Knowing When to Take a Break

If you’ve been following my Blogtober posts, you might have noticed that I missed a day yesterday. I just did not have the time to get a blog post written and uploaded.
I had planned to do it on Tuesday night, but I ended up getting caught up with some freelance work and then packaging and sorting my shop orders took way longer than I thought it would. Yesterday just seemed to go by in a blur; in the morning I was doing a viva for an MSci student that I’ve been supervising whilst she’s been away on placement all year. After that I had a Mandarin Chinese lesson (I’ll talk more about this in another blog post – it’s so much fun!), and then by the time I got back to my desk, sorted out my inbox, and did the urgent things on my to do list it was almost 6pm and my tummy was doing the ‘leave work now and feed me’ grumbles. Predictably, last night also went at super speed and before I knew it it was 11pm.

I had thought of staying up and working on getting a blog post up before midnight because the thought of missing 1 day in the middle of the month was driving me mad, but after more than 30 seconds’ thought and a yawn that was so big it probably could have broken my jaw, I decided against it.

Today has also gone by in a blur, so I’m here after 6pm thinking ‘oh crap, what do I blog about today?’ – and I think that in itself is interesting. I blog to share my research, to draw attention to subjects that I care about, and to try to encourage people to engage with health services research. If I’m exhausted and pushed for time, it’s very unlikely that I’ll achieve any of those things; knowing when to take a break is important.

So, with that in mind, I am going to take tonight easy. I am going to read my book (I’m currently reading Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss and really enjoying it so far), I might write a blog post later on, and I’m going to get an early night.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog post that I haven’t felt pressured or felt rushed to write. I’m planning on doing a ‘publication explainer’ post talking about embedded studies, what they are and why we need more of them.

Have a lovely evening 🙂

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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

Monday Media: Episode 1, 15th October 2018

I’ve talked before on this blog about how I do some freelance writing projects along side my full time job, and today I want to start a new series of blog posts that originate from a conversation I had with a client a while ago. One of the regular projects that I work on is a weekly recap of news; every single week (through thesis write up and everything!), I write a news recap piece for Synthego. Synthego are based in Silicon Valley, and they have a product portfolio spanning software and synthetic RNA kits that are designed to support scientists and researchers with CRISPR gene editing processes. I’ve worked with Synthego for over 2 years now, and this little recap of news has become a normal part of my week. I find these types of posts really interesting to write even though I don’t work in a lab or have anything to do with CRISPR or gene editing day-to-day, so I figured it might be good to make a little news recap of my own each week.

I’m not sure if this will be a weekly thing just yet (let’s see if anyone actually reads it first…), but I’m going to use these posts to highlight new research, interesting articles and other forms of media (blog posts, podcasts, YouTube videos etc) that are related to things I find interesting – primarily trials and trial methods, but likely a bit of public engagement/involvement and research integrity thrown in there too.

So, here goes! Let me know what you think and whether you’d like to see these types of posts become a regular thing on the blog.

Research Paper: The effect of optimised patient information materials on recruitment in a lung cancer screening trial: an embedded recruitment trial

Full disclaimer on this one – I know some of the team behind this paper; one of them was (I just had to go back and delete the word ‘is’, it’s still very strange to not be a PhD student anymore) my PhD supervisor, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few of them on other projects too. Even so, it’s still interesting and it’s still useful.

This study focusses on the content of participant information leaflets; these are the leaflets that people are given when they are approached to take part in a trial, it should contain all the information they need to make a decision about trial participation, and it should be presented in a format that is accessible and easy to digest. In reality, a lot of participant information leaflets are super long, very text-heavy, and often make people (myself included) groan just thinking about reading them. The team behind this study designed and conducted an embedded study (also called SWATs or studies within trials – I mentioned them in a previous blog post here), looking at participant information leaflets used within a host trial that aimed to assess the effectiveness of a new test in reducing the incidence of patients with late-stage lung cancer at diagnosis compared with standard care. Potential participants approached for participation in the host trial were randomised to receive the original participant information leaflet and accompanying letter (control group) or optimised versions of these materials which had undergone user testing and a process of re-writing, re-organisation and professional graphic design (intervention group). The primary outcome was the number of patients recruited to the host trial, and the secondary outcome was the proportion of patients expressing an interest in participating in the host trial (just a note – I’ll be doing a post all about outcomes soon as that’s what my next research project will focus on, keep an eye out for it over the coming months!).

