6 Science Communicators I’m Learning From

I don’t know whether the world of science communication has blossomed in recent months, or if I’m just more aware of it. What’s clear is that the field is booming. The variety of methods being used is vast – there are people using everything from cross-stitch to live streaming to tell people about science. As I’ve said recently, I’m working to do science communication too; I want people to understand what clinical trials are, why we need them, and how to critique them. That said, I follow a lot of other science communicators – I find their science interesting, and I love seeing how them communicate the concepts central to other fields of science. Take a look at the science communicators I’ve been loving recently, and make sure to give them a follow too.

Instagram

Samantha // Science Sam

For me, Sam is really at the forefront of pushing the use of Instagram for science. She regularly posts about her PhD research, providing easy to understand analogies for complex scientific processes. Not only that, but she’s a champion for women in STEM. Recently she drew attention to the horrendous advertising campaign that Benefit ran, facilitating a global discussion on the campaign via Twitter.

More recently, she is part of a cutting edge research project looking at how scientists represent themselves on Instagram, and how their selfies might influence public perception of scientists.

YouTube

Alice // Gray Matter

I’ve watched Alice’s YouTube videos for months – she explains concepts related to the brain in short and snappy videos. Some of the topics she covers are pretty common – déjà vu for example, others are weird and wonderful ideas that I’ never heard of – e.g. can babies smell in the womb? Whatever she’s explaining, she managed to simply convey very complication scientific ideas, whilst making sure her viewers aren’t left overwhelmed or confused. I really recommend her channel; she manages to provide answers for questions I wasn’t even aware I had.

Blog

Natasha // Surviving Science

Natasha’s blog is one of my favourites at the moment. She blogs about her life as a PhD student, as well as explaining various scientific topics. Her research focusses on resistance mechanisms in targeted cancer therapies, which is something I know very little about – but the way she communicates somehow makes that really accessible.

She also manages to inject humour into her posts. Her latest post ‘7 reasons your western didn’t work (again)‘ had me laughing out loud as the memories from my last stint in a laboratory environment came flooding back.

Zines

Maria // Literally Viral and We Are Microbes

Maria is the driving force behind ‘We Are Microbes’, a super creative, and informative (soon to be) set of zines.

The first zine was published in June, and it focusses on science communication. I contributed to that zine – sending Maria a very basic Word document and a few doodles. She managed to integrate a huge variety of scicomm experiences into a professional-looking, engaging and beautiful zine. I was super proud to have been able to contribute, and I really look forward to the zines she has planned in the future.

Twitter

Sophie // Soph Talks Science

Sophie was one of the first science communicators I ever followed – her name seems to be everywhere! She’s writes her own blog, contributes to others, runs a brilliant Instagram account, but recently I’ve been loving her content on Twitter. Her Twitter feed is the one place where I can keep track of all the projects that she’s involved in! She also retweets content from other science communicators that I find super useful too. Really, she’s one of those women in science that truly champions other women in science too – if you’re not following her, you should be.

Art

Steph // Embroidology

Steph is ridiculously talented. She creates super cute hand embroidery designs that stem from science.

Honestly I don’t even know where she got this idea from, or how on earth she can create such adorable science art – if I had a wall at my desk (my desk’s in front of the window) I’d be all over these! They’d be great as gifts too. Her designs are usually on embroidery hoops, but in the past she’s sold clothing, mugs, and cushions with her designs on too. I’m really looking forward to the opening of her new Etsy shop to see what new products she’s got, and which old ones make it back.

 

Who are your favourite science communicators? Leave suggestions in the comments, I’m always looking for new scicommers to inspire and educate me!

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3 Words to Alarm PhD Students: ‘And After Graduation?’

There’s been a lot of talk online recently about what people are doing after finishing a PhD, particularly those who are involved with science communication alongside their academic research work. I’m now less than a year from my planned thesis hand-in date, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do afterwards.

I want to stay in academic research.

After speaking to a lot of fellow PhD students that are around the same point as me, my choice seems a bit weird now. Every single person I’ve spoken to wants to leave academic research. As you might expect, lots of the students who are involved with science communication alongside their PhD work are aiming to go into science communication full-time, but there are a few who want to leave the science world entirely. I figured now is a good time to explain why I want to stick with what I’m doing, and why I don’t want to make science communication my full-time job.

I enjoy the work I’m doing

Sadly, I think this is rare. The pressure that a PhD can put students under can be massive, it can be overwhelming, and if you don’t enjoy the work then you can get pretty miserable when you’re stuck doing something you hate for 3 years. I’m lucky in that I really haven’t had that experience at all. I genuinely love the work I’m doing, I find it exciting and challenging, and I want to stick with it until I’ve cracked the problems I’m focussing on – which could be my entire career.

I do science communication because my research is important

I enjoy doing science communication; it gives me a creative outlet that is linked to my work, and can therefore improve the quality of my research. For me, that’s a win, win. To begin with I started doing scicomm because I thought it’d be a good way to push myself out of my comfort zone – see The Chatty Scientist’s YouTube channel – I never thought I’d be recording myself talking about science and happily posting about it on the internet! Now, I’ve gained confidence and I continue to be active in the scicomm world because I think my research is important. I really feel that people should know about the work that we’re doing to improve the way we design, run and report clinical trials. I’m not sure I’d feel so passionate about science communication if I was communicating research that I wasn’t linked with.

