Hello, Yes I’m Still Alive

The last time I posted on this blog I explained that I had a lot on my plate, and that blogging would be taking a backseat over the summer. That was almost a year ago.

The remainder of 2019 was busy, really busy, and it wasn’t feasible for me to do anything at all other than what was on my to do list. Then just as I started to get a handle on things, the rug was pulled from under us and my Mum got ill. The adrenaline of needing to be strong kept me going for a little while, but soon after I felt myself crash. I am exhausted to a level that I’ve never felt before, and I’ve been off work for the last few weeks while I try to get myself back to a more functional place. Previously I felt like my brain was going to be permanently broken and I was genuinely a bit unsure about what the future looked like. I wasn’t being productive at work, I had no passion for anything, and I just wanted to sleep all the time. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be able to keep doing my job as a researcher and was spending far too many hours googling part time jobs that would allow me to work in pressure-free environments (spoiler alert – I’m pretty sure nothing is pressure-free). I’m glad that I decided to take a step back. Things are ok now, and I feel like my brain will be ok after a proper break. I know I’ll get back to research in a few weeks, and I know I’ll be alright doing it long-term.

While I’ve been off work I’ve been taking things really easy, saying no to just about everything, and spending lots of time not doing work. I’ve started my first embroidery kit, I’ve done some doodling, and I’ve been going for lots of walks because at the end of January we got a dog! This is a Huge Deal.

We adopted Barney from Dogs Trust in Glasgow, and I LOVE HIM.
He was a stray in Ireland before he ended up at Dogs Trust, so we don’t know much about him. We think he’s about 3 years old, and he’s some sort of terrier cross – possibly a bit of Lakeland and/or Welsh terrier in there. He came home and we were warned that he could be quite anxious, but he’s really grown in confidence. He’s missing his two front teeth and he has no idea how to play fetch, but apart from that he’s doing well!

Barney the terrier on his first day at home after being adopted from Dogs Trust.

So what now? Well, as I’m sure you’re aware, the world is currently on fire. The coronavirus pandemic is terrifying, and like lots of people I’ve been feeling more anxious over the past week or so. It all feels a bit like we’re living in a (really terrible) film, so I’ve been reading books and watching YouTube as a means of escapism. One YouTube video I watched was from Lauren and the Books, I’ll link it here and embed it below so you can watch it if you want to.

One of the things on Lauren’s list of things to do when you’re stuck at home was writing, so here we are. This little blog is back up and running, and I’ll be using it to share nice things with minimal pressure. I’m resisting a schedule so that this little corner of the internet remains pressure-free for me, so I’ll be back at some point with some chilled writing 🙂

In the meantime, stay safe, wash your hands, look out for your friends and neighbours, and for fuck’s sake, stop hoarding toilet roll.

A Bit of a Brain Dump and What to Expect over the Next Few Months

I’ve done that thing again where I’ve blogging infrequently and sporadically. There are a few reasons for that, and I wanted to take the time to write a post about what’s been happening in my life recently, and what the knock-on effects are likely to be in terms of blog content over the next few months.

Never ending to do list. Credit: The Daily Quipple

Starting with the most recent hectic/exciting thing..

Some of you will know that I have a small business called Science On A Postcard. I started the business because I was looking for a creative outlet, and a place where I could chip away at some of the stereotypes that surround scientists.

The Science On A Postcard stand at Etsy’s Aberdeen Summer Showcase 2019

Earlier this month I took Science On A Postcard to Aberdeen’s Etsy Summer Showcase (above). For me that meant lots of evenings and weekends getting stock ready, and 2 days off work for the actual event. Don’t get me wrong, I love this little business that I’ve built, I’m incredibly proud of it, but I need to start setting some boundaries before it takes over.

Look Again Creative Accelerator

Before I realised that I needed to start setting boundaries with the business, I applied for a creative accelerator program, and at the end of May I was told that I have got a place. One of the things that annoys me most about myself is that when I do something I tend to jump right in, go the whole hog, and then realise that there’s only 24 hours in the day. Anyway, this is a temporarily busy, but brilliant, thing. The Look Again Festival have worked with Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University to offer 12 individuals a place on a start-up programme for creative businesses – and I am one of the lucky 12! That means 13 days off work over between June and September this year.

So far that’s 15 days away from my full time job in just 4 months. That’s not great for my ever-growing to do list, but it’s doable.

Now throw in:

  • My first MSc student with a July thesis submission
  • Fairly urgent work for the ORINOCO project that I’m leading (June/July) (hopefully I’ll get chance to do a blog post on ORINOCO soon)

The ORINOCO Project; tidying up outcomes in clinical trials

  • A 3 day trip to Oxford for EBMLive (July)
  • A 2 day trip to Edinburgh for the BIG Event (July)

and things are getting to an almost unmanageable level.

