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.

 

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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?!