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.

 

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

Peterborough STEM Festival – 13th October 2018

Today I was at Peterborough STEM Festival with Science On A Postcard – I know, I haven’t mentioned it at all, hence the late #Blogtober post. Yesterday I drove from Aberdeen to Northumberland to Doncaster, and then my boyfriend drove the last hour and a half to Peterborough. We were then up bright and early to set up our stand at the event this morning before doors opened at 9.30am. We shut down at 4pm and the day was jam packed! Really good fun, but hoooooly cow I am tired. So tired in fact, that we both drove back to the hotel and immediately had a nap before ordering room service and watching Harry Potter (#rockandroll).

Enough about my post-nap antics; today was brilliant. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’ve only sold Science On A Postcard projects online up until now; this was my first face to face activity.

I did a lot of prep work last week – my nails are officially wrecked from taking pin badge backers off, adding a backing card and then re-pinning – but the preparation seemed to pay off!

We had lots of brilliant attendees coming to see what we were selling, some buying, and some even asking about how Science On A Postcard came about. I even got the chance to do some of science communication about my own work, clinical trials and Trial Forge! One lovely guy named Samson (a Geophysicist) even got me with some of his own scicomm whilst his little daughter was sneaky away with one of the free lollipops we supplied 🙂

As well as working scientists, we had lots of scientists of the future coming over asking questions about our pin badges – ‘what’s a mathematician?’ ‘what is diversity?’ and ‘how do I become a doctor?’ were some of my personal highlights. Lots of these children were also coming over to tell us about the other exhibits that they’d seen that day (again, it could have been the lollipops!), showing that the demonstrations that were going on all day were really getting children excited whilst teaching them fun facts about science, technology, engineering and maths in the process.

For those that are on Instagram, follow us @scienceonapostcard. For those that aren’t, here’s our insta story from today 🙂

Thanks to all of the wonderful organisers and volunteers that helped out at Peterborough STEM Festival today – you were all incredible and made sure that the day went without a hitch! Well done, and enjoy the post-event warm fuzzy feelings as you continue to get positive feedback over the coming days. We hope to be back next year 🙂

For now, I’m off to climb into my giant hotel bed before the long drive back to Aberdeen tomorrow.

Living Near Peterborough and Have Some Free Time This Weekend?

What are you doing this weekend?

If you’re stuck for ideas, come and see me at Peterborough STEM Festival!

The STEM Festival in Peterborough is an event run completely by volunteers, and a passionate bunch they are too! This year the team have put together an incredible line up including:

  • TV presenter Maddie Moate who  will be doing an event linked to her Mission to Mars Astronaut Academy, and also a meet and greet
  • A tech-based escape room with BGL Group
  • Technology business Codem and their Sahara Force India F1 car and simulator
  • A Mad Science show featuring ‘flying toilet roll’, ‘eye-boggling erupting pipes’ and ‘cool dry ice’
  • Mathematician Katie Steckles’s show ‘The Mathematics of Paper’
  • Mathematician Dr Tom Crawford, aka Tom Rocks Maths, who will be talking about the science and maths behind a perfect penalty kick
  • Making the best paper plane with Thomas Cook
  • An introduction to coding with Vivacity Code Clubs

As I said earlier, I’ll be there too. I won’t be talking clinical trials though, instead I’m taking Science On A Postcard on the road! I’ll be there with my lovely partner selling enamel pins, postcards, notebooks, tote bags, pocket mirrors and more – all with a STEM twist!

Peterborough STEM Festival is completely free to attend, to make sure you don’t miss out grab your tickets here. Hopefully see you there 🙂

Why You Should Consider Building a Business as a Side Hustle

I’ve been pretty vocal on this blog about the importance of public engagement and science communication, but I’ve also said that I want to stay in academic research long-term – so why did I decide to build a business whilst doing my PhD, and why should you consider it too?

‘I Support Diversity in Science’ enamel pin badge.

My reasons for starting Science On A Postcard were pretty basic – I wanted a creative outlet, and I was frustrated after a stranger in an airport said that I didn’t look like a scientist. Before I’d even boarded my flight home I’d set up Instagram and Etsy pages for Science On A Postcard, and I’d decided I was going to create science-related merchandise that people could use (notebooks, tote bags), wear (pin badges) or send (postcards), to show that they were scientists. The whole point was to normalise science, but looking back on it this little business has actually taught me an awful lot.

Why build a business?

PhD students and people working in academia more widely are often criticised for staying in academia and failing to gain any experience ‘in the real world’. Personally, I think that notion is ridiculous – just because I work at a University doesn’t mean that my job is any more or less difficult or unrealistic than any other. Even so, that criticism is still common, and setting up your own little side hustle is one way to demonstrate that you are more than capable of thinking on your feet, innovating, managing your time and taking a leadership role.