That’s all work stuff, small-business work, full-time-job work – but all good, all exciting, and all doable.

Then we get to the rest of life.

A few weeks ago, my partner and I were driving into Aberdeen and we saw some houses that we thought looked really nice. We booked an appointment to go and look at them, and the prospect of moving house towards the end of this year (the house we had our eye on had not been built yet) became a very real thing, very quickly. The night before we needed to make a decision on that house, I found another house – closer to Aberdeen and a better layout for us. We went to look at it, and it was perfect. Absolutely perfect, within our price range and all fitting into place with just one minor issue.. we’d need to settle on July 5th and we’d have 4 weeks to move house. The house was ready and if we wanted it then we needed to be ready too. For context, the first and second weekends in July I won’t be in Aberdeen as I already have things booked elsewhere.

In a matter of weeks I’ve gone from a busy summer with work, to a busy summer with work and Science On A Postcard, and now a brain-tingly busy summer with work, Science On A Postcard, and moving house.

I’m currently at a writing retreat (during the writing sessions I’m writing a paper from my PhD thesis – this is being written from the comfort of my hotel bed with a tummy full of dinner), and I feel like I’m about to be greeted by the busiest summer of my entire life. Something needs to give, or more realistically, multiple things need to give. The first of those things is this blog.

I’d like to post blog updates on the conferences I attend, but at the moment I’m not sure whether that’s feasible. I’m taking the summer to Get Shit Done, and then once I’ve moved, and ticked off the majority of my urgent to do list, I’ll be working on setting some boundaries so that my brain doesn’t explode before 2019 is out.

 

Good Things: May 2019

*Insert generic HOLY-SHIT-how-is-it-June-already-related phrase*

Aaaaand I’m back with all the good things that made my month of May go so swimmingly 🙂 It was a super busy month so I’ll warn you upfront that this is likely to be a long post.

Excellent humans

May was full of wonderful people!

  • Early in the month I went to Norwich to visit my friend Jess and her partner. I had a bloody brilliant time, and seriously considered asking them if they’d consider adopting me. Gorgeous house, super chilled atmosphere, amazing food and spending quality time with a friend that I definitely neglected during my PhD – absolute bliss.
  • After getting back from Norwich I had a few days in Aberdeen before heading to my third of Rowena Murray’s writing retreats. As usual, I got more writing done than I thought possible in the space of 2 and a half days, and I’m back on the writing retreat hype train. I’ve already booked another for June. Rowena is a powerhouse, and the only person I actively want to interrupt me on a regular basis.
  • Aberdeen’s second Soapbox Science event took place as part of the May Festival, and it was another successful event! I love organising these events because it allows me to meet wonderful women doing really cool science stuff that I otherwise wouldn’t get to connect with. Unfortunately I completely forgot to get a group photograph, but all 12 speakers did a fantastic job, and I left feeling inspired and brimming with ideas for my own engagement activities.

    Soapbox Science Aberdeen 2019
Cool places

At the end of May I headed to Naples for 5 days with my Mum – it was a Mother’s day present that went some way to remedy the fact that I slept through 5 alarms on actual Mother’s day, and ended up not seeing her at all. Luckily, I think the trip made up for that and I reckon I’ve been forgiven.

5 days of pastries, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, and lots of mooching about. I had a fantastic time, and would definitely recommend a visit to Naples if you ever get the chance!

Image of Via Tribunali in Naples
Via Tribunali, Naples

Pompeii

Herculaneum

At the beginning of the month I also went to see the the musical Kinky Boots, and RuPaul’s Drag Race Werq the World Tour, so now when I grow up I want to be a drag queen. On the subject of drag queens, has anyone been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race this season? The finale was right at the end of May, and I felt it was a bit meh to be honest. I didn’t dislike the winner, but my favourite didn’t win (look how easy it is to not give spoilers!).

