Some Thoughts for New WCMT Fellows

At the start of this month 150 new Churchill Fellows were announced. That means it’s been just over a year since I could talk about my WCMT Fellowship – which seems insane! My Fellowship adventures started at the beginning of January and finished at the end of February, so I’ve had some time to decompress and attempt to make sense of the reams of notes I made over the course of those 8 weeks. I wasn’t able to go to the new Fellows’ seminar to share my excitement and experiences, so I thought I’d share a few points here.

Leaving the UK.

If you’re a previous Fellow like me, please comment below and share your tips for new Fellows; and if you’re a new Fellow, I hope you find this useful! Happy to answer questions if there’s anything I’ve missed too, just leave a comment or contact me on Twitter 🙂
If you’re not a new Fellow/don’t plan on doing long trips any time soon, this is probably not the post for you – it’s going to be pretty long!

Planning
  1. Plan your trip with a gap at the end before you need to get back to real life. For me, I only really started to make proper links between the conversations I was having towards the end of the trip, and having an extra week at home before I went back to work was really good for letting all those ideas stew without other things needing to take priority.
  2. Plan trips carefully, taking into account the potential for jet lag. I was either cocky, stupid or ignorant when I booked my flights, and I definitely paid for it. Flying from Washington DC, to the UK, to Berlin, and then to Singapore within a few days was not my finest moment, and my jet lag in Singapore ruined the first few days completely.
  3. Leave space in your itinerary for unexpected meetings, new connections, and downtime. You did not travel across the world to have to say no to meeting new people, similarly, you did not travel across the world to sit in various branches of Starbucks. Make the most of the time you have – that means meeting people you might not have expected to but also sightseeing and visiting places you otherwise wouldn’t get chance to.
  4. I get lost wherever I go, I have a terrible sense of direction and I knew I’d be reliant on Google Maps to make sure I could find my way around. With that in mind, I chose hotels in Singapore and Hong Kong that came with a ‘Handy‘; a smartphone that is docked in each room that comes with free local data. I got free mobile data through my network (EE) when I was in the USA and Canada, but having a Handy was incredibly useful when I was in Singapore and  Hong Kong because my mobile data would have costed me £6 per day to use.
  5. If you’re visiting places where English is not the first language, I’d recommend having a few select phrases memorised or at least written down. I had hotel addresses saved in various languages which was particularly useful when I needed help trying to navigate public transport, and I don’t eat meat so I had a few versions of ‘vegetarian’ noted down to make sure that I could communicate that in cafes and restaurants.
Packing
  1. Packing cubes are life changing. I packed for the first leg of my trip without packing cubes (completely forgot I had them), and didn’t appreciate them until the second part of my trip. A previous Fellow recommended them and I thought he was over-egging their impact, but they really do make travelling to multiple destinations so much easier.
  2. Buy a travel adapter that covers multiple territories, and take an extension cable. The placement of sockets in hotels has become one of the most boring topics that I can rage about (seriously though, why is there never a socket next to the bed for a phone charger, and next to a mirror for hair dryer/straighters?!).
  3. Make a formula for your hand luggage – take the minimum you need and try to leave lots of space in case you buy things and your suitcase is too heavy (I like books, standard airline weight limits do not). Standards that I always include in hand luggage: a mini toothpaste, toothbrush, hand cream, tissues, mini pack of wipes (for grubby fingers or to take makeup off etc), a book, headphones, a booster charger for my phone, small supply of medication (in case your suitcase gets lost), a spare pair of contact lenses, and my glasses. Everything else is extra bulk that you end up dragging around airports, wishing you hadn’t.
  4. Luggage is important – use something that you trust not to break because this is absolutely not the time to see the contents of your suitcase whizzing its way around the baggage reclaim belt. I used AWAY luggage – the large suitcase and the everywhere bag for my hand luggage. It’s now the only luggage I’ll ever use. It’s sturdy but relatively light, and the AWAY packing cubes fit perfectly.
  5. Pack clothes with the intention of doing laundry – there’s no need to take enough outfits to last you 4 weeks when you take take enough for 1 or 2 and wash them. Whilst I’m on that point too; don’t do laundry in hotels! The price is extortionate, and if you use a local launderette you can often get them back within quicker turnaround time. I used a drop off launderette in New York that charged by the kilo and meant I could have everything apart from the clothes I was wearing, washed for less than $10.
Money
  1. The funding that you received from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is enough to cover your trip, but bear in mind that you might want to do more than just cover your trip. I saved some money of my own to add to the funding I got for the Fellowship, meaning that I was able to spend a bit more on areas of the trip that were important to me (always staying in hotels rather than hostels, going on day trips to places further afield etc).
  2. Make sure you have at least some cash in each currency you’ll need. In places like the US I used my card all the time (remember to 1) tell your bank you are travelling before you leave, and 2) check for potential charges!), but when I got to Singapore and went out of the airport to get a taxi, I was surprised that the taxis only took cash.
People
  1. Find a ‘connecter’ – this is actually a piece of advice I was given by one of the wonderful people I met in Toronto (hoorah for you, Dawn Bazely!). I met her in the first stop of my travels, and a self-described ‘connecter’, she linked me up with lots of other people. Some I couldn’t meet because they were too far away, but I was able to Skype them after Dawn introduced us, others I met the next day. People that know people are your best friends whilst on a WCMT Fellowship!
  2. Meet people you think you disagree with. This is a weird situation to describe because I don’t want to mention names, but look for the people in your area of research that appear to have opposing views to you. Talking with these people will stretch your ideas, challenge you, and strengthen what you get out of the Fellowship. I met with a few people that I thought may hold opposing views to me, but after I’d heard their reasoning it was clear that we weren’t so different, and that taking their concerns into account was important if I ever wanted my Fellowship to achieve anything.
  3. Not all conversations need to be planned. I spoke to people looking around art galleries, science museums and exhibits – I didn’t know any of them before and I don’t know any of them now, but when you’re travelling alone you tend to have lots of conversations with other people that are travelling alone, or groups of people that feel a bit sorry for you wandering about by yourself. Those conversations can be just as valuable as the ones that are intentional.
Note taking
  1. This probably goes without saying, but taking notes after (or during) each of your meetings is crucial. I took two audio recorders with me, but ended up not using them because I was often meeting people in busy places where the sound quality would have been too terrible for me to ever want to listen back to. Instead, I used a pen & paper. I didn’t take notes during all of the meetings because I was conscious of wanting to really take part in the conversation, but after each meeting I spent 15-20 minutes writing notes to make sure I’d captured everything.
  2. As I said, I used a notebook – not a laptop, iPad or anything electronic. That meant I was entirely reliant on not losing the notebook. That was fine, it was small enough to live in my handbag, and it only came out for me to take notes. Still, I took photographs of each page after I’d written them, just in case. I prefer writing notes to typing them because I remember them more easily, but if you decide to go down that route I’d definitely recommend taking photographs just in case your notebooks gets lost.