I don’t want to move for the sake of moving

Not only do I want to stay in research, I really want to stay at the Health Services Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen too. The team are brilliant, the working environment is supportive and exciting, and I really think that I could do well here. Whilst moving out of Aberdeen would be exciting, I don’t think it’s worth leaving such a good team behind just for the sake of moving; if I did move, I think I’d have missed an opportunity here. Plus, in grown up life there’s other people to consider. My boyfriend has a job here he enjoys, we’ve got a flat that we both love, and friends and family relatively nearby.

So, what next?

Over the next few weeks I plan to scope out funding sources – these could be fellowships, project grants, or smaller pots of money that can be put together to keep me going for the next year or so. I’m very aware that fellowships are competitive, so I’m trying not to get my hopes up. That said, I’ll be working on applications over the coming months, and keeping my fingers crossed!

If you’re a PhD student, what do you plan on doing next and why? I’d be interested to hear about your experiences with this 🙂

Taking a Break – Regret, Relax & Refresh

Last week I went on holiday; I went to Poland (Wroclaw and Krakow), saw friends get married, relaxed and spent some much needed quality time with my boyfriend. Most importantly, this was the first holiday where I didn’t bring my laptop with me since beginning my undergraduate degree 7 years ago. I still had my iPhone which meant I could access emails – but I didn’t reply to a single work email for the entire week.

The Regret Stage

To begin with, the sudden digital detox was much more of a shock than I thought it would be. At home, I take my laptop everywhere, I always have access to wifi and I am usually on top of my inbox with a digitised to do list. I didn’t have access to that list, any of my documents or PhD-related resources. Over the first few days of the trip I was a bit itchy – I felt like I was wasting time when I was at the airport doing nothing, on the flight doing nothing, or waiting around in the hotel, again, doing nothing. At first I viewed these snippets of time as opportunities where I could have been reading journal articles, abstract screening or writing parts of my literature review. I regretted not taking any work with me at all.

The Relaxation Stage

A few days after the regret stage – say around day 3 of the holiday, I was finally getting out of the habit of checking my work emails every hour or so, and I started to forget about the length of the to do list that would greet me when I got back to the UK. I had a really, really brilliant holiday. I saw my friends get married, made new friends with other guests, tried new foods, explored a new country, slept late (with no alarm!) and didn’t feel the pressure to wear a watch or check the time, because time really didn’t matter. It was bliss.

Sunset boat trip along the river, Wroclaw.
The Refreshment Stage

Towards the end of the holiday – around day 6 and 7, I started to think about work again, but in a totally different way. I started to think of really exciting and creative science communication projects that I could do in the future, I started to think about the structure of my literature review and how the big pile of papers I’ve gathered would fit together; but none of these ideas were forced. I wasn’t trying to think about work, in fact, I was consciously trying not to. I was just getting my motivation and enthusiasm back. We landed back in the UK on Friday morning, and on the drive back to Aberdeen I was reading through my work emails and jotting down things to do. I got home and unpacked, sorted out the mountain of laundry we’d acquired, and watched TV. I was completely relaxed, and looking forward to a weekend of getting back to blogging and scicomm projects, before PhD life kicks back in on Monday.

View from our hotel window, Krakow.

I guess what I’ve learned from the break, is that I wasn’t properly taking holidays before – I was switching my out of office on, and telling people I was going away, but I was sneaking work in the whole time. I’m sure there are lots of other PhD students and researchers that do that too; we’re expected to be on the go all the time and it’s so difficult to switch off. Next time you go on holiday, or have some annual leave left to take, just take a break. Force yourself out of the cycle doing bits of work here and there; you might just find that you come back refreshed and more motivated than before you left.

#365papers July Update

In my first post on this blog, I set myself 3 PhD-related goals for 2017. One of those goals was to read more widely, and more frequently, and I decided that doing the #365papers challenge would be a good way to do that.

For the first time in a few months, I’m finishing July ahead of schedule! I’m currently writing this before I go on holiday (July 28th) and it’s been scheduled and published whilst I’m enjoying myself with friends in Wroclaw or Krakow, depending on when you’re reading this.

This month I’ve really focussed on getting abstracts screened for my literature review. I still have a big pile waiting for me when I get back to the office, but it feels good to have made at least a little dent in the workload, and the task definitely made reading much easier to fit in too.

