Scientists can be fun(ny)

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Every now and then I read something that reminds me of the quirky sense of humour that scientists can have, from my friend who has a t-shirt that says “Smash particles and patriarchy” to the recent post on several news services about a journal article that was published in 2005 about a study of “The case of the disappearing teaspoons”.

I remember when this article came out. I was, at the time, a research assistant for a research institute in Melbourne, the same city as where this article was published. Not only did we find it an entertaining read, it was both a scientifically sound experiment AND answered out question as to where all the communal tearoom teaspoons go!

Teaspoon years and teaspoon halflife

The experiment was reasonable simple. The authors  bought and discreetly numbered 70 teaspoons which they then deposited around their institute. Each week they conducted a count of how many teaspoons remained. They also did a quick scan of desks to see if they could see any of the teaspoons.

At the end of the study, they told their colleagues of their experiment and asked them to fill out a survey. This was one of my favourite parts of the experiment as it included questions such as “have you ever stolen a teaspoon?” and “do you feel guilty about stealing a teaspoon”. Surprisingly (at least to me) only 38% of respondents had ever stolen a teaspoon!! I guess people are a bit more honest than me (yes I take cutlery from the restaurant at work……).

Of the 70 teaspoons at the beginning of the study, 56 (80%) had disappeared. Where to, the authors never discovered. After 81 days, half of the teaspoons were gone, and the type of tearoom that the spoons were in also affected how quickly they disappeared!

The authors also estimated that:

If the annual rate of teaspoon loss per employee can be applied to the entire workforce of the city of Melbourne (about 2.5 million), an estimated 18 million teaspoons are going missing in Melbourne each year. Laid end to end, these lost teaspoons would cover over 2700 km—the length of the entire coastline of Mozambique —and weigh over 360 metric tons—the approximate weight of four adult blue whales.

I don’t even want to think about pens that disappear from offices every year!

Evidence on spoon disappearances is lacking

This also made me chuckle. Often, scientific journals want authors to give a quick summary of how their research adds to the field or to the scientific community. The authors of this study made these statements (including a reference to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams):

What is already known on this topic: Information on the displacement of teaspoons in institutional settings is lacking in the medical and scientific literature

What this study adds: We lost nearly one teaspoon per 100 teaspoon days People have no control over teaspoon migration; escape to a spoonoid planet and resistentialism are equally plausible explanations

Final Thought

I love this article because of its tongue-in-cheek nature, plus its example of a well-planned and thorough experimental procedure. I think it is a great example demonstrating that science can be fun. Us scientists have a sense of humour too!

 

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Survey participants wanted!

Survey participants wanted!

I am conducting a research project as part of my Masters of Communication degree, looking at the role that the Internet plays in the perception of scientific information and of scientists.

To achieve this, I am inviting people to take part in an anonymous survey (20 minutes max.) answering questions surrounding scientific information, scientists and the Internet.

 

If you are interested in participating, please read the attached Information Sheet and click on the following link to start the survey.

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Feel free to share this with your network!

 

Thanks in advance!!

Michelle

Survey Information Sheet

Which way is up?

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There has been talk recently about the importance of mentoring post docs in the early stages of their scientific careers. And it shouldn’t just apply to science careers, but in this industry good mentoring appears to be crucial.

Why is this the case? A mentor is not just an ear piece – I have a mentor and they were instrumental in helping me decide to not only undertake a PhD, but provided numerous scientific advice during my PhD.

It’s not just for the young ones…

Mentoring and career guidance is not just for people beginning their careers. One senior scientist I know, who has always worked with drive and purpose, wrote recently that they felt mid-career mentoring was important, but lacking.

They discuss that there is a difference between a supervisor and a mentor and often it comes down to the role that these people play…

A mentor is a person that usually has nothing to do with your work and is solely there to objectively help you with your career and career aspirations… What you do in the lab is usually of little significance. Your supervisor, however, is often the person funding your salary or the work that you do, so they very much have a vested interested in what you are doing  but often not so focused on your career growth… Not because they are bad people, but their perspective is very different.

So even mid-career researchers can express frustration about career growth and a lack of direction or support. One article stated that “success is difficult to define, but one knows it when one sees it. A reasonable definition is the achievement of satisfaction and happiness in one’s profession, which then defers the definition to that of happiness and satisfaction.