At the very beginning of my Fellowship journey I was so overwhelmed, I don’t think I really believed it was going to happen until I started meeting people, but the main thing is to dedicate yourself to your project, and enjoy it! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Now to convince my boyfriend to apply for a WCMT Fellowship so that I can piggyback onto any future travel plans..

Returning home.
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WCMT Fellowship #1: Meeting Other Fellows

Last week I headed to London for a much more relaxed meeting with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust than my last encounter! I was invited to a seminar with other 2018 Fellows from the Science, Technology and Innovation, Nursing and Allied Health Professions, and Health and Wellbeing categories. Before this seminar, I was shocked that I was a 2018 Fellow; I’d heard what a huge opportunity it was, and I knew I’d done really well to make it through such a competitive application process. After the seminar, I was really, really overwhelmed. There were other Fellows there sharing their experiences and advice, and the entire process became a lot more real. This is such a huge opportunity and I am so excited!

So, excitement aside, the day was brilliant for a number of reasons; here’s what happened.

Introductions, welcomes and advice from the WCMT Team

Julia Weston – I met Julia at my interview and she was so lovely. She opened the seminar and she was just as lovely in a much more relaxed environment. She explained how the Fellowship program started, that Churchill knew of and approved of the program, and that the Fellowships were a lifetime deal. Her welcome really made me feel part of something, and the words that stuck with me were ‘aim high, don’t be shy‘ and ‘travel to make a difference‘.

Sara Venerus – I have a feeling Sara is going to become my go to person at WCMT over the coming months whilst I’m planning the trip; she explained all about the process of planning such a significant period of travel, and made it really clear that WCMT don’t just want us to pack our schedules with research meetings – we need to experience the culture and people around us too! I’m genuinely really excited to plan my trip now, spreadsheets and colour-coding are going to be my best friend..

Tristan Lawrence – Tristan focussed on what comes after the travelling part of the Fellowship; the report. The majority of the reports that I’ve read were purely text and photographs, but Tristan made it really clear that WCMT are very flexible with the formats of the reports. I’m now furiously thinking of different formats that my report could take; I definitely want to make it a creative thing because my project is focussing on creativity – so many ideas!

Stephanie Talbut – Ok, so Stephanie‘s talk included references to Beyonce, that Professor Robert E Kelly interview, and research methods – in short, I’m 100% sold and I think she’s brilliant. Research methods are my thing, and I loved the way she emphasised that methods are just a one-stage thing, they’re something we need to think about before, during and after the research we do as part of the Fellowship.