July’s reading:

  1. Marketing and clinical trials: a case study
  2. Practical issues regarding implementing a randomized clinical trial in a homeless population: strategies and lessons learned
  3. Avoidable waste related to inadequate methods and incomplete reporting of interventions: a systematic review of randomised trials performed in Sub-Saharan Africa
  4. External validity of randomised controlled trials: “To whom do the results of this trial apply?”
  5. Implementing research findings in developing countries
  6. Spending on public health cut as councils look to save money
  7. New law will force hospitals to charge foreign patients for non-urgent care
  8. Participation in a clinical trial: The patients’ point of view
  9. Clinical trial participation: Viewpoints from racial/ethnic groups
  10. Barriers to clinical trial participation as perceived by oncologists and patients
  11. Determinants of patient participation in clinical studies requiring informed consent: why patients enter a clinical trial
  12. Patient income level and cancer clinical trial participation
  13. Why African Americans may not be participating in clinical trials
  14. Why patients don’t take part in cancer clinical trials: an overview of the literature
  15. Resource implications of preparing individual participant data from a clinical trial to share with external researchers
  16. Short-term impact of celebrating the international clinical trial day: experience from Ethiopia
  17. How to design efficient cluster randomised trials
  18. Six pairs of things to celebrate on International Clinical Trials Day
  19. Development in the number of clinical trial applications in Western Europe from 2007 to 2015: retrospective study of data from national competent authorities
  20. When scientists turn to the public: alternative routes in science communication
  21. Blockchain technology for improving clinical research quality
  22. Barriers to clinical trial recruitment and possible solutions: a stakeholder survey
  23. Unsuccessful trial accrual and human subjects’ protections: an empirical analysis of recently closed trials
  24. Routine data from hospital information systems can support patient recruitment for clinical studies
  25. Impact of participant and physician intervention preferences on randomised trials – a systematic review
  26. Motivators of enrolment in HIV vaccine trials: a review of HIV vaccine preparedness studies
  27. Informed consent documents do not encourage good-quality decision making
  28. The effects of an open design on trial participant recruitment, compliance and retention – a randomized controlled trial comparison with a blinded, placebo-controlled design
  29. Provider roles in the recruitment of underrepresented populations to cancer clinical trials
  30. Recruiting subjects for acute stroke trials: a meta-analysis
  31. Minimisation: a new method of assigning patients to treatment and control groups

‘Skip Class Not Concealer’, Said No Woman in STEM, Ever.

Benefit Cosmetics is a huge global brand. With their cutesy packaging and high-street presence their target audience covers young girls (and boys) just starting out with makeup, right the way up to mature women (and men) who have used their products for years.

I bought my first Benefit product at age 14, a particularly gloopy lip gloss in a pink/purple shade that I’m sure made me look like I was mere hours from death. I remember rushing home from school to get changed and apply that lipgloss before my Dad dropped my best friend and I off at a concert at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena. Since then, I’ve used Benefit products relatively regularly – though the gloopy gloss didn’t last long.

Last week Samantha Yammine drew my attention to Benefit’s latest ad campaign. This ‘skip class NOT concealer’ ad is part of Benefit’s campaign launching their boi-ing concealer range. For someone who has dark circles around my eyes even when I’ve had a solid 12 hours of sleep, I’m the perfect target for this product. I won’t be buying it though.

It’s difficult to find a starting point for how wrong this ad campaign is, but I’ll give it a shot:

  • Why can’t we go to class without concealer, is that really so bad?
  • Are girls really that precious that we have to choose between going to class and applying makeup? A revolutionary thought, but perhaps we could do both.
  • LEARNING IS COOL

Honestly I was so frustrated when I saw this campaign. It’s giving completely the wrong idea to young people; there’s no need to choose between wearing makeup and maintaining your education. I’m 25 years old and have been in education consistently since the age of 5. From about age 14 I’ve worn makeup, I’ve been through the horrendous Maybelline dream matte mousse phase that every girl of my generation went through, seen the rise of the liquid liner flick, and made some horrendous choices with regards to my blusher. None of that meant that I missed classes. I can confidently say that I have never skipped a class because I didn’t have time to apply concealer.

I wear makeup to work every day. My colleagues have never seen me without perfectly preened brows and a subtle contour that ensures my non-existent cheek bones look chiselled but natural. As a makeup wearer, I know for a fact that I have been judged by academics. I once had an argument with a post-doc in a lab that I was interning in – I made a mistake with a calculation, and he said ‘I should have spent more time working than applying mascara’. I was raging, and rightly so.

I continued to wear makeup after that; I also went on to graduate with a first class degree and the prize for the best thesis in my graduating cohort. I’m currently going into the final year of my PhD – and I’m on track to gain the ‘Dr’ title just after I turn 26. Not bad for someone who is proud of the extensive collection of MAC lipsticks I’ve spent my money on over the years.

I’ve decided I’m no longer buying Benefit products. The message they are sending out is damaging, degrading and intimidating. It suggests that our pretty-little-makeup-wearing heads can’t cope with learning, and I’m over it.

I’m going on holiday next week and instead of skipping to Benefit and treating myself to a new bronzer (I’m pasty and blonde, and my tan is best faked!), I placed an order with Charlotte Tilbury. There’s £106 spent elsewhere because of a badly thought-through PR campaign.

I’m hoping that Benefit will at least issue an apology, and hopefully do something to remedy the damage they’ve done with this archaic message. Maybe they could focus their next campaign on empowering young girls to aim higher, build lasting careers, and push themselves?