Athene Donald: Embedding the People in our Labs

More and more I’m finding that it’s the people, rather than the equipment that makes a lab, so re-blogging this wonderful piece by Athene Donald:

Scientists are people, they have emotions and they interact with their peers, their students, their professors….and indeed the public. Sometimes, however, scientists are represented as interacting with little more than glassware or white lab coats. We can be perceived as living in a hermetically sealed bubble of our own construction occasionally churning out papers which…

via Embedding the People in our Labs — Athene Donald’s Blog

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Growing & changing: Bank holiday PhD thoughts

I haven’t blogged since 2015; partly because workload & health problems left me short on time, but partly because I just couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write about.

I tried writing down a few thoughts today to help with my anxiety and, while I quickly got sidelined thinking about current projects, I thought this section was worth preserving:

It was suggested during my viva that my understanding of biological concepts relating to my project needed to ‘grow up’.  I fully agree with this comment, and note the difference in my personal satisfaction between earlier projects, where I was immersed in developmental biology, and my current PhD project, in which I focus on ‘getting work done’ with my existing physical science & programming skills.  While I feel confident in my element (in this case, physical sciences) I think in order to be truly satisfied with my work I need to be continually gaining new skills and growing as a scientist, only then can I focus on the more difficult & much needed task of growing as a person.

The wisdom of letting my well-being hinge so heavily on my job can, perhaps, be debated another day, but becoming more satisfied, excited & engaged are definitely things to look forward to.

Combi 101: Day 4 – Sick Day Science Podcasts

Black Butte Blackberry - Scott Bauer
“Black Butte blackberry” by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS

Black Butte blackberry” by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS – This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID K7774-1 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | français | македонски | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.


This post is a day overdue, I know, I know….

But I have a good excuse, I was off work ill yesterday.  I don’t usually take sick days, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself…In the end I opted for a hot bath, some fresh air and a lot of podcasts.

You might be wondering at this point, what does any of this have to do with Thursday’s Blogging 101 & Writing 101 tasks?  And what’s with that tasty looking photo?

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Writing 101: Day 3 – Impostor Syndrome and Uncertainty

I had several posts in mind for today: a short post on Statistical Uncertainty for today’s ‘Writing 101’ single word prompt challenge, a discussion about Imposter Syndrome inspired by this week’s #survivephd15, and maybe a piece on thesis writing inspired by a conversation with a colleague.

Well, that’s not going to happen, it’s late, the Bake-off’s on and work and dishes are stacking up around my ears.  So, in the spirit of today’s word prompt, ‘Uncertainty’, I’m going to wing it.

The first year of my DPhil can be described in two words:  ‘Impostor Syndrome’.  For those unfamiliar with the term Impostor Syndrome describes an inability to internalise accomplishments, the feeling that you’re a fraud, and the fear that one day soon the fraud police are going to find you.  Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Neil Gaiman and scores and scores of graduate students have all spoken about feeling this.

I’ve never been one to walk the path well trodden, but starting a doctorate in a completely unfamiliar subject at a time when I wasn’t exactly mentally or physically healthy wasn’t one of my brightest ideas.  I turned up for day 1 terrified and twitching and didn’t stop for the next 10 months.

The world was full of perfect colleagues and the stories of massive unforeseen consequences of grad student incompetence (oh god I thought…was I incompetent?); and innumerable other fantasy horrors, which, given that I have insomnia, ran round my head 20 hours a day…over and over and over.  I wasn’t certain that this feeling would ever stop, I wasn’t entirely certain I should stay, I loved my job but someone as shit as me was surely a waste of funding right?

Except, one day, things clicked.

My course started with rotations, short 3 month projects in different labs.  I loved these projects, the work from my first rotation ended up in my PI’s latest paper and I found the work in my second rotation eye-opening and exciting.  This didn’t however make the impostor feeling go away, and when these rotations ended I hit the wall.  For the first time in my academic career I didn’t know what to do for the next step, I was too far down in the mind pit to fall in love with ‘the next thing’ and in unfamiliar territory I was convinced all my ideas were stupid and not worth pursuing.  I chose to start with things that I thought might be useful, I didn’t want to turn up to work, I didn’t want other people to see me and I especially didn’t want them to see me struggling.

And then one day I started talking to my colleagues, we talked about papers, about exciting ideas, about what they were working on and, what they weren’t.  I found a niche, I fell in love with it, I started working more effectively and, at some point, I’d become more certain I was doing the right thing, without realising.

Everyone tells you that to pursue a PhD you have to be dedicated to your thesis topic.  I think what’s less apparent is the different paths people take to get to that point.  It might seem like your colleagues’ dedication to ‘The Habitat of the Adelie Penguin’ or ‘Dietary Habits of Doctoral Candidates’ arose by magic sometime around the age 5, but the truth is probably more complex and more coincidental than that.

The only thing I’m certain of, is that the uncertainty will be back, Impostor Syndrome sticks, but at least next time I might be more prepared.

Two excellent videos on this subject:

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art:

Sally Le Page: We Need to Talk About Impostor Syndrome: