Good Things: May 2019

*Insert generic HOLY-SHIT-how-is-it-June-already-related phrase*

Aaaaand I’m back with all the good things that made my month of May go so swimmingly 🙂 It was a super busy month so I’ll warn you upfront that this is likely to be a long post.

Excellent humans

May was full of wonderful people!

  • Early in the month I went to Norwich to visit my friend Jess and her partner. I had a bloody brilliant time, and seriously considered asking them if they’d consider adopting me. Gorgeous house, super chilled atmosphere, amazing food and spending quality time with a friend that I definitely neglected during my PhD – absolute bliss.
  • After getting back from Norwich I had a few days in Aberdeen before heading to my third of Rowena Murray’s writing retreats. As usual, I got more writing done than I thought possible in the space of 2 and a half days, and I’m back on the writing retreat hype train. I’ve already booked another for June. Rowena is a powerhouse, and the only person I actively want to interrupt me on a regular basis.
  • Aberdeen’s second Soapbox Science event took place as part of the May Festival, and it was another successful event! I love organising these events because it allows me to meet wonderful women doing really cool science stuff that I otherwise wouldn’t get to connect with. Unfortunately I completely forgot to get a group photograph, but all 12 speakers did a fantastic job, and I left feeling inspired and brimming with ideas for my own engagement activities.

    Soapbox Science Aberdeen 2019
Cool places

At the end of May I headed to Naples for 5 days with my Mum – it was a Mother’s day present that went some way to remedy the fact that I slept through 5 alarms on actual Mother’s day, and ended up not seeing her at all. Luckily, I think the trip made up for that and I reckon I’ve been forgiven.

5 days of pastries, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, and lots of mooching about. I had a fantastic time, and would definitely recommend a visit to Naples if you ever get the chance!

Image of Via Tribunali in Naples
Via Tribunali, Naples
Pompeii
Herculaneum

At the beginning of the month I also went to see the the musical Kinky Boots, and RuPaul’s Drag Race Werq the World Tour, so now when I grow up I want to be a drag queen. On the subject of drag queens, has anyone been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race this season? The finale was right at the end of May, and I felt it was a bit meh to be honest. I didn’t dislike the winner, but my favourite didn’t win (look how easy it is to not give spoilers!).

Book(s) of the month
  • Non-fiction: I’ve got two non-fiction recommendations this month – Kerry Hudson’s Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns, and Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. Both are brilliant but for very different reasons. The Five was brilliant as it gave a voice to the victims of Jack the Ripper, you follow each of their lives and it really does focus on them rather than the fact that they were brutally murdered. Lowborn made me cry, and I was thinking about it for days after I’d read it, so much so that I emailed Kerry (the first time I’ve ever emailed an author!) to tell her much of an impact it had.
  • Fiction: Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage. This has just won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I’m so glad! I’d read a few other books from the shortlist but this was the one that I was really hoping would win. It tells the story of a young newlywed couple that are the victim of racism; it looks at race issues in America from a new perspective. I sped through it and I’d really recommend picking it up if you haven’t already.
Online media
  • Podcast: Episode 60 of Alice Benham’s Starting the Conversion – Managing mental health when you’re running a business or growing a side-hustle w/Josephine Brookes. I only recently discovered Alice Benham’s podcast, but I’ve been binge listening to episodes at an impressive (alarming?) rate. This is the latest one, and features Josephine Brookes, a side hustle guru. I don’t want to make Science On A Postcard my full time job; it will always be a side hustle for me, but the topics discussed were helpful and insightful, and I’m excited to use resources from both Alice and Josephine to make the most of the time I dedicate to my side hustle.
  • Article: Brands and Activism by Adam Stones for the RSA website. In this article Adam Stones explores how businesses can create meaningful purpose and create change. I read this from two perspectives – 1) as a small business owner, and 2) as a researcher. The article gave me food for thought in terms of how I can make sure that my little business is contributing to the change that I want to see (more on that over the summer!), as well as how I as a researcher, can work with businesses and brands to ensure that the work that I’m doing has the biggest impact possible.
  • Article: Let’s talk about the notion of cure by Amy D Robertson. A really interesting piece around the concept of ‘curing’ from the perspective of a patient living with chronic pain, this challenges the notion that a cure should always be the end goal. For lots of patients that isn’t realistic, and fuels feelings of failure and fragility, instead we should be working towards a realistic version of wellness that is agreed by both the patient and their healthcare team.
  • Webinar: Science’s Selling without selling out: How to communicate your science. This is a brilliant webinar from Science – it provides a good basic introduction to science communication from lots of different perspectives.
One specific moment
Look Again Creative Accelerator

I’m realising that this one specific moment thing is turning into the part of the blog post where I talk about the moment I realised someone believed in me, or I felt I belonged. Last month it was attending my first local Etsy makers meetup, and feeling all warm and fuzzy because my tiny little business is reaching people that I haven’t nagged to buy stuff – incredible. This month, it’s a bit bigger than that. I’ve been accepted onto a fully funded creative accelerator program to help me to gain new skills and boost my tiny business! I’m so excited. Between June and September I’ll be attending workshops and meetups to help me connect with other creative people in the city, and make Science On A Postcard the best side hustle that it can be. I applied for this program late at night a few months ago, and I really, genuinely didn’t think that I stood a chance at getting a place. Now, I’m one of 12 people on the program. I can’t wait to meet the other makers and get to grips with the world of creative business, not only for Science On A Postcard, but for future academic research projects that I have bubbling away in my head.

