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.

Knowing When to Take a Break

If you’ve been following my Blogtober posts, you might have noticed that I missed a day yesterday. I just did not have the time to get a blog post written and uploaded.
I had planned to do it on Tuesday night, but I ended up getting caught up with some freelance work and then packaging and sorting my shop orders took way longer than I thought it would. Yesterday just seemed to go by in a blur; in the morning I was doing a viva for an MSci student that I’ve been supervising whilst she’s been away on placement all year. After that I had a Mandarin Chinese lesson (I’ll talk more about this in another blog post – it’s so much fun!), and then by the time I got back to my desk, sorted out my inbox, and did the urgent things on my to do list it was almost 6pm and my tummy was doing the ‘leave work now and feed me’ grumbles. Predictably, last night also went at super speed and before I knew it it was 11pm.

I had thought of staying up and working on getting a blog post up before midnight because the thought of missing 1 day in the middle of the month was driving me mad, but after more than 30 seconds’ thought and a yawn that was so big it probably could have broken my jaw, I decided against it.

Today has also gone by in a blur, so I’m here after 6pm thinking ‘oh crap, what do I blog about today?’ – and I think that in itself is interesting. I blog to share my research, to draw attention to subjects that I care about, and to try to encourage people to engage with health services research. If I’m exhausted and pushed for time, it’s very unlikely that I’ll achieve any of those things; knowing when to take a break is important.

So, with that in mind, I am going to take tonight easy. I am going to read my book (I’m currently reading Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss and really enjoying it so far), I might write a blog post later on, and I’m going to get an early night.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog post that I haven’t felt pressured or felt rushed to write. I’m planning on doing a ‘publication explainer’ post talking about embedded studies, what they are and why we need more of them.

Have a lovely evening 🙂

Science On A Postcard X PhDepression

Another post that’s late in the day for #Blogtober.. today was just a bit hectic and I feel like I’ve been constantly busy since I left my flat at 7.15am. It’s now 10pm and I’ve just finished putting new listings in the Science On A Postcard Etsy shop, so I figured I’d give them their own little blog post.

A few months ago Susanna Harris from PhDepression messaged the Science On A Postcard account on Instagram to talk to me about a potential collaboration. I’ve spoken a lot before about my own struggles with mental health, and I think it was pretty clear to Susanna that I thought that what she was doing with PhDepression was fantastic.

From the PhDepression website:

The PhDepression LLC founder Susanna Harris explains her passion for this project: “When the Nature Biotech article showed nearly 40% of graduate students struggle with anxiety or depression, I felt a sense of belonging. A year before, I was in a deep depression, and this paper made me feel less alone. But I couldn’t name 5, let alone 50, students in my cohort that might be struggling. There was a disparity between the public faces in our universities and the underlying stories.

The PhDepression LLC aims to increase visibility of those who have struggled with mental health issues, from students to postdocs, future PhDs to those who have long-since graduated. Many of us deal with these problems, and we must support our community by breaking the stigma around mental illness. Academia would be a stronger, kinder place if we could talk about these things openly and get the help we need”.

So, what is this wonderous collaborative product that we came up with? Well.. it’s 2 products actually. One is a pin badge, and the other is a set of 5 notecards; all fit the theme of mental health and self care.

‘Self Care Is Not Selfish’ enamel pin badge (Available to buy here for £6)

Funds from the sale of both of these products goes towards keeping PhDepression going – that will likely include costs for the website, potentially travel to help the team spread the PhDepression message through giving talks, whatever they need to help support the project and enable the team to carry on the important work that they are doing.

If you are a graduate student or researcher that’s struggling with your mental health, please go to The PhDepression for help and support – if you would like someone to talk to, or somewhere to go to find out about what sort of help is available to you, these people are offering a completely free network designed simply to help.

‘Thank You/Self Care’ Set of 5 Notecards (Available to buy here for £7.50)

For more information on The PhDepression head here:

thephdepression.com
twitter.com/Ph_D_epression
instagram.com/ph_d_epression

On Talking: Some Thoughts on Mental Health

We are told to talk.
Talking will change things;
Talking will ‘end the stigma‘.

I have talked,
I am still talking,
Talking is not enough.


Today is World Mental Health Day; the day that social media feeds are filled with posts about people’s experience of poor mental health, photographs of anxiety meds and anti-depressants flood Instagram and Twitter in an effort to normalise these experiences and end the stigma.

This happens every year, and it’s not enough.

Talking is good, I agree with that, but we are talking. I talk regularly about my mental health – I’ve posted about what it was like to be diagnosed with depression whilst doing a PhD and that post has been read by hundreds of people, and I’m very open with friends and colleagues about the fact that sometimes my brain just doesn’t work how I want it to. I’ve emailed my supervisors and colleagues asking to reschedule meetings because I just couldn’t think properly that day, I’ve convinced my boyfriend to travel to a conference with me because I felt too anxious to go alone. I’ve been there, and I’ve been brutally open and honest about it. I’m not ashamed, I talk about the fact that without my ‘delicious antidepressants’ I might not have got out of bed that day.

I talked to my Doctor. I paid to talk to a counsellor, that didn’t work for me and it wasn’t sustainable (£40 for a 50 minute session). I waited 18 months until I could talk to a counsellor on the NHS, and she told me to think about losing weight, doing some exercise and eating more healthily (she hadn’t asked how much exercise I was doing or what my diet was like).

Talking is not enough.

Talking may work to ‘end the stigma’, but ending the stigma is not enough.
We need action.

Earlier this year I read an article in The Metro that summed up my thoughts pretty well:

Theresa May said last year, ‘We must get over the stigma’. Okay, lip service paid. But then, as part of the same speech, she says it’s ‘wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding’ and that no more money will be available to develop services. It feels like being told: ‘Sorry pal, we know your leg’s broken. We can’t put a cast on it right now (budget cuts), but just know that we’re working to reduce the stigma against users of crutches. Off you go.’”

On this World Mental Health Day, instead of posting on social media, don’t just like and retweet the posts you see about mental ill health, do something about it.

Ask for change:
Petition – Drastically improve funding for Mental Health Services within the UK
Petition – Fund facilities for people who feel suicidal so they always have somewhere to go
Contact your MP
Work to make your workplace more mentally healthy with this 7-step guide
If you are able to, donate to local organisations that are working to keep mental health services and support in place in your community Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Support in Mind Scotland.

If you are in the UK and you need access to mental health help and support services, please take a look here.

Non-Work Goals: 3 Month Check In

3 months ago I wrote a blog post about setting non-work related goals; something that my PhD supervisor suggested I do in order to combat the post-thesis hand in slump. In doesn’t feel like anywhere near 3 months has passed since I wrote that blog post, but it’s time for a check in.

Goal: Rediscover my love of reading

What I said I was going to do: “Over the next few months I’d like to get to the fiction books I bought from Powell’s City of Books (a selection of the pile shown on the right – I know, I buy too many books) when I was in Portland, and also some books that were released this year (Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy, and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon).”

What I’ve done: I think this has been the most successful of the goals that I set myself in July, so I’m starting on a high. Since then I’ve read 21 books! I’ve read all three of those that I listed, and a good chunk of the books that I bought in Portland too. Here’s a list of my favourites from those 21 books (if you’re on Goodreads then come be my friend on there too! My profile is here):

  • When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy (4*/5)
  • The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi, translated by Deborah Smith (4*/5)
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (5*/5)
  • Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (5*/5)
  • Stickle Island by Tim Orchard (4*/5)
  • The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein (4*/5) (I listened to this one on audiobook)
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (4*/5)
  • Life Honestly by The Pool (5*/5) (I listened to this one on audiobook)

Goal: Learn how to ride a bicycle

What I said I was going to do: “Now I’ve proven to myself that I can write a whole thesis and actually do a PhD (which I will always argue is more about tenacity than intelligence), I figure it’s time I give the bike thing another shot. Also, I really want a bike with a basket on the front that I can fill with picnic food and gin, and if I can’t ride it then that dream is never going to happen.”

What I’ve done: I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT! This was the goal that I thought I’d struggle with, but I can actually ride a bike!! My lovely boyfriend lent me his bike and then spent a few hours at the park near where we live holding the seat whilst I squealed “I’m going to fall, ahhh I’m going to fall!” Turns out, I did fall pretty spectacularly and then I had to be taught how to fall off a bike… yes, I can write a thesis worthy of a doctorate but when time’s going really fast I completely forger to put my feet on the floor.

Anyway, I’ve got actual real life video evidence for this one, and I don’t care how embarrassing it is because I am 26 years old and I can ride a bicycle!