The results of this embedded study suggest that optimised patient information materials made little difference to the proportion of patients positively responding to a trial invitation or to the proportion subsequently randomised to the host trial. I’m interested as to why this is – personally I think it’s something to do with the verbal information that potential participants get alongside these leaflets, but I guess that’s a question for a future study! Read the full paper here.

Research paper: Global public attitudes about clinical research and patient experiences with clinical trials

A new study published in JAMA from researchers at The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation in Boston, Massachusetts, caught my eye this week. The team surveyed 12,427 people in 2017 about their attitudes and understanding of clinical research, these individuals represented 68 countries and included 2,194 clinical trial participants.

The survey found that 84.5% of respondents perceived clinical research to be very important to the discovery and development of new medicines, but 59% were unable to name a place where studies were conducted. 90% believed that clinical research is generally safe, but 44.9% reported that clinical trials are rarely considered as an option when discussion treatments or medications with their physician. Perhaps unsurprisingly, clinical trial participation was perceived as inconvenient and burdensome; 49% of respondents expressed that their clinical trial participation disrupted their daily routine.

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of normalising trial participation, and improving trial design to minimise burden and/or disruption for participants. Read the full paper here.

Webinar: Health Care Improvement Scotland’s QI Connect Global WebEx Series presents ‘Too much medicine… winding back the harms of medical excess’ with Fiona Godlee
Fiona Godlee is Editor-in-Chief of the BMJ, she’s a qualified doctor and hugely intelligent and inspirational woman. I’ve seen her speak a few times, and each time I’ve been left feeling galvanised to do something to help solve the problems

she’s highlighted. She’s spoken at length about the harms of having ‘too much medicine’, and whilst at the BMJ she’s been heavily involved in their Too Much Medicine campaign. This webinar promises to be an interesting look at the problem of medical excess, and hopefully some ideas on how we can prevent the continuation of over-medicalisation.

This webinar takes place on October 31st 4-5pm (UK time), and you can register for free here.

Opinion: How to fulfil China’s potential for carrying out clinical trials

Some researchers believe that China has the potential to become one of the world’s most favoured sites for performing clinical trials. Largely, this is because China is home to ~20% of the world’s population, as well as a pattern of morbidity and mortality that is increasingly similar to Western countries – it has been suggested that doing trials in China could solve the recruitment issues we see so often in trials conducted elsewhere. Currently, China has 32 national centres for clinical medicine research, and has formed a collaborative innovation network of more than 2100 medical institutions in 260 cities. Another attraction is that – for the time being at least – trials conducted in China cost half or less compared to those conducted in Europe and North America because it has larger numbers of medical staff and a lower cost base.

That said, moving all trials to China isn’t a viable option right now; the country’s trial experience is very much in its infancy, and it’s important that we ensure that trials are of a high quality. This article published in the BMJ provides some initial ideas of how the wider trials community can help to ensure that China is able to fulfil its potential for carrying out high quality clinical trials.

Do We Still Need Ada Lovelace Day?

Every year since 2009, on the second Tuesday of October, the world celebrates Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as being the world’s first computer programmer, and the day aims to raise the profile of women in STEM by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating ‘new’ role models.

How did the Ada Lovelace Day come about?

From the Finding Ada website:

The inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day came from psychologist Penelope Lockwood, who carried out a study which found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models. “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success,” she said, “illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”

So, in the tenth year of celebrations – do we really need an Ada Lovelace Day?