So is the role of mentoring to help find satisfaction or purpose? Certainly, feeling like you are not going anywhere can lead to a lack of satisfaction with your career.

The solution appears to be diversifying support. This in turn involves acknowledging that driven and “successful” people often still need advice and direction, rather than be considered to be experienced enough that they would no longer benefit from this support. Importantly, it should not be considered as a weakness on their behalf.

Think of it this way, you may often know how to get somewhere from memory alone, but that doesn’t stop you from consulting a map just to be sure.

Final Thought

So what is the answer to this conundrum? People who are mid-career are already meant to know where they are going, but in these times of less grant money, or less secure jobs, things can seem a little more uncertain. Universities, institutes and companies should be actively promoting mid-career mentoring and support, for although it may not be considered important, there can be a trickle down effect in the mentoring of more junior staff.

But how do we implement it? My opinion, and that of others writing about mentoring, is that we need to talk more about the lack of mid-career mentoring, as well as the effects of good mentoring.

And finally, people should never be afraid to speak up if they are struggling. As we always said in the lab ” here is no such thing as a stupid question…”

[caveat: there probably is, but someone has also probably asked it before].

The miracle cure, the solution I was looking for.

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The aisle in the pharmacy promising cellulite cures, fat burning tablets or weightloss supplements always surprises me. There are so many products all claiming to have the miracle cure. Everyone loves a quick fix, but do these products actually work?

A dimple by any other name

Cellulite is the term for dimpling of the skin, usually  located on the hips, buttocks and thighs, resembling orange peel texture. It is often associated with rapid weight gain, but can be found in both overweight and normal BMI people. It is more common in women, and generally appears after puberty. While not a serious medical condition, its associated stigma can cause distress in many people. Hence, the plethora of anti-cellulite creams.

Coffee with cream?

Most anti-cellulite creams contain agents that stimulate and tighten the skin, to reduce the dimpling appearance, while others target fat cells. One study compared a placebo (or dummy cream) with an anti-cellulite cream containing caffeine and ginger root extract, amongst other things. The investigators found no physical differences but respondents reported high satisfaction with the product, meaning that they thought it had worked.

The jury is still out on whether these creams do actually work. There are a huge number of studies out there and the results are inconclusive. Some studies have shown results to the surface of the skin, or to fat cells, while others have not.

In the studies that show a difference, it appears that these creams only work temporarily. Also, it is not known if the active ingredients of the creams actually reach their targets or a just absorbed by the epidermis.

One article wrote that the current theory of the industry is that more is better when it comes to active ingredients, and so the creams will often contain ‘skin firming’ ingredients, caffeine, as well as ‘slimming’ ingredients. In many cases, the positive benefit felt by users is increased skin softness and smoothness, not a reduction of cellulite.

To be perfectly honest, I was quite surprised by the amount of literature available on anti-cellulite creams! Am I sold on the evidence that the creams work? I’m not sure. It appears that many of the active ingredients can reduce the size of fat cells, or tighten skin, but whether these are lasting effects, we don’t know.

It is important to consider that a quick fix is just that, a temporary quick fix that doesn’t address the underlying problem. Although cellulite can be genetic and be found on people with a low BMI, it is exacerbated by fat tissue. This means that lifestyle decisions can impact cellulite. At the end of the day, diet and exercise are a more long-term solution to cellulite reduction.

One article concluded:

Treatment modalities for cellulite range from topical creams to invasive procedures, such as liposuction.

There is no single treatment of cellulite that is completely effective.

Future treatment options for cellulite depend upon our understanding of the molecular basis and hormonal influences of cellulite adipose tissue.

Kahn et al, 2010.

Final thought?

As long as these products do not contain dangerous ingredients, and improve people’s outlook, what is the harm? The bigger problem is that often these products make claims that do not have the evidence to support them. In terms of the pharmaceutical industry, rigorous studies are being conducted, however many of the purely cosmetic products are unregulated and unverified, so I guess the final thought is this: pick your products wisely and assume that they may not work, nor have hard science behind them!