Goal: Do something new and creative

What I said I was going to do: “A few months ago I bought the ‘How to be a Craftivist’ book by Sarah Corbett (right) after listening to a podcast that she did with Leena Norms, I haven’t yet read the book, but just listening to the podcast gave me tonnes of ideas about how I could use craftivist ideas to spread awareness of scientific concepts. All of those ideas are still in the back of my mind but I haven’t had time to do anything with them, now I do have some time and I think this could be a brilliant little passion project before Christmas. Not sure what the creative project will be just yet – maybe a zine? Not sure.. ”

What I’ve done: This is the goal that I’ve barely made a start on, but given that the other two have gone so well I think that’s ok. In August I bought Joe Biel’s book, How to Make a Zine (photograph to the left taken from Syndicated Zine Reviews), and I’ve had a very quick flick through it, but I haven’t done anything about said zine making challenge yet. I also thought about taking on board some of Sarah Corbett’s ideas on craftivism, but I haven’t got around to reading the How to be a Craftivist book yet. I did order a little craftivism kit from Sarah’s website though, so I think I’ll do that before I start making plans for my own craftivism.

I’m pretty pleased with the status of these goals just 3 months on – in particular I hadn’t realised that I had read so much, so that was a lovely surprise. How have you been doing with striking a work/life balance over the summer months? I feel like during summer it’s easier to strike that balance because it’s sunny and people are making plans to go adventuring after work. It’ll be interesting to see how I do with maintaining this new found balance into the autumn months when the nights get darker and it becomes all too easy to stay sitting in front of my laptop.

Saying No, Nicely

I originally wrote this post in September 2015 when I was just a few months into my PhD, but I wanted to repost it now as it remains relevant. I am lucky that there are still lots of opportunities to get involved in different projects coming my way; I am grateful for them, and excited to see where they take me, but it’s still important to learn where you boundaries are and when to say no.


During your PhD you’ll be given opportunities to get involved with multiple different projects; from attending conferences, training courses and workshops to blogging and volunteering at public engagement events. It’s easy to get caught up in these opportunities and sign up for lots of different tasks – but it’s also important to remember why you’re here. You’re here to do a PhD, to do your own independent research, not to be attending irrelevant events or volunteering too much of your time for writing outside of research.

I think I fell into the trap of PhD FOMO (fear of missing out) initially. I signed up for a lot of training courses and workshops and then found myself wishing I had more time to sit and sort through the questions that remain about my project. I spoke to my supervisor and was assured that this is pretty common at the start of a PhD. You want to make sure you’re super well-equipped to deal with every potential problem you might come up against so training is good, but being honest you’ll never be prepared for every issue you may encounter. It’s also very easy to gravitate to tasks which are less diffuse. In the early stages your project will be a bit vague in parts as you’re still nailing down the specifics of your work; courses and defined tasks are attractive, they’re easy to tick off a ‘to do’ list and they give you a sense of accomplishment.

My supervisor sent me a paper – 13 ways to advance your career by saying ‘no’ nicely, part 1: why to say ‘no’ (nicely), and saying ‘no’ to email. Every PhD student should be given this paper!

Here’s a quote from the paper:
We think how to say ‘no’ is one of the most important skills we can impart to our mentees and younger colleagues. Having to do this for them originally struck us as odd, given that most of them learned the power of the word ‘no’ between the ages of one and two. Then we realized that most of us, having learned to say ‘no’ at an early age, lose this power during years of regimented, authoritarian schooling.

It’s completely true! We’re taught throughout school and university, to take every chance we’re given and to make the most of it. This isn’t bad advice but it can lead us into situations where we’re simply not getting enough of our actual job done; ‘saying ‘yes’ too often and too soon can do more harm than good to your career and to your ability to help others.’

So this week and going forward, I’ll be nicely saying no more often. I’m looking forward to being reunited with my desk and being able to get to grips with my research.

5 Podcasts You Should Listen To This Month

About a month after I handed my thesis in, I bought a new car. It was a very exciting day – it’s the same car that I had before, but with 100,000 miles less on the clock, and the addition of a USB port that means I can listen to stuff on my phone, through my car radio. I KNOW. It’s been a mind-blowing few weeks of discovery. I’ve listened to some absolutely brilliant podcasts, so I thought I’d start #Blogtober by sharing them; they’re all science/healthcare related, but with topics communicated in such personal and accessible ways that one of them genuinely made me cry.

