Some Pre-Adventure Thoughts

I’m currently sitting in Aberdeen airport waiting to board my 9th flight of 2019. This time I’m heading to Heathrow and then on to Singapore, where I’ll stay for a week before leaving for Hong Kong.

This travel thing has become almost second nature; I’ve got packing down to a fine art (if you don’t own packing cubes, then I suggest you buy some before your next trip), my travel outfit is now a signature combination of comfort, warmth and don’t-talk-to-me chic, and for the first time in my life my suitcase is 5kg under the baggage allowance.

I’m feeling good about this leg of my Fellowship adventures. I’m glad it’s only a two and a half week trip because the few days I’ve had at home disappeared way too quickly, and honestly, I spent a lot of time on the sofa doing accidental naps between the hours of 4pm and 9pm. The time I spent at home was a bit weird in terms of my thoughts too – I’ve had a lot of ~feelings~, including but not limited to: exhaustion, anticipation, surprise, dread, anxiety, pride, nostalgia, and excitement. At one point I was genuinely thinking about not going back to work in March – for no reason other than I didn’t think I’d be very good at it because I’ve been working on a different project for the last 6 weeks. HOW RIDICULOUS. Anyway, I’m pleased to report that my brain has calmed the F down, and I’m now excited for the 13 hour flight I have ahead of me (long haul flights are one of my favourite things), and I’m also excited to be getting back to real life on March 1st.

I do plan on making a few changes to things when I get back from my next adventure, but they’re little things that I want to allow myself time for. Things that got lost in the pre-Christmas rush, the pre-thesis hand-in rush, and the oh-my-God-it’s-2018 rush before that. 2018 was good, but I want my 2019 to be less frantic and more evenly paced.

I plan on implementing that even pacing into my Singapore/Hong Kong trip. There are a tonne of places I want to visit, people I want to speak to, and facets of my project that I want to explore further – but there is also a dog petting cafe 20 minutes from my hotel, and in the name of self-care, I will be visiting at least once.

If you have any recommendations for science, art, things to see, things to eat, or just places where I can interact with dogs without looking like a weirdo, please leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

Trip Update – 2 Weeks Down, 5 to Go!

The last two weeks had passed more quickly than 14 days has ever passed in my life. On January 5th I started my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship adventures in Toronto, Canada, I then headed to New York City, and now I’m in Manchester, New Hampshire – I figure it’s time for an update.

Toronto
‘This is Paradise’ mural on the side of Cameron House, Toronto

Toronto was the perfect point for me to kick off my Fellowship adventures – the science communication community welcomed me with open arms and I had some of the most intellectually stimulating conversations I’ve had in a while. It was like someone had taken the top off my head, added in approximately 5 million new ideas, put the top back on my head, and then gone, ‘well have a think about that then!’.
It was wonderful, and provided lots of new layers to the Fellowship that I did not expect – important conversations around the culture the scientists are working in within both academia and industry, how gender may or may not impact on the way that we are doing science communication as a wider community, and how we can improve opportunities for inclusion of all communities (LGBTQIA+, first nations, people of colour, people living with cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, and/or sensory impairments) to get involved in the communication of science that is important to them (both as individuals and as members of various groups within society).
Perhaps naively, I didn’t think that asking to speak to people about science communication would bring up this melting pot of political and societal issues, but I’m really glad it did. I left feeling acutely aware of my privilege as a straight white cis woman, but not in a guilty way; the people I met and the conversations that I had were hopeful and passionate, and rather than feeling guilty for the privileged life I have had, I felt empowered to educate myself on issues that have not impacted me, and excited to be part of a community of people that are working to change things for everyone, for the better.

New York
Oak Bridge, Central Park, New York

After my time in Toronto was up, I headed to New York. I’ve been to New York lots before – my parents got married there when I was 11, I worked just over the border at a camp in Pennsylvania during my first summer of University, and I did an internship in Princeton before I went back to University for my final year. It’s a place I love and have loved for a really, really long time. It sounds so cheesy, but I feel at home in New York, and this part of the trip was just as important to me personally professionally.
I decided to take my first 2 days in New York off as fun days – my days in Toronto were packed and I needed some downtime. Those 2 days were brilliant; I spent time with one of my favourite humans on the planet, my friend Lacy, who I first met during that summer at camp I mentioned earlier, and have since met up with in various places around the world. I also spent time with Daniel Whibley (you may know him as Dr Daniel Whibley) which was soooo bloody brilliant and absolutely what I needed after a hectic week. We wandered around Central Park, saw more dogs than I could count (most had coats on and some even had shoes on!), ate delicious doughnuts and discovered the taste sensation of pumpkin bread French toast.
Unfortunately I also got sick whilst I was in New York. I only managed to fit in one meeting before I retreated to my hotel bed for 3 days. Not ideal, but the people that I was scheduled to meet have agreed to Skype/FaceTime etc whilst I’m in different cities so that’s good.

New Hampshire

And now I’m in New Hampshire. I arrived late yesterday afternoon and went straight from the airport to the hotel so that I could crawl into bed in an attempt to sleep off my lurgy. I managed to sleep for 14 hours, yes, 14 hours, and now I’m feeling much more human, which is a relief. Today has been used for catching up with life admin, writing, emails etc, and tomorrow I’m heading to a nearby science centre to see how they communicate science and scientific concepts to various audiences. I’m only here until Tuesday morning before my trip to Washington DC, so I’m kind of using this time as a working retreat – getting organised before a week of meetings and science events in the capital!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been officially on my Fellowship adventures talking creative science communication for a fortnight but I am so excited for the rest of my trip. Washington DC is set to be a whirlwind of a week, and then I’ll be back in the UK for about 12 hours before I fly to Berlin.


Do you have a passion project that you’d like to learn more about from experts around the world? Applications for Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowships open again in May, but you can register for alerts now.

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.

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.