Sources

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Saman_Ahmad_Nasrollahi/publication/307540381_Assessment_of_an_anti-cellulite_cream_A_randomized_double-blind_placebo_controlled_right-left_comparison_clinical_trial/links/586f307e08ae6eb871bec9ae/Assessment-of-an-anti-cellulite-cream-A-randomized-double-blind-placebo-controlled-right-left-comparison-clinical-trial.pdf

Draelos, ZD. Science and the Validation of Cosmeceutical Formulations. Journal of cosmetic dermatology. , 2014, Vol.13(3), p.167

Khan, Misbah H., et al. “Treatment of cellulite: Part II. Advances and controversies.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 62.3 (2010): 373-384.

Plastic, plastic, everywhere

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Today I am going to talk about a topic close to my heart. Microplastics. Now when you hear this word you probably think of the beads that can be found in many facial scrubs and body washes. It is true that these beads are microplastics, but what I want to discuss are the microplastics that are from single-use macroplastic.

Reduce, reuse and recycle?

First we need to address what the words single-use, recyclable and reusable mean. This is a conversation that has happened more than once at work as a colleague (rightly so) argues that no plastic is recyclable. The term recycled means that it can be used again, and again, and again. Like, for instance, metal and glass. Plastic, when (if it can be) ‘recycled’ is made into cheaper, single-use plastic that cannot be used again. So in a sense, this means that plastic should be described as ‘reusable’ and not recyclable.

reusable can also extend to items made of plastic such as cups, containers, bowls, knives and forks, for example. All of these are made from plastic and can be reused. However, what happens to these items when they break down or are thrown away?

Think of the fish!

Macroplastic waste makes up approximately 10% of landfill, and approximately 10% of marine waste. Overtime, these plastics degrade due to UV exposure, wave action and turbulence, into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. Not only does this result in ocean waste, but additives from the broken-down microplastic can leach additives that may be toxic. The small size of these microplastics means that they become bioavailable for marine life.

Studies have shown that marine organisms readily take up microplastics, and plastic debris has been found in the guts of fish and marine birds since the 1970s.

Think about it, plastic is durable and easily made. Because of the process to make microplastic, more and more microplastics are making it into the oceans and water ways as our macroplastic use increases. It is still not clear what the impact of microplastics are on freshwater systems.

Of course, steps have been taken to reduce single-use plastic waste, such as biodegradable plastic bags. These generally consist of cornstarch and some other composites that have a rapid degradation process, but did you know that while the starch will decompose, the synthetic components do not, and end up breaking down into microplastics?!

So what is the solution?

For me, it has been trying to reduce and eliminate my plastic consumption. This means buying items only in glass, paper or metal; buying food items such as rice, coffee, pasta and flour in bulk and placing into my own canisters; using solid shampoo that looks like a bar of soap, and, using a bamboo toothbrush.

My attempt at “zero waste” for both the kitchen and bathroom. It has been a process of trial and error, such as finding a moisturiser that I like and deciding that I don’t like the solid toothpaste. 

A lot of people think that they can’t make a difference, but I already have friends who have started making active decisions to not buy items at the supermarket that are wrapped in multiple layers of packaging. While they are not completely “zero waste”, they are making an active decision to reduce their plastic waste. To me, this is the most important thing, making an active decision and considering where your waste goes.

Final thought:

It can be a daunting process to try to eliminate plastic from our everyday lives, but it is not impossible. We have to think longterm for the health of the oceans and marine life.

Sources

Cole, Matthew, et al. “Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review.” Marine pollution bulletin 62.12 (2011): 2588-2597.

Claessens, Michiel, et al. “New techniques for the detection of microplastics in sediments and field collected organisms.” Marine pollution bulletin 70.1 (2013): 227-233.

 

 

Cargo cults

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Picture this: flight control towers, satellite dishes, head phones, radios, and even planes, made entirely out of bamboo and grass!

This is not some strange amusement park, this was the response of indigenous people in the South Pacific after the abandonment of western military bases at the end of WWII.

If you build it, they will come

Although there are previous of reports of Cargo cults prior to WWII, the rising of cults following WWII is the most widely documented. At the heart of this phenomenon is the interaction of one culture with a more technologically advanced culture. When the US (and the Japanese) arrived in the South Pacific, their appearance signaled a rapid and dramatic change in lifestyle and societal structure for the indigenous cultures. First and foremost was the sudden appearance of western goods or “cargo” being dropped with regular occurrence by planes. To the locals, these regular cargo drop-offs were akin to a supernatural occurrence.