Healthcare is HILARIOUS

What’s it about? Casey Quinlan describes her podcast as ‘Snark about Healthcare’ which covers things pretty well. She’s a ‘Comedy Health Analyst’ who advises people to stop screaming because laughing hurts less. A lot of her content focusses on the American healthcare system and the frankly laughable systems that it is made up of. It’s frustrating, upsetting, but with a brilliantly hopeful and rebellious streak.

Any standout episodes? The most recent one! #CochraneForAll – Bagpipes, science and crisis comms. My friend Lyuba Lytvyn is interviewed on this podcast, and she mentions me! Obviously, that’s not the only reason why this is a fantastic episode, but it helps. Aside from that though, the episode covers the need for healthcare consumers to be involved in research (#100in100), the importance of capacity building in patient and public involvement, and more from the Cochrane Colloquium that was held in Edinburgh in September. Also, the episode with Victor Montori as a guest is brilliant – listen to it, he’s calling for a revolution in healthcare, and he’s talking a lot of sense.

Links: Listen here | Support on Patreon here

Science Talk

What’s it about? This is a much more standard podcast than ‘Healthcare is HILARIOUS!’ – it’s an interview format that features various guests joining host Steve Mirsky each week to talk about the latest advances in science and technology. As well as podcasting, Steve is also an Editor and columnist at Scientific American.

Any standout episodes? The episode that first got me listening to this podcast was ‘Out with the Bad Science’, where Richard Harris (Science Correspondent for NPR) joined host Steve Mirsky to talk about the problem of poor quality science in the Biomedical Research community. He also discusses his book, ‘Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions‘ – I bought that book whilst I was still listening to this episode of the podcast, and I’ll be reading (and hopefully reviewing it on the blog) later this month. Going on what Richard Harris was saying during the podcast, I suspect it’s going to be brilliant.

Links: Listen here

The Story Collider

What’s it about? This podcast is probably my favourite of this entire list, because it’s so personal, so emotional and yet it’s still communicating science and stories from scientists. The show is presented by Erin Barker, a writer and storyteller, and Liz Neeley, a marine biologist and science communicator – the partnership between the two makes for an incredibly powerful podcast full of important stories that I’m very glad are being shared.

Any standout episodes? There are three episodes that have stood out to me whilst listening to the Story Collider back catalogue, one of which made me cry:

  1. Science Saved My Life – Stories About Life-Saving Passion
  2. Abortion – Stories From Doctors and Patients (Part 1)
  3. Abortion – Stories From Doctors and Patients (Part 2)

‘Science Saved My Life’ is the episode that had me in tears – particularly Rose DF‘s story; listen to it, please.

Links: Listen here

The Recommended Dose

What’s it about? The Recommended Dose is a podcast produced by Cochrane Australia and presented by Ray Moynihan – a multi-award winning journalist and health researcher. ‘This new series tackles the big questions in health and offers new insights, evidence, and ideas from some of the world’s most fascinating and prolific researchers, writers and thinkers,’ says Ray. ‘Its aim is to promote a more questioning approach to health care.’

Any standout episodes? Again, the standout episode has been the episode that first drew me in and pushed me to start listening to the rest of the series; in this case, it was episode 14 that featured Gordon Guyatt as Ray’s guest. Professor Gordon Guyatt is known as the ‘Godfather of Evidence Based Medicine (EBM)’, and this podcast is a brilliant look at his career, his beliefs in terms of why he coined the phrase, what evidence-based medicine really means in the current healthcare climate, and what the future might hold for EBM. I’ll be doing an ‘Inspiring People’ blog post on Gordon Guyatt later on this month, so keep an eye out for that if you’d like to know more about him and how he’s impacted my views on medicine and healthcare too.

Links: Listen here

Strange Bird

What’s it about? Strange Bird is hosted by Mona Chalabi, the Data Editor of the Guardian US, and it focusses on the use of numbers to help answer questions on difficult topics. The aim of this is ultimately to make people feel less lonely – to show that the birds that seem like strange outliers often aren’t.

Any standout episodes? Strange Bird only has one episode at the moment, so clearly that’s what I’m basing my entire recommendation on. That episode, ‘Miscarriage’, sees Mona Chalabi (who I’ve fan-girled over in the past) talk about this sensitive subject using numbers to help her answer questions on the topic. The conversations and thoughts can be uncomfortable – in this episode Mona discovers that her Mum had a miscarriage – but it’s presented in a really gentle and caring way.