Book(s) of the month
  • Non-fiction: I’ve got two non-fiction recommendations this month – Kerry Hudson’s Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns, and Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. Both are brilliant but for very different reasons. The Five was brilliant as it gave a voice to the victims of Jack the Ripper, you follow each of their lives and it really does focus on them rather than the fact that they were brutally murdered. Lowborn made me cry, and I was thinking about it for days after I’d read it, so much so that I emailed Kerry (the first time I’ve ever emailed an author!) to tell her much of an impact it had.
  • Fiction: Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage. This has just won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I’m so glad! I’d read a few other books from the shortlist but this was the one that I was really hoping would win. It tells the story of a young newlywed couple that are the victim of racism; it looks at race issues in America from a new perspective. I sped through it and I’d really recommend picking it up if you haven’t already.
Online media
  • Podcast: Episode 60 of Alice Benham’s Starting the Conversion – Managing mental health when you’re running a business or growing a side-hustle w/Josephine Brookes. I only recently discovered Alice Benham’s podcast, but I’ve been binge listening to episodes at an impressive (alarming?) rate. This is the latest one, and features Josephine Brookes, a side hustle guru. I don’t want to make Science On A Postcard my full time job; it will always be a side hustle for me, but the topics discussed were helpful and insightful, and I’m excited to use resources from both Alice and Josephine to make the most of the time I dedicate to my side hustle.
  • Article: Brands and Activism by Adam Stones for the RSA website. In this article Adam Stones explores how businesses can create meaningful purpose and create change. I read this from two perspectives – 1) as a small business owner, and 2) as a researcher. The article gave me food for thought in terms of how I can make sure that my little business is contributing to the change that I want to see (more on that over the summer!), as well as how I as a researcher, can work with businesses and brands to ensure that the work that I’m doing has the biggest impact possible.
  • Article: Let’s talk about the notion of cure by Amy D Robertson. A really interesting piece around the concept of ‘curing’ from the perspective of a patient living with chronic pain, this challenges the notion that a cure should always be the end goal. For lots of patients that isn’t realistic, and fuels feelings of failure and fragility, instead we should be working towards a realistic version of wellness that is agreed by both the patient and their healthcare team.
  • Webinar: Science’s Selling without selling out: How to communicate your science. This is a brilliant webinar from Science – it provides a good basic introduction to science communication from lots of different perspectives.
One specific moment

Look Again Creative Accelerator

I’m realising that this one specific moment thing is turning into the part of the blog post where I talk about the moment I realised someone believed in me, or I felt I belonged. Last month it was attending my first local Etsy makers meetup, and feeling all warm and fuzzy because my tiny little business is reaching people that I haven’t nagged to buy stuff – incredible. This month, it’s a bit bigger than that. I’ve been accepted onto a fully funded creative accelerator program to help me to gain new skills and boost my tiny business! I’m so excited. Between June and September I’ll be attending workshops and meetups to help me connect with other creative people in the city, and make Science On A Postcard the best side hustle that it can be. I applied for this program late at night a few months ago, and I really, genuinely didn’t think that I stood a chance at getting a place. Now, I’m one of 12 people on the program. I can’t wait to meet the other makers and get to grips with the world of creative business, not only for Science On A Postcard, but for future academic research projects that I have bubbling away in my head.

Work thing

This month has been fab for work things, a few things I’m particularly buzzing about:

  • At the writing retreat I mentioned above I was working on a paper from the qualitative work that made up a big chunk of my PhD thesis I’d had comments in the last draft sitting in my inbox since December, and I’d been avoiding it. The retreat was exactly what I needed – a complete kick up the backside to force me to open the document again. I left the retreat with a new draft, which I now have back with a few outstanding comments, but it’s so nearly ready for submission!
  • This month I found out the I’d won the Early Career Researcher award in the University of Aberdeen’s Principal’s Prizes for Public Engagement with Research. Last year I was awarded runner up, so this was a complete surprise that I’m very, very happy with 🙂
  • At the end of the month I was awarded a bursary to attend the BIG event in Edinburgh this July, so if you’re attending and fancy a chat let me know! I’ll be there on the Thursday and Friday.

Now I’ve written all of that down, it’s pretty clear why the month went so quickly – I feel like I haven’t stopped for the last 4 weeks! All good though, a very positive and productive month. What did you love about May? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

I’m on the Writers’ Rough Drafts Podcast!

Writers’ Rough Drafts is a podcast hosted by Elisa Doucette, Founder and Executive Editor of Craft Your Content; a business that aims to do the unthinkable – make writing a less lonely process. They offer group courses, as well as one-to-one support on writing and editing projects from website copy to novels. The Craft Your Content website is also a wonderful resource in itself. As a frequent visitor to the Craft Your Content website, and an avid listener of the Writers’ Rough Drafts podcast, I jumped at the chance to talk all things writing and creativity when Elisa approached me a few months ago.

Listen to our podcast episode here.

Elisa’s incredibly flattering introduction:

Heidi Gardner is a scientist, researcher, blogger, entrepreneur, and activist. While her “full-time gig” is as a research fellow at the Health Services Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, after receiving her bachelor’s degree in pharmacology and her doctorate in participant recruitment, she has a lot more going on besides her fascination and love affair with science and improving participant trial experience.