When the war ended and the military bases were abandoned, the regular cargo drop-offs ended. In response to this sudden stop in cargo, charismatic leaders arose, promising that more deliveries would come. Thus, began the cargo cults. Leaders promised that more cargo would arrive if the cults beginning to mimic the day-to-day behaviour of the US military. Hence, the elaborate bamboo airstrips, control towers and planes being contructed in an effort to promote the appearance of cargo.

 

 

cargocult

The religion of material objects

Religious dogma was cobbled together consisting of beliefs that the foreigners were linked to the gods, hence the miraculous deliveries from the sky and the incorporation of western culture into their religious practice, as well as the building of the bamboo airstrips. The leaders promised that the “western objects” could be obtained by supernatural means.

Scholars and theorists argue that the cargo cults are actually apocalyptic cults, where the end of the western goods signalled the apocalypse or end of times. Others argue that the cults are in fact a religion centered around object worshipping. This based on the fact that objects carry a self-concept-based meaning i.e. high religious value is placed in an object, where the sudden change in the availability of the object can change the meaning of life for individuals. For example,  the beginning of the end of days or of a new millennium.

A new era of cargo cults

In my research for this post, it became clear that there is a new era of cargo cults. One of the first new age cargo cults mentioned was Burning Man. The association of Burning Man with a cargo cult is based on the fact that Burning Man centres around a bartering system of objects and goods, and thus despite being touted as a festival of inclusion and decommodification, it is in fact a place of object worshipping where giant wooden effigies are erected and symbolically burnt.

The second new age cargo cults mentioned were those of the clean eating and (obsessive) lifestyle/fitness movements. These movements have a core belief that is almost doomsday-ish or end-of days-ish in its fanaticism. Devotees believe that if you don’t follow the practices i.e. are vegan, or only eat raw food, don’t consume sugar and so on, you are only consuming toxins, will become sick, and basically are signing your death certificate! Whilst not like the popular image of a doomsday cult, nor the South Pacific cargo cults, these movements have a core element of object worshipping and end-of days mentality that put these movements directly into the court of cargo cults.

Final thought:

To me, it seems that there are cargo cults everywhere, with object worshipping working its way into our daily lives.

At the heart of the South Pacific cargo cults was a charismatic leader making promises that more cargo would come if they changed their culture/lives. In a similar manner, in modern western society, we are promised by charasmatic sales people, inventors or personalities that buying a (new phone, shoes, TV, computer, car etc) object, or adopting certain practices will change our lives, stave off unhappiness or alter our position in society.

Isn’t this similar to the cargo cults??

Sources:

For an interesting article around cargo cults and science, read here.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/42584916/bad_endings.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1510408550&Signature=VzVcms3t4diPdqdpsD%2FGQ9C8%2F68%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBAD_ENDINGS_American_Apocalypsis.pdf

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Eric_Arnould/publication/247560620_My_Favorite_Things_A_Cross-Cultural_Inquiry_into_Object_Attachment_Possessiveness_and_Social_Linkage/links/00b49530f30aca7923000000/My-Favorite-Things-A-Cross-Cultural-Inquiry-into-Object-Attachment-Possessiveness-and-Social-Linkage.pdf

Spare a dollar?

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When I first moved from Adelaide to Paris, I regularly gave money to the beggars who stood in front of the supermarket. It got to the point where they recognised me and took it for granted that I would give money.  It started to become stressful, seeing them make a bee-line for me, not to mention that you can’t walk 50 m in Paris without being asked for money.  I actually started going to another supermarket to avoid interaction these people!

What I’m talking about here is empathy. I have always considered that I am an empathetic person, especially when I myself was without a job for a while and understood how difficult it can be to live in this city if your finances are low….

On a personal level, I feel that empathy is the single most important human emotion. Being able to put yourself in someone elses shoes is what prevents (most of) us from committing horrendous atrocities, understand what is making someone sad, it is what drives people to start charities and organisations, or, it is a simple as moving over on a footpath to let other people through.

‘Feeling’ tired?

However, there is such a thing as empathy fatigue. I feel that this is especially true in the age of social media where we can be bombarded daily with heart string-pulling images, or living in a big city where people are asking you for money everyday.