Jonathan Lorie – Reportedly the Beyonce of what he does (comms), Jonathan encouraged us to begin the project with a ‘comms mindset’. I loved the way he discussed dissemination plans, the importance of the report, and the huge impact that our work could have after the travelling part of the Fellowship is over – I felt hugely inspired and motivated to make the most of this opportunity after hearing what he had to say.

Sara Canullo – I met Sara at my interview too, she kept me calm ensured that I didn’t trip up the stairs (yes, that’s a thing I often do when I’m nervous); which was very welcome. She rounded off the WCMT welcomes brilliantly, driving home the point that we are joining a passionate and vibrant group of Fellows that are ready to network and welcome us to the WCMT family. Again, I have a feeling that she’s going to be someone I get to know pretty well over the coming months.

Breakout session with the Science, Technology and Innovation category

Main practical advice from past Fellows:

  • Buy packing cubes
  • Learn how to budget (this one is v important and can involve many, many different apps/spreadsheets etc)
  • Get a Monzo card
  • Check baggage allowances for internal flights
  • Local SIM cards are good

Highlights from past Fellows:

  • Arfah Farooq’s vlogs – Arfah was a 2017 Fellow, and she was so passionate about the work she’s done on diversity in STEM, particularly focussing on Muslim women and Tech. She’s Queen of tech herself – recommending loads of different websites and apps to help with trip planning, documenting and sharing. Arfah is brilliant – so enthusiastic, so engaged, and really open to helping this new cohort of Fellows. I hope I can take at least a pinch of her passion and use her project dissemination to inspire mine.
  • Rose Mary Johnston also discussed her 2017 Fellowship – and it was mind blowing. Her project focussed on body farms, something I didn’t even know existed. Hearing her speak was extraordinary; her topic was so interesting, and the way she discussed the moral and ethical complexities of the subject showed that she really knew her stuff.
  • After the breakout session had finished we had a chance to network and speak to other WCMT Fellows past and present. I got talking to Missing Wolf, a 2017 Fellow. On the surface his project didn’t look at all like mine – he travelled to the USA to investigate soundscape ecology, the study of sound emanating from the natural landscape as an indicator of biodiversity loss – but after a few minutes we started to make some really brilliant comparisons, and I’m hopefully going to link up with some of his contacts when I’m in Toronto for my Fellowship.

Honestly, the afternoon went by so quickly, and I was left pinching myself yet again. Each and every one of the past Fellows that I spoke to were incredibly helpful, passionate and enthusiastic – and they were all so happy and encouraging, reinforcing that this Fellowship could, and hopefully will, bring big opportunities providing that we invest our efforts and make the most of it. My fellow 2018 Fellows were largely feeling just like I was; nervous, excited, and overwhelmed with the possibilities that lay ahead of us. I have a feeling this is going to be one hell of a journey, and I cannot wait to get started with planning my trip!

I’m Very, Very Excited About This

On January 25th I was in London for an interview – I briefly mentioned it in an earlier blog post but decided to skim over it in case it hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped.

On February 13th, after a fortnight of pacing the flat every time the postman was more than 3 seconds late (side-note: the postman was well and truly sick of me by this point), a bulky A4 envelope landed on my door mat with the news I had been hoping for.

My interview was successful, and now I can finally reveal that I am the super proud recipient of one of 150 Fellowships from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

WCMT was established in 1965 when Sir Winston Churchill died. The Trust is now a national memorial to Sir Winston, and each year they fund up to 150 fellows from all backgrounds to travel overseas in pursuit of new and better ways of tackling a wide range of challenges facing the UK. This isn’t an academic Fellowship – no qualifications are need, it’s about having a project and the passion to improve a community, profession or field.

There will be many more blog posts on my experiences of the Fellowship over the coming months as I plan and carry out my trip, but for now I just wanted to thank the brilliant WCMT Fellows that encouraged me through the application process – Dr Heather Doran (2015 Fellow – read her report here), Sarah Frost (2011 Fellow – read her report here), and Rick Hall (2016 Fellow – read his report here).

So what’s my project all about and where am I going?
I am so excited to be travelling to the USA, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong to explore the process and practice of science blogging.
I’m particularly interested in why scientists are blogging, how they are sustaining these activities when they are so often done out of a passion for science, and how we can use creative approaches (here I mean anything from knitting to doodling, videos to animations – the list is endless!) to effectively communicate complex scientific topics to the public in engaging ways.

As I said earlier, check back in over the coming weeks and months to come along with me on this super exciting journey – I’m so excited!