‘I Support Women in Science’ enamel pins.

Not only has my business taught me more than I ever imagined it would, it’s been incredibly rewarding. Do a PhD can be pretty slow at times; data can take a long time to collect and analyse, and you can very easily find yourself slipping into a routine of plodding along pretty slowly. Some people are fine with that, but honestly, I find that to be one of the most difficult parts of the research process – the rewards (i.e. results, papers, conference presentations and collaborations) can be few and far between, and I work best when I am able to thrive off smaller successes that happen more regularly. Science On A Postcard gives me those very small, very frequent rewards – as I write this I have processed 507 orders through the shop, and I do a little squeal of excitement every time I sell something, whether it’s a bulk order or an order for a single postcard.

All of the excitement and learning involved with building a business would not be worth it if I didn’t absolutely love and believe in the products that I’m designing and selling. I’ve talked before about how important it is (for me at least) to have a creative outlet, and having a commitment to that creative outlet – i.e. customers messaging me on Instagram, Twitter and Etsy telling me that they love their products and they are eagerly awaiting new releases – means that I have to switch off from work for hours at a time. During my PhD that was incredibly valuable, because it meant that I was forced to draw, to design and to think creatively about things that were not linked to my research project in the slightest; those hours were significant breaks that I used to manage my stress levels and reduced my anxiety because I still felt like I was being productive.
You don’t need to design and sell products to get that stress relief, you could do anything – freelance writing, teaching, blogging, photography, you could even set up a little baking business! It’s not about making money – you probably won’t have time to invest to grow the business to such a stage that it’s actually making you any real income, at least during the time that you’re studying – it’s about forcing yourself to take time away from your work, giving your brain something else to focus on whilst your research plans take a backseat.

A few words of warning
‘David Attenborough’ enamel pin.

That said, one of the biggest shocks for me was how much work having this tiny tiny little business would be. I’m working full time at the moment, and that means coming home from work to spend an evening packaging and posting orders at least every few days. I’ve also had to get an accountant because I’ll need to pay taxes at the end of the year – something I was entirely naive about before I realised that I very much needed to get my head around that sort of thing (…just a few months ago).
I’ve noticed patterns in how busy I am which helps me to manage my time and get organised, but it’s still all on me – I design the products, find suppliers, figure out how much stock I can afford/will sell and then place orders, photograph, price and list my products on Etsy, advertising and marketing (hey follow the shop on Instagram and Twitter for updates!), and then sorting out packaging and postage so that customers get their orders in pristine condition. Even then, there’s lots of customer service involved if/when the postal services screws up and orders are lost or delayed!

I realise that a lot of what I’m saying comes from a position of privilege – I am lucky in that my PhD was funded, so I didn’t have to pay fees and I received a tax-free stipend that allowed me to pay rent, buy food and have an ok social life. Setting up a business is not for everyone, but if you are in a position that allows you to do something like that and you’re not sure whether to go for it, I would very much recommend that you do.

Introducing: Science On A Postcard

As well as my PhD I’m a freelance copywriter, currently working with 5 clients on a weekly basis. For some reason I decided that I just wasn’t busy enough, so I’ve also set up a little Etsy shop where I’m selling science postcards and prints. That little Etsy shop is called ‘Science On A Postcard’ and it’s also got its own Instagram page too.

How did Science On A Postcard start?

When I was younger I didn’t think I’d be a scientist – I planned on studying graphic design. I still like to doodle, and even throughout my science life I’ve injected creativity. I find drawing really relaxing. At the start of the year I started drawing, scanning drawings in to my laptop, and then messing about with them using Adobe Illustrator. Fast forward to a month or two ago, and I found myself really, really wanting to do this more regularly. Nothing career-changing, I just found it a really enjoyable way to get some head-space whilst communicating science at the same time. I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, and decided I should probably do something to encourage myself to keep up this little doodling habit I’d built up – and Science On A Postcard was suddenly a thing!
In fact, I was at London City Airport waiting for my flight back to Aberdeen after the ABSW’s Science Journalism Summer School when I set up the Instagram account and started making things a bit more solid.

Currently I have two prints/postcards designed and listed in my shop. I opened the shop last night and I had a whole 2 sales before I went to bed! Super exciting. I’m not looking to turn this into a job, or a substantial money-maker, I just really like doodling science. I also really love getting mail so this seemed like a cute little hobby to keep going in my spare time.

Over the next few months I want to design more prints/postcards that show other types of scientists – qualitative researchers, chemists, geologists, geneticists, planetary scientists.. etc etc. Eventually I’m hoping that there’s a whole range of postcards that can be used to briefly show what different scientific careers are like.

To see more from Science On A Postcard visit the Instagram page, or take a look at the Etsy shop. If you have ideas for science careers that you’d like to see presented in postcard format, please do get in touch and let me know!