“Compassion burnout” is common in health and social services where it is their job to ‘feel for others’. It has been reported in the cases of empathy fatigue, that the more people have to give in their professional environment, the less they are able to connect on a personal level, in an attempt to preserve their emotional energy, and to reduce emotional stress.

Empathy researchers acknowledge that empathy is not just an emotional response, but it is also cognitive. Previously, descriptions of empathy revolved around it being a reaction to a situation. However it is now acknowledged that it involves a ‘give-and-take’ self and other-perspective.

Researchers describe the empathetic process consisting of 4 componentsperspective-taking, fantasy, concern, and distress. This means that a person observes the situation, imagines that they are in the situation, establishes that it is not a desirable situation and is a cause for worry, and finally, experiences physical and emotional ‘trauma’.

The general consensus is that fatigue occurs when these components are wildly out of balance, or the reaction to emotionally stressful situations causes a shut-down to prevent further stress, resulting in an inability to deal with the situation or to feel compassion. This could be as simple as crossing the road to avoid someone asking for money.

‘Feeling’ the burn

What are the costs of empathy fatigue? Obviously the failure to respond to situations that previously induced a reaction is the major cost, however empathy fatigue can result in impaired moral and ethical judgement, physical fatigue, and more seriously, apathy and depression.

Interestingly, some researchers describe that fatigue arises from matching the wrong person with the wrong job, however this doesn’t explain the fatigue that arises from being bombarded in daily life or via the internet. A more appropriate term would be desensitization, and other studies have shown that it is not influenced by personality traits but is ‘situation variable’. Communication scholars attribute this to situations the should evoke empathy, but result in desensitization or fatigue due to a lack of an obvious solution. The example given was a child down a well vs famine occurring in a distant country. One situation has a more immediate solution, while the other seems more hopeless…..

Finally, scholars describe that people often find large-scale situations ‘overwhelming’ and over-exposure (such as from social media) can result in a shut down of empathy to avoid feelings of hopelessness.

So what is the solution?

The short is answer is: we don’t know.

In one article I read by journalists researching how they could better present news stories so not to induce empathy fatigue, the suggestion was to consider the emotional effect of the story before it is delivered, and tailor how it is delivered including what stories are either side of it. In terms of healthcare and social workers, steps need to be taken by colleagues and superiors to be trained in recognising the signs of empathy fatigue so as to avoid ‘burnout’.

In terms of my situation with the beggars on the street, I was definitely overwhelmed but not apathetic to their situation. Perhaps the mere act of recognising that I was becoming desensitized will provoke a change in behaviour, or, if people read this and think about their actions, maybe that is one way to prevent empathy fatigue.

I don’t think that there will be one solution, given, if you recall, it can be situation variable.

It worked for a friend of a friend of mine!

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“You can just put an onion in a sock and lay it on your child’s chest to reduce the fever from measles. I’ve heard from people who say that it works!”

This is an honest-to-God post I read on an anti-vaccine forum (albeit a slight paraphrasing). To set the record straight, there is absolutely no scientific or medical reasoning, research or evidence to suggest that this works. This post on the forum is what we call anecdotal evidence. Little stories with (a lack of true) evidence based on hearsay, that is, information passed on by word-of-mouth.

The truth hurts

The internet is rife with forums providing anecdotal evidence, mostly to do with cancer cures, ‘natural’ remedies and detox diets, and all lacking true bona fide rigorous, peer-reviewed evidence. So why does it appear that people choose to believe anecdotal evidence over true facts? According to Scientific American it has to do with the outcome.

Anecdotal evidence usually involves believing that there is a relationship between two things, which leads to a ‘false positive’ harmless result, while believing that there is no connection between two things could lead to a harmful result. Doesn’t make sense? Basically it means that it is easier to believe a non-existent relationship if it promises an answer that you want, rather than the evidence to the contrary. This has to do with the human tendency to seek out patterns and look for relationships between things that don’t actually exist in order to avoid the truth of the situation.

This is the opposite to scientific rigour, which normally involves trying to disprove a relationship between two things, and acts to avoid generating false positive results.

