Science & me

The Versatile Blogger Award

Soph talks science is now an award winning blog!

Yay!

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I was so flattered and overwhelmed to be nominated for the Versatile Blogger award by Sara who created neurotravels.com. I have never met Sara persoanlly, but I have loved following the start of her blogging journey and her adventures on social media. She is a neuroscientist who like me loves science communication but is always combining the science with travelling and soaking up different cultures and lifestyles. Something I am super jealous of!

Being recognised by a fellow blogger for this award makes it that little bit more special, especially as Sara wanted to nominate some fellow science bloggers and show them her support. It was completely flattering to know that someone I have never met is really enjoying the blogs I produce and the content I share on social media. It’s given me the confidence boost I needed to know that I must be doing an alright job at this! And people are actually listening to what I have to say 😛 ! So I want to thank Sara again for my nomination and you should go check out here post about being nominated in the link above.

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The whole purpose of the Versatile Blogger Award is for bloggers to reward other bloggers who inspired them with their valuable content, exceptional stories and writing skills, so I would like to nominate the following blogs and continue along the same lines as Sara and nominate some of the awesome science blogs that are out there!

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A Pulgarita

You might recognise this one as Catia has already been featured and guest blogged on Soph talks science, but she fully deserves this recognition. Catia is Portuguese but is currently studying for her PhD at the infamous MIT in Boston, USA. I love Catia’s blog as it wonderfully mixes her life as a PhD student with some travels – again something I wish I could achieve more! I love that I will learn something in every post that Catia write whether it is a PhD top tip, something from a recent event she attended or the must do activities of her latest trip. Plus there is a super cute reason why her blog is called A Pulgarita 😛 You inspire me with how you manage to write so often about your experiences, so please keep up the awesome work! Check it out here!

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Heidi R Gardner

Again, another name you might recognise as Heidi has also guest blogged on Soph talks science before, and I know she has already been nominated, but Heidi runs a blog that I love reading so I had to share it with you. Heidi is a PhD student and scientist, but she doesn’t work in a lab. Instead she works in clinical trial recruitment and has loads of great info to share on that each month. She also talks about the challenges that every PhD student will probably encounter and can realte to in such an honest, personal and beautiful way. She is also starting a new scicomm adventure called Science on a Postcard which I am excited to see where it takes her 🙂 It is a great blog, and I cannot do it justice with my words alone, so go and check it out here!

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Surviving Science

Natasha is another science blogger who wants to pass on her experience of PhD life including all the ups and all the downs. She works on resistance mechanisms to targeted cancer therapies, particularly breast cancer in Edinburgh. If you are a wannabe grad student, then you must check out her blog! An honest dipiction of grad school life filled with tops tips and advice and humour. Her latest post 7 reasons your Western blot didn’t work (again) got me literally laughing out loud because I can relate so much to this! Another science blog that you must check out, so go do that here!

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Another part of the Versatile Blogger award is to share 7 personal facts about yourself, so here are my 7 quick fire facts about me!

  1. I am Welsh and proud.

If you’ve ever met me you would never have guessed that I am Welsh because I don’t have the accent – at all! I put this down to living in Bath for a few year at uni and I haven’t been back home since for a long period of time! But you can take the girl out of Wales, but you will never take Wales out of the girl!

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2. I have cooked for Russell Crowe and Stephen Hawking!!

This is my claim to fame right here!!! I might have been mixing with the A-list and science elite in a different manner to how I would have ever expected but there’s not many other people like me who can say this!

3. I love to travel and will hop on a plane at any chance I get!

In fact, my fiance and I were talking about this last night – our next trip! Unfortunately it won’t be until next year but I will have to take advantage of the awesome things to explore on my doorstep instead until then

4. I’m a deltiologist

No this is not some weird scientist. It means I collect postcards. Specifically I collect postcards from each place I travel to with the aim of creating a massive postcard wall in my house. Find out more about my postcard project on my sister blog Soph talks travel!

5. I love learning languages

If there is one wish I could be granted, it would be to be able to be fluent in as many languages as possible. Simple. Nerd goals I know!

6. I love watching and playing every kind of sport

Sport is one of my favourite things outside of science and travel. Sitting down to watch sports on the weekends or in the evenings after a long day in the lab is just bliss. I used to play everything I could when I was younger and I really miss that now. Especially playing cricket with my Cresselly ladies!

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7. One thing I cannot live without is cheese!

Whether that is the traditional kind that you eat, or blasting out a bit of cheesy 90s tunes in the lab! Cheese is perfect for every occasion!

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So thats that! Please go and check out these awesome bloggers and their blogs. They truly deserve all the support and recognition they can get! Have a great weekend all and see you for a brand new post on Monday!

If you love my blog just as much as Sara does, make sure you never miss a post by subscribing with your email address in the top right corner of this post, and you will be informed immediately when I new one is published. Or if you want more science, I am sharing daily science over on my social media account which you can check out via the links below!

Science love.

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Science & me

Could I actually be a full time science communicator?

‘What do you want to do after your PhD?’

Those words that fill a final year PhD student with dread, panic and worry!

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When I’ve been asked this question I have always said that I will probably stay in research. Why? Because I love it! I love being able to make world first discoveries no matter how niche my research is or how frustrating the science world can get.

But is this a safe option?

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I also love this new world that I’ve jumped into – the science communication world. I started this blog and now trying out social media more and other methods like Youtube or zines to share my research, the life of a scientist and science generally.

I’ve always thought about this as a hobby, or something that might help me grow in my research career. But this weekend I’ve actually thought could this be a full time career for me?

