and roll). I cannot imagine how much work that this campaign has involved; some of my blog posts don’t take very long to write, others take a long time because they require research – for to make a Wikipedia page requires a significant amount of time and effort. Jess’s enthusiasm doesn’t stop there though, she’s been quoted saying I had a target for doing one a day, but sometimes I get too excited and do three.” Let that sink in, she writes at least one Wikipedia page a day, but sometimes she write three. THREE. This is a woman on a mission, and I absolutely love her excitement, drive and determination.

In more recent months Jess has also started another campaign along with fellow Scientist Claire Murray. Just a warning, this is another large campaign that will make you question what on Earth you’ve achieved in the past 2 months (my excuse is that I finished my PhD – if it wasn’t for that I’m sure I’d have raised thousands of pounds for an incredible cause… yep…). Jess and Claire have so far raised over £23,000, which will be used to buy copies of Angela Saini‘s book Inferior (I reviewed Inferior last year, you can read that review here) for every state school in the UK. ISN’T THAT INCREDIBLE?! Publishing house 4th Estate have also agreed to match the donations and manage distribution – this is no small thing, and as far as I know it was started by Jess and Claire on Twitter.
Not only is Jess aiming to ensure that girls across Britain know that they can do whatever they want to do (i.e. that it’s not science that’s holding them back, it’s society), but she’s inspired other brilliant women around the world to start these types of campaigns in their own countries. Jess is now working on a further campaign alongside Maryam Zaringhalam which aims to get the book into New York City’s middle and high schools.

This video from BBC Focus is brilliant, it includes Jess Wade along with Angela Saini, Suzie Imber and Aoife Hunt talking about why there aren’t more women in science and STEM subjects more broadly. I would really recommend watching it to get a vibe of how humble, intelligent and funny Jess is.

She’s also a brilliant doodler:

Image taken from https://makingphysicsfun.com/
Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about Jess Wade’s work, I’d recommend starting with the sources below:

Jess Wade’s outreach website, her Twitter page and her staff profile at Imperial College.

A day in the life of a physicist at Imperial College London
Meet the scientist working to increase the number of underrepresented scientists and engineers on Wikipedia
Interview: Dr. Jess Wade does it all – from clever LEDs to increasing diversity in STEM
This physicist wants female scientists to get noticed. So she wrote 270 Wikipedia profiles.
Institute of Physics blog – Interview with Jess Wade

As an early career researcher, I love Jess’s positivity and her can-do attitude. She inspires me to be proactive in the way that I push forward the things that mean something to me – whether that’s public engagement, scientific research, or diversity and equality.