In a time when people can seriously suggest that ‘separate labs for boys and girls’ might be a good way to stop women crying (biochemist Tim Hunt in 2015), and others are claiming that entire scientific subjects (in this case physics) was ‘invented and built by men’ (researcher Alessandro Strumia just a few weeks ago), it is perhaps unsurprising that I think we need Ada Lovelac Day now more than ever. Though I do have a few caveats..

For Ada Lovelace Day

The general ethos behind Ada Lovelace Day is something that I completely agree with – we should be encouraging people to talk about women working in STEM subjects, and we should be working specifically to highlight their achievements. That’s not because women should be celebrated more than men; it’s because the achievements of men are already being highlighted and celebrated, and they have been for decades.

Dr Donna Strickland

A total of 209 individuals have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics since 1901; only 3 of those were women. One of those women was Dr Donna Strickland who won the award this year, the first woman to do so in 55 years. You might think that demonstrates a step forward – and perhaps in some ways it does, but if at all, it is a tiny, tiny step. To put things into perspective, Strickland did not have a Wikipedia profile at the time of the prize’s announcement.
A Wikipedia user tried to set up a page in May, but it was rejected by a moderator with the message, “This submission’s references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article.” It was determined, had not received enough dedicated coverage elsewhere on the internet to warrant a page. Think that through. This fantastically talented woman did not have a Wikipedia page because of her lack of internet presence.
Strickland said the achievements of women scientists deserved recognition. “We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. I’m honored to be one of those women“, Strickland said by video link at a news conference following the announcement in Stockholm.

Strickland is just one example of the problems that riddle STEM subjects; women are underrepresented and undervalued in comparison to their male peers. Ada Lovelace Day encourages people to find out about women in STEM, and that is a brilliant thing.

Against Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day may be focussed on highlighting the achievements of all women in STEM, but the fact that the day is named after Ada Lovelace is troubling for me.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, born Ada Gordon in 1815, was the only child of erratic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his mathematics-loving wife Annabella Milbanke. Ada had a hugely privileged upbringing; she was raised under a strict regimen of science, logic and mathematics. As a young girl she was fascinated with machines, immersing herself in the pages of scientific magazines of the time in order for her to learn more about the new inventions of the Industrial Revolution. At 19, she married aristocrat William King, when King was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838 his wife became Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace. Hence why she is generally called Ada Lovelace.
Lovelace moved in affluent circles, she was introduced to Charles Babbage at the age of just 18. Babbage was a celebrity of the time, and the mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer originated the concept of a digital programmable computer. Babbage described her as “that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it,” or an another occasion, as “The Enchantress of Numbers”.

Clearly, Ada Lovelace was lucky – she lived  relatively easy life moving in wealthy circles that enabled her to succeed. By highlighting that I am not taking away her talent, but it’s not difficult to deduce what may have happened to a person of a different socioeconomic class or ethnicity with just the same level of talent and determination. The thing that differentiates Ada Lovelace from others is privilege; her white-ness, her wealth, and her connections.

We are still living in a world where white middle class women are getting more attention that other women. Ask someone to name a female scientist and I’d put money on that woman being white, likely English-speaking, and probably from a pretty middle class background.

Early career researcher, Forbes writer, science communicator and all round inspirational human Meriame Berboucha has described herself as ‘minority squared’.

In one of Soph Talks Science’s Scientist in the Spotlight interviews Meriame explained, “whenever I give a talk, one of the most common questions I get asked is where are you from?, which when I answer West London, is then followed by but where are you actually from.” That is beyond ridiculous; why does it matter where Meriame is ‘really’ from, whatever that means? Would these people ask white women the same question? I’d guess not.