This year, Heidi embarked on an international odyssey as a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellow—visiting art installations, chatting to professors and female scientists, and reading tomes upon tomes worth of articles and literature in North America, Europe, and Asia—to find interesting and unique ways that people share scientific research and results so it is more accessible to, and engaging for, the general public. A regular blogger herself, she updates her site with posts not only about her work and pursuits, but also her life as a woman in science and as a human on planet Earth. Which is part of her “side hustle,” an Etsy store and ecommerce brand called “Science on a Postcard,” a fun project that helps to see science in a new light.


From the show notes:

What You’ll Learn About Writing:

  • Why you need confidence to break writing rules
  • The importance of finding gatekeepers and peers who are “on your team”
  • How blogs can serve as a great place for a “brain dump”
  • Why we should tap into our creativity and retrain our brain to think more creatively, even if you think you’re a “noncreative” person
  • How you should find specific sources, information, and experiences to share that no one has written about before
  • Why not only being creative but being able to explain parts of that creativity to others often bring you more collaboration and readers
  • How we, as writers, can try to write more humanly and less pretentiously no matter what industry we’re in

Mentioned in This Episode (Links and Resources!):

Jen Campbell’s Creative Non-Fiction Writing Workshop

I write non-fiction all of the time. it’s the most consistent part of academia – backgrounds, methods, analysis, it’s the one thing I know I could do every day and never get to the end of. Academic writing is a specific type of non-fiction designed to convey information, packing in details though remaining concise. What I do much less frequently is creative non-fiction. That is, using storytelling techniques to communicate factually accurate things.

Earlier this year, I had an idea for a non-fiction book. I’m not going to say any more than that – maybe one day I’ll write it, maybe I won’t – for now I’m mulling the idea over in my head to see if it’s got legs. Anyway, after having that idea I decided I’d like to learn how to write creative non-fiction. I searched online for local training courses, regular classes that I could attend to learn the basics, and I struggled to find anything around the Aberdeen area. Most options were online, and most were cost-prohibitively expensive. I pushed the idea to the back of my mind, and a few days later whilst watching one of Jen Campbell’s YouTube videos, she mentioned that she was starting a new online writing workshop for creative non-fiction. I signed up straight away; it was only £50 and though I didn’t think that something so short (and distant) could teach me a huge amount, I figured that it would at least get my head into the right space to get started.

I completed the writing workshop whilst I was on my Fellowship travels in Singapore and Hong Kong, and I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to talk about it here.

Who?

Jen Campbell
Jen Campbell

Jen Campbell has written a number of (fantastic) non-fiction books about books and booksellers, she’s also written poetry, short stories and children’s books, and she’s currently working on her first novel. Jen runs these workshops for a small group of people a few times a year, and you don’t need to have any formal writing experience or training to take part.

Where?

Since this workshop is online, you can take part wherever you are in the world. There is a text-only Skype session scheduled for feedback, but if the time isn’t suitable then you are able to get feedback on your work via email instead.

What?

The workshop includes two tasks. The first involves looking at some examples of creative non-fiction and analysing them to work out why they are (or are not) successful, the second is a bigger beast; writing your own piece of creative non-fiction of up to 2,000 words.

The first task was necessary and interesting, but it was the second task that really got me thinking. The instructions Jen gives state, ‘You might want to write about a personal experience, you might want to write an informal essay, or a piece of memoir. Do whatever you like.’ I’d never had this much freedom to write non-fiction before, and it scared me (I’m not sure why, only Jen and the other workshop participants would see my writing. It wasn’t as if the stakes were particularly high – we were all there to learn). Regardless, it took me a few days of bouncing ideas around in my head to settle on something to write about, and then I did it. I sat down at my laptop and wrote, and honestly, it felt like a form of therapy. I wrote something very personal that I doubt I’ll ever share, and I loved it. It was a rough first draft and I knew it could be significantly improved, but for the first time in months I genuinely enjoyed the process of writing.

I sent both of my completed tasks to Jen before I had time to doubt myself, and a week later I got feedback. I’ve watched Jen’s YouTube channel for a few years and I’ve read lots of her books so I know that she is good at what she does, but for something so quick (and reasonably priced), I was expecting surface level feedback at best. Instead, I logged into the Skype chat (the one good thing about my experience with jet-lag) and she explained fundamental techniques, gave in-depth, well thought through feedback, suggested edits to my text, and the promise of a second round of feedback on a future draft. There were only 3 of us on the Skype chat and it was useful to hear both Jen’s feedback for the other workshop participant, and the other participant’s feedback on my piece.