Work thing

This month has been fab for work things, a few things I’m particularly buzzing about:

  • At the writing retreat I mentioned above I was working on a paper from the qualitative work that made up a big chunk of my PhD thesis I’d had comments in the last draft sitting in my inbox since December, and I’d been avoiding it. The retreat was exactly what I needed – a complete kick up the backside to force me to open the document again. I left the retreat with a new draft, which I now have back with a few outstanding comments, but it’s so nearly ready for submission!
  • This month I found out the I’d won the Early Career Researcher award in the University of Aberdeen’s Principal’s Prizes for Public Engagement with Research. Last year I was awarded runner up, so this was a complete surprise that I’m very, very happy with 🙂
  • At the end of the month I was awarded a bursary to attend the BIG event in Edinburgh this July, so if you’re attending and fancy a chat let me know! I’ll be there on the Thursday and Friday.

Now I’ve written all of that down, it’s pretty clear why the month went so quickly – I feel like I haven’t stopped for the last 4 weeks! All good though, a very positive and productive month. What did you love about May? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

Women in STEM: Events, Challenges – and Why?

I haven’t touched on any political or religious topics on this blog, I haven’t spoken about money or what I think of Donald Trump, and largely I think people believe that feminism belongs in that same pile of topics you-just-don’t-talk-about. I don’t agree.

Feminism is important, and the process of explaining my views, beliefs and actions to help support other women, especially in the scientific community, is necessary. So this week’s blog post is going to be a bit of a brain dump of thoughts inspired by events and conversations over the past week – the week of International Women’s Day. I hope it ends up being a cohesive piece about why supporting women in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a positive and useful thing to do, rather than the feminist rant that’s in my head.

Let’s start with some nice news:

This week I was told I’ve been accepted to take part in Soapbox Science‘s Edinburgh event this July. In their own words: “Soapbox Science is a novel public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science they do. Our events transform public areas into an arena for public learning and scientific debate; they follow the format of London Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, which is historically an arena for public debate. With Soapbox Science, we want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy, learn from, heckle, question, probe, interact with and be inspired by some of our leading scientists. No middle man, no powerpoint slide, no amphitheater – just remarkable women in science who are there to amaze you with their latest discoveries, and to answer the science questions you have been burning to ask.

I’m going to be talking about clinical trials – why take part in a trial, how participation might be beneficial, and what happens if not enough people take part in clinical trials. It’s not designed to be a propaganda piece, or a talk to try and get people to take part in trials; just an opportunity for me to talk about the work I do and the reasons why I think it’s important, and a chance for members of the public to ask questions and take part in a discussion. There’ll be 11 other women scientists there talking about their own work, and I’m really looking forward to learning about what they do too.

And an online engagement activity for women in STEM:

This month, The STEM Squad are running a photo a day challenge on Instagram – take a look at their Instagram account here. In their own words, they are “An inclusive community of femme-identifying STEM professionals and enthusiasts“. The challenge involves people posting a photograph each day for the whole of March (including #WEARESTEMSQUAD), with the aim of showing the many sides of women in STEM. As I write this it’s currently day 10 and I’ve managed to keep up, I’ve really enjoyed seeing everyone’s posts and following what they get up to each day. It’s so cool to see what every does, how different each career is, and what we all like to do outside of the labs/offices/fields that we’re in day-to-day.

The themes covered in the Instagram challenge are in the picture above, so take a look at the hashtag and join in if you haven’t already!

I was talking to a friend earlier on in the week about the Soapbox Science event and The STEM Squad challenge, and she (very innocently) said, ‘Why is it just for women though? That seems a bit unfair.’

My initial response was to be a bit stroppy – why does every event that involves only women get the whole ‘why not men?’ argument thrown back at it, why can’t we just do stuff as a group of women supporting each other?! The more I thought about it, the more I calmed down. Maybe women in STEM get this weird backlash because people don’t understand the point of why we’re doing these events, these public engagement activities and challenges online. I figured this was a good place to talk about it (Twitter was out because of that time I tweeted about a BBC Three documentary called Men At War and got trolled for at least a fortnight ).

Women are not represented equally in the STEM workforce, in fact the percentage of women in science professional occupations dropped from 50% in 2015 to 41% in 2016. That gives a slightly skewed picture though; 41% isn’t so bad, right? Perhaps, but that 41% isn’t consistent across the board:

  • Only 18% of people in ICT professional occupations are women
  • Only 8% of people in Engineering professional occupations are women
  • Only 14% of people in management positions in Science, Engineering and Technology are women

Being a woman in STEM is not easy – personally I’ve people who are shocked when I say I’m doing a PhD, ‘but you’re blonde!’ like, really? I’m pretty sure that my hair colour has no relationship with my intelligence (feel free to correct me with a methodologically-outstanding randomised trial). Largely though, I haven’t experienced any sort of discrimination at all, just a whole host of supportive and brilliant colleagues with a view weird comments thrown in.

For others though, being a woman in STEM is really tough, and the comments and discrimination women receive puts them off being in STEM altogether, there’s a genuine gender wage gap, and there’s even research to show that women who work in male-dominated workplaces experience heighted levels of interpersonal, workplace stressors.

It’s important to even this gender imbalance out and create equal opportunities for both men and women. Doing events and drawing attention to the problem is one way to try and push that process forward. Creating a positive and welcoming environment for people to learn, ask questions, and actually see what women in STEM look like (see also #actuallivingscientist and #dresslikeawoman), can make a real difference for the next generation of STEM workers.