Links: Listen here

What podcasts have you been listening to recently? Leave a comment with your recommendations and I’ll be sure to check them out 🙂

Setting New Goals: Non-Work Related

Towards the end of last week I had an annual review with my Line Manager at work. He was my primary PhD Supervisor so he’s known me for over 3 years now, and he’s pretty good at sensing when I need a kick up the backside, well, that and the fact that I’d literally blogged about the post-thesis hand in slump the day before our meeting… Anyway, we had a really good discussion about his experience of the post-PhD slump, what he did to combat it and what I could start doing too. His exact words were ‘avoid work-related goals for the next 6 months’, which was both shocking and comforting. Shocking because, he’s my Manager and therefore explicitly stating that I should avoid big goals at work was weird, and comforting because oh my God, thank GOD he said it. Obviously, I’ll be working away as I’m expected to, but I’m going to make an effort to focus on things outside of work too.

I’ve had a few days to think about what I want to do over the next few months, and thought I’d share them here. Just as with work-related goals, writing things down in a relatively public place is a way to help keep me accountable.

Rediscover my love of reading
Last year I read an average of a book a week, this year it’s week 28 and I’ve read 21 books. I thought I’d be a lot further behind given that I wrote the majority of my thesis this year (yes, I’m still going on about it), but I have a huge pile of books waiting for me to read them. Over the next few months I’d like to get to the fiction books I bought from Powell’s City of Books (a selection of the pile shown on the right – I know, I buy too many books) when I was in Portland, and also some books that were released this year (Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy, and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon).

Learn how to ride a bicycle

Hi my name is Heidi, I am 26 years old and I cannot ride a bicycle. I can drive a car and walk and both roller skate and ice skate to the extent that I rarely fall over, but I cannot ride a bike. I remember learning to ride a bike – my Dad did that thing that Dads do where they tell you they won’t let go of the saddle when in fact they do, and as soon as I realised I was actually riding the bike myself I stopped and my Dad did proud-Dad tears and then we went home. I was about 6 or 7 I think. Since then I have needed to ride a bike once when I was on one of the National Trust for Scotland’s Trailblazer Camps aged 17. I tried and I couldn’t do it first time, so I stopped and admitted defeat. This has now become a shining example of my ‘if at first you don’t succeed.. give up’ mantra – it spread also to tap dancing, playing the keyboard, and various sports. Now I’ve proven to myself that I can write a whole thesis and actually do a PhD (which I will always argue is more about tenacity than intelligence), I figure it’s time I give the bike thing another shot. Also, I really want a bike with a basket on the front that I can fill with picnic food and gin, and if I can’t ride it then that dream is never going to happen.

Do something new and creative
A few months ago I bought the ‘How to be a Craftivist’ book by Sarah Corbett (right) after listening to a podcast that she did with Leena Norms, I haven’t yet read the book, but just listening to the podcast gave me tonnes of ideas about how I could use craftivist ideas to spread awareness of scientific concepts. All of those ideas are still in the back of my mind but I haven’t had time to do anything with them, now I do have some time and I think this could be a brilliant little passion project before Christmas. Not sure what the creative project will be just yet – maybe a zine? Not sure.. I’ll likely update the blog as the project (whatever it is) progresses, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Now I’ve written this down it seems a bit weird that I have had to go to the effort of setting goals in order to force myself to relax. I guess that’s a product of academic life though – this is the first time since I was a young child that I haven’t had an exam or assessment of some kind to work towards! Hopefully once I get used to having more free time this will all come a bit more naturally 🙂

 

Self-Care Tips to Keep You Sane: Exploring (the Portland edition)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been in Portland, Oregon, for work recently. I was there to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Clinical Trials (there are blog posts coming on the talks I attended, workshops I helped to facilitate, and the posters I presented!). The conference ran between Monday 21st May to Wednesday 23rd May, but I chose to fly out the week before on Wednesday 16th. Whenever there is a conference somewhere outside of the UK, I really try to build in time before or after work commitments to explore. I love to travel, and I feel incredibly lucky that my job at the moment allows me to trot around the globe speaking to people, learning, and developing my skills; it’d be a huge shame to fly in and back out without any time to explore.

For me, exploring is one of the best ways for me to decompress and force myself to relax. I figured there are probably lots of people that feel the same – I know that Soph from Soph Talks Science has discussed her passion for travel lots previously, and Lisa from In A Science World has just got back from her post-PhD adventures in Asia. Anyway, I wanted to continue adding to my ‘self-care tips to keep you sane’ series, by giving you an idea of what I got up to in my down time in Portland. Hopefully it’ll encourage my fellow PhD students, academics and people who travel for work to take some time for themselves.