It comes down to hurt feelings

It is a mystery to me (and I might add, frustratingly so) that people choose to believe word-of-mouth over scientific evidence, whether it is to prove or disprove something. However, scholars investigating anecdotal evidence believe that the strength of belief in anecdotal evidence stems from the boundaries between the ‘experts’ (scientists, doctors etc) and the ‘lay’ people (the general public). As scientific knowledge increases, so-called ‘lay’ experts are disproven or disregarded and thus their previous position in the lay-society is lowered. So they argue against the ‘experts’.

Besides the multitude of websites and forums helping to unite ‘lay experts’, the media also plays a role. An example of this is a case regarding mobile phones and brain cancer. In this particular example, an individual decided to sue a mobile phone company as he blamed them for his wife’s brain cancer. Although there was no evidence to back up this claim, the media promoted it as a true fact. This has spawned public belief that mobile phones cause brain cancer, when in actual fact, a very large meta-analysis of studies investigating if phones cause cancer found no evidence to support these claims.

Last, but not least, anecdotal evidence can also be presented in the form of testimonies, which is almost always used to promote a product or an agenda.

Think, ‘by drinking this product, I lost 20 kgs in one week!’ Another, and very famous example of using testimonies based on anecdotal evidence is the response to the editors by Andrew Wakefield after his paper describing a (supposed) link between autism and the MMR vaccine was retracted for being fraudulent. He wrote:

Clinician’s duties are to their patients, and the clinical researcher’s obligation is to test hypotheses of disease pathogenesis on the basis of the story as it is presented to him by the patient or the patient’s parent’’ (Wakefield 1998, 905; italics mine). Parents have said ‘‘‘my child has a problem with his/her bowels which I believe is related to their autism’’’….

I have hesitated writing about vaccines and autism as I don’t really want to deal with the responses that will no doubt appear, however the statement made above is a perfect example of anecdotal evidence. Wakefield wrote that the parents conclusion about their child’s symptoms was evidence enough to demonstrate a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, when what he really had was anecdotal evidence. I don’t really want to delve into this debate any further because it has been demonstrated time and time again, including in a massive meta-analysis, that there is no link.

Final thoughts (and I am preparing for the onslaught)

So what do we learn from this? To me, it seems, that people want to believe in anecdotal evidence because it is easier to believe than actual peer-reviewed research and evidence-based data.

I also feel that it is because with anecdotal evidence, people feel that they do not need to be held accountable for whatever it is they are talking about, despite often pushing an agenda, or trying to discredit the experts. It is also frustrating that (as an expert) you can tell someone until you are blue in the face that ‘no, that is not true’, and they still will not believe you! The latter statement is supported by scholars who wrote that:

…anecdotal evidence is used to demarcate the boundaries of science…and as a site for contestation and negotiation between experts and lay actors in public scientific controversies….

So next time you hear someone say “it’s true, it happened to a friend of a friend” or “I read about it on X, Y, Z”, please question the source and the actual scientific-based evidence!

The fork in the road

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Sorry everyone! There has been a gap between posts due to the fact that I had a big decision to make……

It continues on from my earlier post on grieving for your career, and the article in Nature Blogs. I finally found a job, not as a researcher but as a medical writer. A good job utilising my hard-wrought skills from my time as a researcher and PhD.

But even though I was ready for a change and I was excited to start on a new path, I still felt guilt, and shame. Why, you ask? I felt that I was giving up on trying to maintain a research career, that I had failed as a post doc or as a career researcher. This is despite the fact that I have been at the bench for more than 15 years! I felt that people who were still in research, successful researchers and academics, would look down upon me and judge me, or view my change in career as selling out…

To make matters worse, after I had started my new job, I got offered a senior researcher position at a good institute, in a good lab…Now what was I going to do?

I spent more than two weeks agonising over the decision. Do I move back to my country of birth, but to another city? Do I start all over again, setting myself up, making new friends? The project was so appealing, and it would my project, one that I could grow with.

What was the catch, you ask? It came down to the insecurity of funding in research, and the length of the contracts. Faced with the permanent position that I had just accepted, in an industry that also has a lot of potential for growth, a short-term contract paled in comparison. Oh, but it was a tough decision! I love being at the bench, and I love Australia, but I love writing and communication, and I love Paris…Finally, I ended up talking to a therapist to help me work through the decision.