I fully intended to edit that piece of writing within a week of the Skype chat; I felt passionate about learning this new skill and I was looking forward to revising my work (seriously, when does anyone think that?). Perhaps obviously, I didn’t have the time. My Fellowship travels were in full swing, and I got caught up with writing what felt like a million other things.

Now, I’m at one of Rowena Murray’s writing retreats, and as usual, I’ve managed to get way more work done than I thought I would (if either of my PhD supervisors are reading this –  I’ve finished a new draft of the qualitative paper!), so I’m using one of the last sessions to edit my piece and write this blog post.

On reflection, I’m glad that I took a forced step back from creative non-fiction as it feels like Jen’s advice has sunk in over the last few months. Now I’m excited to make time to write, whether it’s as a sort of therapeutic outlet, or to continue banging on about science and science communication in a (hopefully) more engaging way.

When?

If you’d like to try one of Jen Campbell’s online writing workshops for yourself, take a look at her website for dates. There are currently no dates for group workshops, but she also doing individual workshops throughout the year.

Recommended?

Yes, absolutely. I’m actually thinking of signing up for another one of Jen’s workshops later in the year – something further out of my comfort zone; perhaps this is the year that I start writing poetry!


Books with Jen podcast logoI also wanted to mention Jen’s podcast – BOOKS WITH JEN. If you’re at all interested in reading, writing, books, authors and/or cups of tea, you’ll like this. All of the episodes are spoiler-free too, which means it’s one of my favourite sources to find out about books before going out to buy them.

Good Things: April 2019

I haven’t blogged in over a month. I’ve been way too busy with work stuff, Science On A Postcard stuff, friend stuff and family stuff. It’s been a busy month, and I’m determined to get back into the swing of regular blogging – so I’m kicking off with a look back at the good things that happened during April.

Excellent humans

April’s excellent human of the month was my counsellor. I started person-centred counselling in the first week of March, and fully expected to be attending weekly appointments for at least the next few months. I’d planned to transition from weekly, to fortnightly, and then monthly appointments, with the aim of feeling more myself by the end of the year. I’ve spoken about how I’ve tried counselling before, that didn’t work out for me so I expected this attempt to take a while for things to begin to settle and for me to see improvements. Turns out, when you find the right counsellor things can start to feel good pretty quickly. I had 6 sessions in total, the last one just a few weeks ago, and I feel like my brain is finally allowing me to enjoy things again. April wasn’t 100% excellent headspace-wise, but I feel like those sessions have helped me a lot, and for the first time in a long time I’m looking forward feeling almost entirely positive.

I also met Dr Claudia Antolini in April! I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while and she will also be one of the speakers at Aberdeen’s Soapbox Science event in May, so it was wonderful to finally meet her and talk all things science communication, inclusion and diversity. She’s a fantastic science communicator and if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you should.

Cool places

I knew that this category would leave me underwhelmed every month since I listed places in Berlin and Washington DC in my January ‘Good Things’ post..

Does ‘in the air’ count? My partner took me flying in April, and we had a very lovely time. Though he did make us go upside down without warning me which was a little alarming to say the least.

April was pretty quiet in terms of travel, I went to Edinburgh Science Festival, but I’ve mostly stayed in Aberdeen. That said, I’ve really enjoyed working in coffee shops lately – I find that I can get on with work without being interrupted. The fact that I’m sat at a table with my laptop and strangers may see me not working means I’m more likely to knuckle down and get on with things. Also – cake and coffee.

Cult of Coffee has been my favourite, because look at this cake platter.. To be clear: I did not eat this by myself, and I went home and had a nap afterwards. Even between 2 we didn’t finish it, but holy cow it was delicious.

Book(s) of the month
Online media
One specific moment
  • As some of you may know, I have an Etsy shop (Science On A Postcard), and this month I went to my first local Etsy meet up. There’s a group of volunteers in Aberdeen running our local branch; they put together the Etsy seller fairs, they put on super useful creative workshops, and they have lots more creative and business experience than I do. I had a bloody lovely time at the meet up, and my favourite moment of the entire month was walking into the meeting and someone I didn’t know saying ‘oh cool, you’re from Science On A Postcard!’. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy because this tiny little business is reaching people that I haven’t nagged to buy stuff – incredible!
Work thing
  • This month I’ve had a Masters student working with me and it’s been so, so good! I still feel like an academic baby, but the first few weeks of working with a Masters student has been amazing for my confidence. I do know stuff, I do have experience, and I can share those skills and experiences with other people. Also she’s a fab student and I’m super excited to see how the project comes out, so that helps a lot.