Powell’s book shop

After I landed in Portland on Wednesday, I had dinner and then went to bed. When I woke up on Thursday the first thing on my exploration list was Powell’s book shop. Powell’s is a chain of book shops based across Oregon, but the Portland City of Books store on W Burnside Street is the biggest independent book shop in the world. This is no exaggeration; I spent 8 hours in Powell’s on Thursday. I got lost wandering around each level, even though I had a store map (yes, the store is big enough to have its own map), and I could have very easily spent another 8 hours in there the following day. I knew that whatever I bought in Powell’s needed to be transported the 5,000 miles back to Aberdeen in my suitcase, and that it would be stupid to buy tonnes of heavy books to then have to pay for additional baggage allowances. That said, in those 8 hours I still managed to find and purchase 6 books that I absolutely, definitely could not live without. I know, ridiculous. Even more ridiculous was that I went back on Sunday with a few colleagues and ended up buying 2 more books. I’m sure that I’ll end up reviewing a few of them in blog posts in the future, but mainly I just wanted them for when my thesis is handed in. I love reading, and a visit to Powell’s was my chance to pick up a few books that have not yet been released in the UK yet.

Farm Spirit

If you follow me on Instagram (@heidirgardner if you don’t already!), you’ll already have heard me sing the praises of Farm Spirit. If you’ve seen me in person since last Saturday, you’ll have likely heard the same thing verbally. Now, I’m going to mention it here – my experience at Farm Spirit was so good that I genuinely just want to shout about it so that if anyone is in Portland they can go and visit for themselves.

Farm Spirit is a fine dining restaurant that serves local, seasonal and completely vegan food. The menu is preset, and you need to book tickets in advance – I booked the same week that I booked my flights to Oregon because I was so keen to get a seat. Speaking of seats, at Farm Spirit diners sit communally and dinner is served at set times (usually 6.30pm and 8.30pm). I went for the 8.30pm sitting, and the communal dining thing was perfect for me because I was there alone – colleagues from the UK and Australia weren’t arriving in Portland until the next day. I’m not going to waffle on too much about how good the food was here, I’ll just post a collage of the photographs I took and let you judge for yourself. If you are ever in Portland, you have to visit Farm Spirit; it has been my personal highlight of the trip.

Mother’s Bistro and The Water Front

On Sunday when colleagues had started to arrive in Portland, I was eager to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in ages. Dr Kirsty Loudon (my PhD Supervisors last PhD student) and Karen Bracken (fellow PhD student looking at participant recruitment to trials, but based at the University of Sydney, Australia), headed out for brunch at Mother’s Bistro. After a quick Google the night before, this seemed to be the most highly recommended brunch in Portland. I arrived about an hour before we’d agreed to meet so that I could baggsy a table (they only take limited bookings and the world wants to walk in at around 11am on a Sunday, but it was definitely worth the wait.

After we finished at brunch we went for a wander around the city, headed to the Saturday Market (which is still called the Saturday Market even when it takes place on a Sunday), and then sneaked in another sly visit to Powell’s.. I know, ridiculous. It was super warm on Sunday and my jet lag still hadn’t completely gone (let’s be real, it never really went – I was awake at 4am most days which was not ideal before a full day of conference presentations), so we decided that an early dinner was a good idea. Kirsty and I headed back to the hotel to meet up with another Karen (Innes – a Trial Manager based in Aberdeen), and we had a lovely walk along the waterfront, eventually stopping for dinner at a cute little Italian restaurant that was only 10 minutes walk back to my hotel.

Over the course of the rest of the trip I got the chance to explore more of the culinary delights of Portland, and I managed to resist the urge to head back to Powell’s for a third time.

I really enjoyed my time in Portland, the fact that I had built time in to explore made the late nights/early mornings and few days filled with thesis editing feel much more manageable. The only thing that did shock me though, was the sheer scale of homelessness in Portland. The city clearly has a big problem with homelessness, which I guess isn’t such a shock – every city has homeless people – but this was so much more visible than I had anticipated. I didn’t feel particularly unsafe at any point, but I did feel incredibly guilty that I had flown half way around the world to give a few presentations at significant expense (obviously not personal expense, but still), when there were people sleeping in the streets just metres away from the conference venue.