This was actually more beneficial than I thought. The therapist identified patterns in what I said and thought about myself, regarding my identity and where I fit in the world. I have always seen myself as a scientist, and getting the PhD made me feel like I was part of an elite group. Deciding to change careers made me feel like I was losing a part of myself, and that maybe I wasn’t ‘special’ anymore. But, I am and will always be a scientist. The therapist pointed out that the way I think, and the way that I approach problems is because of my time as a scientist. He commented that my identity won’t change just because I am not at the bench…!

My new job is very science-heavy. I do just as much writing and literature searches as before, except I am not at the bench.

It seems to me that researchers and scientists often forget that there are alternate careers that utilise our skills. Junior researchers, PhD students and post docs are more than aware of it, but moving into an alternate career requires mentoring. something that often, albeit not always, is lacking. This is why when we are unemployed, we have no idea how to find these other careers. Leaving research is often not considered, and sometimes feels like it is not encouraged unless it is because a lab head thinks you ‘won’t make it‘.

There is that toxic phrase again!

Final Thought

So what is the moral of this rambling prose? Buried deep in the writing, somewhere, is the thought that we scientists should not feel ashamed or guilty for leaving research to pursue other careers! whether we realise it or not, we have been shaped by our time in research, and this is what makes us desirable candidates for many jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are easy to find. It took me 6 months, a lot stress and internet searches to find my job, but there are other options. It is about time that there was more support for helping people leave research without making them feel embarrassed or like failures.

End of rambling prose.

The fork in the road

2394723984

Sorry everyone! There has been a gap between posts due to the fact that I had a big decision to make……

It continues on from my earlier post on grieving for your career, and the article in Nature Blogs. I finally found a job, not as a researcher but as a medical writer. A good job utilising my hard-wrought skills from my time as a researcher and PhD.

But even though I was ready for a change and I was excited to start on a new path, I still felt guilt, and shame. Why, you ask? I felt that I was giving up on trying to maintain a research career, that I had failed as a post doc or as a career researcher. This is despite the fact that I have been at the bench for more than 15 years! I felt that people who were still in research, successful researchers and academics, would look down upon me and judge me, or view my change in career as selling out…

To make matters worse, after I had started my new job, I got offered a senior researcher position at a good institute, in a good lab…Now what was I going to do?

I spent more than two weeks agonising over the decision. Do I move back to my country of birth, but to another city? Do I start all over again, setting myself up, making new friends? The project was so appealing, and it would my project, one that I could grow with.

What was the catch, you ask? It came down to the insecurity of funding in research, and the length of the contracts. Faced with the permanent position that I had just accepted, in an industry that also has a lot of potential for growth, a short-term contract paled in comparison. Oh, but it was a tough decision! I love being at the bench, and I love Australia, but I love writing and communication, and I love Paris…Finally, I ended up talking to a therapist to help me work through the decision.

This was actually more beneficial than I thought. The therapist identified patterns in what I said and thought about myself, regarding my identity and where I fit in the world. I have always seen myself as a scientist, and getting the PhD made me feel like I was part of an elite group. Deciding to change careers made me feel like I was losing a part of myself, and that maybe I wasn’t ‘special’ anymore. But, I am and will always be a scientist. The therapist pointed out that the way I think, and the way that I approach problems is because of my time as a scientist. He commented that my identity won’t change just because I am not at the bench…!

My new job is very science-heavy. I do just as much writing and literature searches as before, except I am not at the bench.

It seems to me that researchers and scientists often forget that there are alternate careers that utilise our skills. Junior researchers, PhD students and post docs are more than aware of it, but moving into an alternate career requires mentoring. something that often, albeit not always, is lacking. This is why when we are unemployed, we have no idea how to find these other careers. Leaving research is often not considered, and sometimes feels like it is not encouraged unless it is because a lab head thinks you ‘won’t make it‘.

There is that toxic phrase again!

Final Thought

So what is the moral of this rambling prose? Buried deep in the writing, somewhere, is the thought that we scientists should not feel ashamed or guilty for leaving research to pursue other careers! whether we realise it or not, we have been shaped by our time in research, and this is what makes us desirable candidates for many jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are easy to find. It took me 6 months, a lot stress and internet searches to find my job, but there are other options. It is about time that there was more support for helping people leave research without making them feel embarrassed or like failures.

End of rambling prose.