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!

An Update on What’s in Store for the Next Few Months

I’ve done that thing again where I have a tonne of ideas and things to post, and then life gets in the way and time disappears leaving me with a never ending to do list and a blog that hasn’t been updated in too long. That never ending to do list is currently almost entirely on hold because I have left the UK, and will be returning only to switch out the contents of my suitcase, before returning at the very end of February. For the first time in a very long time, I’ve put everything on hold in favour of one project – my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.

I’m currently on holiday in Quebec City with my boyfriend. We’ve only been in Quebec for 1 day, but it’s been a pretty wonderful start to the trip. It’s freezing cold; -18°C levels of freezing cold, so today we’ve spent the day wrapped up warm and wandering around the city. We dawdled down towards the river that we can see from our hotel (incredible view from our room below!), and somehow ended up hurtling down a traditional toboggan run that’s one of the oldest attractions in the city. I did a lot of screaming and laughed so much that by the time we reached the bottom my face ached, my teeth were the coldest they’ve ever been, and I had tears streaming down my face. Today I also had a slice of the best pecan pie I’ve ever tasted – unsurprisingly, Canada suits me very well so far.

Tomorrow we are heading out to Montmorency Falls – a waterfall one and a half times higher than Niagra falls, and just a short drive outside of the city. Montmorency Falls freezes in the winter and it’s apparently a must-see if you’re in Quebec at this time of year. I’m super excited to see the views and take some time to see more of the area than we can on foot.

We’re staying in Quebec for new year’s eve, and then we’re heading to Toronto for a few days after new year. After that, Cameron is heading back home to Aberdeen and I’ll be in full Fellowship mode. Currently my itinerary looks something like this:

  • 5th-12th January: Toronto
  • 12th-18th January: New York
  • 18th-22nd January: New Hampshire
  • 22nd-30th January: Washington DC
  • 1st-3rd February: Berlin
  • 7th-16th February: Singapore
  • 16th-25th February: Hong Kong

So, what can you expect to see on this blog as I attempt to remember what city I’m in over the coming weeks and months?
Hopefully you’ll be pleased to know that I’ll be taking you along for the ride! My Fellowship project is all about science blogging, and using creative techniques to improve the way that blogs can engage the public with science, so it seems like a good idea to keep bit of a diary of my travels in blog form. I’ll also be doing a few more creative blog posts to try my hand at the new techniques and methods that I’ll be learning about from the experts that I’m meeting up with throughout.

On the subject of experts – if you are a science communicator, scientist that communicates their science to public audiences, someone using science as inspiration for creative projects, and you will be in any of those cities when I am scheduled to be, please let me know!
I’ve reached out to a number of people that I want to meet up with, but have purposefully kept my schedule relatively free so that I can make connections as I go. Leave a comment on this post, or tweet me (@heidirgardner), and let’s talk creative science communication.

About that Blogtober thing…

Hello again..

When I last did one of these ‘I SWEAR I’m gonna post more’ type posts, I said I was going to do Blogtober – i.e. posting every day in October. I did that, kind of, a little bit, not entirely. I missed 2 days between October 1st and 25th, and I haven’t posted since then.

I very definitely haven’t just been doing nothing in that time. It’s now 9.45pm on Tuesday 20th November and I am doing panicking about how little time I have left before my contract finishes at work. Not because I don’t know what I’m going to do, but because oh my God there is SO MUCH to do.

Since I last blogged, I’ve done a fair amount of stuff, a mix of fun at home stuff, fun at work stuff and at work stuff, including but not limited to:

  • Been flying in my boyfriend’s new aeroplane
  • Seen friends in Glasgow that we haven’t seen for months
  • Continued to learn Mandarin (I know! Exciting! I want to write a blog post on this soon)
  • Done 2 vivas for students (weird, because I was the examiner?)
  • Had some really annoying issues with my depression medication that’s meant that I am genuinely finding it hard to get enough sleep – not that I can’t sleep, but that I can’t stop sleeping. It’s really annoying and my love for the NHS is the only thing stopped me from exploding about the fact that I’m still waiting for a follow up appointment to try and fix things despite this having a massive impact on my day to day life. (If anyone is interested in weird ways depression can impact your life, let me know – happy to talk about it if people are interested or think it might be helpful)
  • Took part in 2 weeks of I’m A Scientist live chats with schools across the UK (again, I’ll write a blog post on this at some point soon)
  • Been home to see my Mum for a weekend (thanks to aforementioned medication issues I slept for about 60% of the time I was there..)
  • Advertised and spoke to students interested in an MSc project that I proposed, so that’s exciting (not sure if any of them have chosen the project yet but fingers crossed!)
  • Given interviews for 2 separate 30 Under 30 things (beyond hilarious)
  • Gave an invited talk at the James Hutton Institute about the importance of academic blogging (the irony of giving said talk having not posted anything here for weeks was not lost on me)
  • Had my first ever full body massage (OMG DO IT, I felt like a new woman for days afterwards)
  • Signed up and started volunteering as a Coordinator for Pint of Science – we are bringing the event to Aberdeen in May 2019 (I’m very excited about this)
  • Designed some last minute Christmas stock for Science On A Postcard (it’s a collab with Wonk! Magazine – coming soooon)
  • Booked all of my accommodation for adventuring end of December to February 2019 (EXCITING! Again, another blog post coming on this soon)
  • Cleared out my wardrobe and furnished Aberdeen’s charity shops with an embarrassing amount of clothes
  • Gave a Cafe Scientifique talk in Tarland, Aberdeenshire, where I talked about clinical trials, research waste, and the work we’re doing at Trial Forge to make trials more efficient
  • Submitted the hard bound copy of my PhD thesis (proof in the form of a photograph below) and ordered robes etc because I AM GRADUATING ON FRIDAY.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m going to sort my inbox out before I go to bed, and do my very best not to sleep through my alarm for the hundredth time this month. Tomorrow is going to be super busy and brilliant because we have a visiting researcher at work, and I have multiple Skype chats to make sure I get everything I want to get done, done, before I leave the Unit at the end of December.

What I really want to do now is say I’m going to do Blogmas – i.e. posting every day in December in the run up to Christmas, but we all know that if I say I’ll do the whole Blogmas thing, I’ll probably get caught up with other things. So, I won’t say I’m doing Blogmas, but I will update soon, probably with graduation photographs after Friday 🙂

Have a lovely week everyone!