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

On Not Being a PhD Student Anymore

I’ve got a (relatively long-term in the world of academia) grown up job; hoorah! After my PhD finished I had a 6 month contract working as a Research Assistant, that contract ended just before Christmas meaning I could head off on my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship travels. Now I’m back in the UK and looking at career steps that are hopefully a bit more stable.

I’ve been working as a Research Fellow for a month now, and I’ve had a few friends who are in the final stages of beavering away at their PhDs ask what it’s like to not be a student. Personally I hadn’t really put much thought into it before anyone had asked – probably because I’m working with the same (wonderful) team as I was before, and I have been focussing on learning how to my job and getting back into some semblance of normal life after a few months gallivanting across time zones.. Anyway, I figured it was time to reflect on how things have changed (or not) since leaving finally student life behind at the age of 26.

Image from Cristina Vanko’s 100 Days of Adulting project

First up, I’d just like to confirm that the rumours are true; there is life after a PhD, and it is entirely possible to not be a student.

 

When you’re in the thick of it, it can feel overwhelming and never-ending, but it does come to an end and you absolutely can graduate. Lots of people have done it before you, and people will do it after you; but it takes grit and resilience. I’ve spoken before about my hope of staying in academic research, and for now at least, that’s going well – my current contract will keep me in employment until 2021.

The main difference between my role now and my role as a Research Assistant, is that I’m now leading a project rather than supporting other researchers across lots of different ones. In that sense it feels a lot like when I was doing the PhD; I have a main project to focus on, and then a few little ones bubbling away in the background. If I’m honest, I much prefer that set up than Research Assistant life – I found working across lots of different things without leading any of them quite difficult, I felt like I lacked focus because my work was so varied. Now my days are still varied, but not too varied if you know what I mean? The work is substantial enough for me to get my teeth into, but there’s also some nice bits of what I think of as ‘snack-y’ work for me to do to keep me on my toes.

I think the only real difference between working in an actual grown up job and being a PhD student, is that people seem to take you a bit more seriously (I’m cringing just typing that, but I think it’s true… eeeek!). When I say ‘people’ I don’t mean my colleagues at work, I mean everyone else. I’ve shed the badge of student that I’ve carried around with me for so long, and it feels like people now view me as a ‘Researcher’ because I work for a University. My own perception was that I was a Researcher when I was doing my PhD, but maybe that’s not normal? I don’t know.
The best example of this was when my partner was updating our details for council tax recently. He asked what my job title was, and I said Research Fellow, and he did a sort of double take and said ‘seriously, I thought you were a Researcher?’. I explained that when someone asks me what I do, ‘Researcher’ is what I use – it’s more descriptive, and the ‘Fellow’ literally adds nothing but jargon and a weird air of self-importance. The response I got to that? ‘Yea, but Research Fellow sounds so much more of a big deal, like woah, you’re a Research Fellow, that’s pretty cool.’

Anna Borges / BuzzFeed / Via buzzfeed.com

It’s weird how a job title can make people think differently of you, more often than not they take you more seriously as soon as you no longer reply ‘student’, and that’s felt very strange to me over the past few weeks. I still feel like a giant baby, I am still outraged when I’m expected to pay bills on a regular basis (I’m only half joking; seriously, it’s relentless – every month?!), and I still call my Mum when something of note happens because I’m largely clueless as to how to deal with things that grown ups do (see the point above where my partner was dealing with the council tax..).

Adulting is hard, and not having the safety net of the student title takes away a whole lot of leeway when it comes to screwing up and not knowing stuff (I have no proof of that, that’s just my perception). Now it feels like people think I know shit when in actual fact I feel like I know less than I ever have? Anyway, I’m going to end this post now before I continue to waffle on about how growing up is an absolute con. Please tell me I’m not alone here?!

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 🙂

 

Goals for 2019

Yesterday I published a post reflecting on 2018 – a massive year for me that encompassed huge highs (hello PhD!), and some very real lows as well. Many of those lows were in relation to my personal life, and this blog is not the place to talk about them. That conscious decision to only include professional things in my reflections made it look like 2018 was essentially made up of achievement after achievement; good thing after good thing. Lots of good things did happen in 2018, but there is room for improvement to make 2019 the year that I want it to be – enter, goals for 2019!

A side note before I get into my goals: this year it feels like there’s an awful lot of people rubbishing the idea of the new year being a trigger for change, but for me it works. It’s an obvious time to refocus and reassess what I want out of both my professional and personal lives, and looking back gives me a boost to kick start the year with positive intentions. This isn’t about turning supposedly bad habits into good ones, or that whole ‘new year, new me’ bullshit, it’s just about making some tweaks to make sure that I have realistic expectations for the year ahead.