Ada Lovelace Day contributes to the continuing problem of exclusion of people of colour; let’s highlight all achievements, so how about we change things and rename the second Tuesday in October Maggie Aderin-Pocock Day, Asima Chatterjee Day, Dorothy Vaughan Day, Susan La Flesche Picotte Day, Rebecca Lee Crumpler Day, Nergis Mavalvala Day, Adriana Ocampo Day, or Mae Jemison Day?

What do you think; are you for or against Ada Lovelace Day? Leave a comment below and explain why – I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

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.

Inspiring People: Jess Wade

Blogtober is going much more quickly than I anticipated! It feels like I was only posting my last ‘Inspiring People’ post a few days ago, but that ode to Margaret McCartney was in fact over a week ago.. anyway, on to another hugely inspirational women! This post is about Jess Wade. Jess is a physicist and early career researcher based at Imperial College London, she also does a huge amount of fantastic public engagement work, a lot of which aims to promote physics to girls.

Why does Jess Wade inspire me?
Jess Wade

I was first introduced to Jess (I say introduced, I’ve never actually met her – I’ve just done a lot of admiring from afar..) on Twitter, after her campaign to create Wikipedia pages for overlooked women in science hit the mainstream news. This campaign involved Jess creating Wikipedia pages for one woman who has achieved something impressive in science every single day. Now, Blogtober has been going for the grand total of 12 days now, and I’m writing this posts later and later in the day.. it’s currently after 10pm and I’m sat in my dressing gown with a decaf tea (I am so rock and roll). I cannot imagine how much work that this campaign has involved; some of my blog posts don’t take very long to write, others take a long time because they require research – for to make a Wikipedia page requires a significant amount of time and effort. Jess’s enthusiasm doesn’t stop there though, she’s been quoted saying I had a target for doing one a day, but sometimes I get too excited and do three.” Let that sink in, she writes at least one Wikipedia page a day, but sometimes she write three. THREE. This is a woman on a mission, and I absolutely love her excitement, drive and determination.

In more recent months Jess has also started another campaign along with fellow Scientist Claire Murray. Just a warning, this is another large campaign that will make you question what on Earth you’ve achieved in the past 2 months (my excuse is that I finished my PhD – if it wasn’t for that I’m sure I’d have raised thousands of pounds for an incredible cause… yep…). Jess and Claire have so far raised over £23,000, which will be used to buy copies of Angela Saini‘s book Inferior (I reviewed Inferior last year, you can read that review here) for every state school in the UK. ISN’T THAT INCREDIBLE?! Publishing house 4th Estate have also agreed to match the donations and manage distribution – this is no small thing, and as far as I know it was started by Jess and Claire on Twitter.
Not only is Jess aiming to ensure that girls across Britain know that they can do whatever they want to do (i.e. that it’s not science that’s holding them back, it’s society), but she’s inspired other brilliant women around the world to start these types of campaigns in their own countries. Jess is now working on a further campaign alongside Maryam Zaringhalam which aims to get the book into New York City’s middle and high schools.

This video from BBC Focus is brilliant, it includes Jess Wade along with Angela Saini, Suzie Imber and Aoife Hunt talking about why there aren’t more women in science and STEM subjects more broadly. I would really recommend watching it to get a vibe of how humble, intelligent and funny Jess is.

She’s also a brilliant doodler:

Image taken from https://makingphysicsfun.com/
Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about Jess Wade’s work, I’d recommend starting with the sources below:

Jess Wade’s outreach website, her Twitter page and her staff profile at Imperial College.

A day in the life of a physicist at Imperial College London
Meet the scientist working to increase the number of underrepresented scientists and engineers on Wikipedia
Interview: Dr. Jess Wade does it all – from clever LEDs to increasing diversity in STEM
This physicist wants female scientists to get noticed. So she wrote 270 Wikipedia profiles.
Institute of Physics blog – Interview with Jess Wade

As an early career researcher, I love Jess’s positivity and her can-do attitude. She inspires me to be proactive in the way that I push forward the things that mean something to me – whether that’s public engagement, scientific research, or diversity and equality.

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 🙂