So, some things I’d like to do in 2019…

Refocus my career aspirations and invest my time accordingly
As I said in my reflections post, I spent a huge amount of time doing public engagement and science communication activities in 2018, but that’s not my job. I am not a professional science communicator or a public engagement professional, I am a researcher that communicates my science and works to engage the public with my science, because I am passionate about my field of science. I would like more people to know that research on research is a thing, I would like more people to understand just how important it is for us to get research methods right, for us to optimise and ensure our methods are as efficient as possible so that we can get good quality evidence from ‘traditional’ research (here I mean the scientific research that is being done to cure a disease or improve the way we diagnose etc, rather than research on research which is what I do).

Towards the end of 2018 my research work started to suffer because I was spending too much time on public engagement activities. Before I left work for Christmas it was becoming really clear to me that I needed to make some decisions about how I approach public engagement. I’ve said before that I don’t want to be a science communicator, I don’t want to make a living from doing public engagement; that’s still true, so it’s time for me to refocus and set some boundaries to make sure that I’m investing my time and energy in projects that are reflective of my future career aspirations – to stay in academic research that aims to improve the way that we do clinical trials.

Publish 2 papers from my PhD
This goal links in with the point I made earlier about spending a lot of time doing public engagement. Just after I submitted my thesis in June, I told my supervisors that I wanted to have drafts of 2 papers complete and ready to submit before Christmas. That didn’t happen, but in 2019 I want those two papers drafted, revised and submitted. This shouldn’t take a huge amount of work – I had one draft done and sent to supervisors before Christmas, so I need to spend some time editing that and cutting text down etc to send round for comments again, and the other one is currently sitting as a thesis chapter that needs to be reshaped. I’d really like to have both of these submitted and with journals for peer review by April this year, which I think is realistic.

Wind down my freelance work
I’ve talked about being a freelancer on this blog before – there are definite good bits and bad bits, but this year I’d like to continue winding down my freelance activities. When I first started to do freelance writing I liked the flexibility of it and the additional money I made enabled me to live more comfortably. Now I’m in a very fortunate position where I have a full time contract for 2 years when I start my new job in March, I’ll be on an actual grown up person’s salary and during those two years I don’t want to be spending my ‘spare’ time on freelance stuff. Instead I want to use it to put my absolute all into my research career – finding fellowships, making connections with people and doing some bloody good research. I enjoyed freelancing at times, but in recent months it has become yet another thing on my to do list; even during the final weeks of thesis writing I was writing copy for businesses, and this year it’s been a pretty relentless schedule of two blog posts (that require a decent amount of time to research before I even start writing), every single week. In 2019 I want to spend that time in other ways.

Rediscover a love of fitness
Linking into public engagement and all of the extra things that I’ve done along side my research, I have not been to the gym in months. I don’t mean like a month or two, I mean probably about 9 months now. I’ve been paying for use of a pretty high end gym for that entire time, and I have booked classes, but I’ve then gone on to cancel them because something else came up – Science On A Postcard orders needing to be packed or freelance projects had tight deadlines etc. In 2019 that needs to change. I used to go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week, and I loved it. It was a normal part of my routine, and one that kept my mental health in check just as well as my physical health. Recently I’ve been experiencing really bad tiredness – I’m hesitant to call it fatigue because I don’t think it’s been that bad, but I have been sleeping a ridiculous amount, and feeling too tired to do things like going to the gym. Starting the year with a holiday and some much needed stress free time has been great, and I now have some supplements that will hopefully help the tiredness to reduce over the coming months, so I’d like to stat re-building my gym habit, and start going to hot yoga classes again. Whilst I’ve been out of the UK I haven’t had access to a gym (nor have I wanted it to be honest), but I’ve been walking lots which has been a great way to see new places whilst also keeping my body moving.

Those are the 4 main things I want to focus on during 2019, I have some little things I’d also like to do or get involved with, but I’ll update those as and when they (hopefully) happen! What do you think of setting new goals at the start of a new year; does it help you? If so, leave a comment and let me know what you plan to work on this year – I always find that putting my goals ‘out there’ and telling someone gives me more of a boost to pursue them so let’s share and encourage each other 🙂

Reflections on 2018

I’ve come to the end of my little Canadian holiday – Cameron has left Toronto to head back to the UK, and hard work on my WCMT fellowship starts next week. Wahhhhh. Well, it’s hardly the worst thing in the world, but I do miss him already.
Anyway, emotions out of the way… it’s already January 5th and I haven’t spent any time reflecting on how 2018 went, so this what this blog post is going to be. The start of a new year is the perfect time for me to step back and have a look at what I’ve achieved in the previous 12 months, and what I’d like to achieve going forward (that’s coming in another post).

2018 goal: Finish the thesis, become Dr Gardner
How did I do? NAILED IT. To be fair, this goal was a bit of a cheat – my funding ran out at the end of June, so I really had to have my thesis done and handed in before that. I was hugely relieved and happy to have passed my viva with minor corrections, meaning I was able to make those corrections and resubmit in time for the winter graduation ceremonies that take place in November at the University of Aberdeen. It’s still weird when people refer to me as ‘Dr’ – I say people like this has happened a lot; it hasn’t, it’s mainly been my mum.

(L-R) Prof Marion Campbell, Dr Katie Gillies, me (and Tatty, my bear), Prof Shaun Treweek. Three wonderful colleagues who were supportive, enthusiastic and passionate throughout my PhD studies.

2018 goal: Secure funding for after the PhD
How did I do? This was the goal that I was most worried about. When you finish a funded PhD, that funding eventually comes to an end – for me that date was 30th June 2018. During my PhD my tuition fees were paid for by Aberdeen University’s Development Trust, along with a modest stipend; a lump of money that was given to me in monthly installments, tax-free, for me to live on. Whilst I was very lucky to have that funding, it was a small amount of money that enabled me to live, but I wasn’t able to save money during that time so the stress of funding completely stopping was a definite worry of mine in the early part of 2018. I explained this to my supervisors, and made them aware that I wanted to stay in Aberdeen doing research on trials methodology work of some kind.
Being open with those around me meant I had a little team championing my quest for funding and cheering me on – and it worked! I got a 6 month contract as a Research Assistant from June 2018, finishing just before Christmas, I’m now away on Fellowship travels, and when I get back I have a new contract as Research Fellow waiting for me on March 1st. I’ll post more about my new project nearer the time, but I’m really excited to get my teeth into it after having a few months of working on lots of different things at once.

2018 goal: Get involved with some new, innovative science communication and public engagement projects
How did I do? I think this one went pretty well – I did a lot of public engagement in 2018, maybe too much (can you ever do too much? that’s a question for another day, but I do feel like it started to encroach on my research time which wasn’t great).
Anyway, I brought Soapbox Science to Aberdeen for the first time (in 2019 we’ll have 2 events, which reminds me, if you’re based in Aberdeen and would like to take part as a speaker then you can apply now here), I then created another event called ‘Snappy Science’ which followed a similar format to Soapbox, but speakers only had 20 minutes to communicate their science before they were told to get off their soapboxes, I also gave talks about my research to members of the public based in rural communities as well as other academic researchers, I took part in I’m A Scientist which involved online chats with schools across the UK every day for a period of 2 weeks, I contributed to events at Aberdeen’s May Festival and TechFest events, and I continued blogging – though I did have a pretty significant break over the summer whilst I was in a thesis-induced meltdown.

Soapbox Science Aberdeen 2018 speakers.

Collaborative project with Nina Draws Scientists.

As well as public engagement events, I’m really proud of the work that I’ve continued to do with Science On A Postcard, which is a very tiny online business that I run from the office I share with my partner in what should be our spare room. This year I specifically wanted to do more collaborations; I wanted to work with other creative people so that I could create more products that were relevant to

the science community. That went pretty well; Science On A Postcard’s first collaboration was with Nina Chhita from Nina Draws Scientists – we created a set of postcards featuring women in science; they were released in time for International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11th February), and a % of profits went to organisations supporting and advocating for women in science.

Collaborative project with Teddy Perkins.

That little collaboration sparked a few more, in 2018 we’ve worked with Cutie and The Feast, Teddy Perkins (a greetings card business ran by my Mum, who is now looking after the Science On A Postcard shop whilst I’m away), the Scicommunity, the PhDepression, Super Cool Scientists, Designed By Ebony, and Wonk! Science magazine. Writing that all down has made me realise just how much work that Science On A Postcard has taken this year – no wonder I’m so bloody tired!

So I did quite well with the goals that I set myself for 2018 – hoorah!

Professionally, 2018 was a huge year for me, but that doesn’t mean that it was all positive. I’m incredibly proud of myself for what I’ve achieved over the last 12 months, but honestly, it has left me exhausted. Writing this post has really highlighted where I’ve invested my time, and it’s given me some real food for thought for the goals that I’m going to set myself for 2019. Those goals will be up on the blog within the next few days, so keep an eye out if you’re interested to know where I’m hoping 2019 will take me!