I never considered that it could be a career for me because a) I didn’t know what life as a science communicator involved and b) I didn’t know if I had the skills or ability to do it. But this weekend I got a huge confidence boost. One of my new scicomm friends Heidi included me in her latest blog post – 6 science communicators that I’m learning from – alongisde some other sci-commers who are absolutely slaying what they do! I was so overwhelmed to be included amongst these other names. This coupled with me passing the 3000 follower mark on Instagram – (yes! 3000! How crazy!? Thanks to each and every one of you who wants to share my science adventures) – yesterday had me feeling the happiest I had in a long while!

But it got me thinking. Am I actually a good science communicator? Is what I’m sharing in blogs and social media posts actually being well received? I love sharing science and really don’t want to give it up! So, could I actually do it full time? Do I even want to do it full time?

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I am heading into that final year of my PhD where I ultimately will have to make that decision: what am I going to do once I’ve finished and I actually have to leave education! Do I stay in research and continue communicating my research and lab life, or do I leave the bench and move into science communication? Do I take the safe option or more of a risk?

I guess only I can answer that question. At the moment, I still have no idea, but this weekend has given me the confidence to actually properly consider a career in science communication.

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I am still learning every day as a science communicator and a scientist. I’m getting more and more opportunities as a science communicator and a scientist. So, I guess I will have to see what I can learn and achieve in this next year before making my decision as there are still so many questions flying around in my head:

What would I actually do?

Is it even a possibility or me?

Will I miss research?

Will I regret not doing it?

Would that mean I have failed as a scientist?

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Has anyone else had this dilemma? Has anyone got any advice for switching from the lab bench to the scicomm stage? Or has anyone got some tips on how I can try and find out if a career in science communication is for me before I cross that bridge?

For now, I will continue to love the research that I’m doing and I will continue to share my research and life as a scientist with everyone – because I love doing both! But I’m inspired!

Science love.

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Keep up to date on my life as a scientist and  my science communication efforts with Soph talks Science on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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Scientist in the Spotlight

Scientist in the Spotlight. Emma O.

Happy August science lovers! Sorry it has been a little while since my last blog post – I obviously had too much cake and bubbly celebrating my blog’s birthday 😛 But lab life has been very busy lately as I am trying to finish and package some results for my first publication. The problem is each experiment I do to try and wrap it up doesn’t give me the answer I am looking for and just raises another 5! So that is what I’ve been doing recently but with a new month is a fresh start! And also with a new month comes a new Scientist in the Spotlight feature. so I am thrilled to introduce to you Emma O.

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Emma is the very first physicist on my blog. In fact she is an astrophysicist – so she is our very own female Brian Cox who is going to teach us something about space today 🙂 But Emma hasn’t always been an astrophysicist. Her less traditional route into the field saw her complete A-Levels in physics then land a job in car insurance and then selling advertising space. Despite loving earning money and exploring South East Asia – it was time for her to head to uni. After nearly studying fashion at uni, Emma ended up bagging a place on the Foundation Year at University of York and then registered onto a Masters in Physics course and graduated 5 years later! Before starting her PhD, she took a year out when she got married and went on a three month long honeymoon travelling around Central America. Now at the University of Southampton, her PhD research looks at how a type of dead star called neutron stars make gravitational waves by growing mountains!

I only met Emma 3 months ago at a media day for Pint of Science 2017 but I have since loved watching Emma’s scicomm journey making YouTube videos, science postcards and a TV interview! And now it’s time to share this fun, colourful and confident character and her science with you guys.

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Why physics?

Emma: I had a very inspirational physics teacher, but there is one particular moment that stands out for me. One day at school when I was about 14 in physics class, we were talking about the Universe and learning that it was continually expanding. I was curious about this concept. As we continued to chat, my teacher said that scientists had just discovered that the universe isn’t just expanding, but its doing so at an ever increasing rate. The universe’s expansion was accelerating and no one knew why! I remember thinking WOW! I was overcome with desire to know the answer and it was at that moment I decided I wanted to become a physicist! This question is still unanswered today and the driving force behind this phenomena is called ‘dark energy’. I did look at studying dark energy for my PhD, but the gravitational waves projects available just seemed more fun. I love gravity and Einstein’s theory of relativity as it is completely different to what we experience in our daily lives, yet gravity seems so familiar to us as we experience it all the time. I had heard about a phenomena called gravitational waves, which stretch and squeeze space and time, and travel at the speed of light like ripples in a pond. This concept was and still is fascinating to me, so I decided to apply to this research field.

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So, what are these gravitational waves?

Emma: Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime that travel at the speed of light stretching and squeezing both space and time. They are created by anything that has a funny shape and moves, like humans. The problem is gravity is weak and so are gravitational waves – which makes them incredibly difficult to detect. The first detection came from two black holes, each about 30 times heavier than the sun, over one billion light years away that crashed into each other at half the speed of light to form one big black hole. In the 1/10th of a second in which they collided they released more energy than all the stars in the observable universe. It was quite literally a gravitational wave tsunami! As with science, it was really lucky that this event was even seen as the detectors were only turned on a couple of days beforehand. This was incredible as Einstein who predicted their existence never thought it would be possible to detect them! This is because the distortion they create in spacetime is 1/1000th of the width of a proton – the equivalent of cutting the width of a human hair into a million pieces!! Then taking one of those pieces and cutting it into a million more! And taking one of those pieces and cutting it into yet another million! One of those final pieces is the distance that was measured!!

One of the really cool things about gravitational waves is that the signals we receive on Earth are within the same frequency range as our ears, which means we can hear what colliding black holes sound like. They make a ‘chirp’ sound. Gravitational waves provide a soundtrack to the universe.

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If they are so hard to detect, then what do you do in a typical day?

Emma: I usually arrive at uni about 10am. I sit down with a cuppa tea and read arvix, which is a website that is updated daily with all the latest research papers. I write a to-do list and create a plan of attack for the day. I usually spend mornings reading research papers or adding content to my thesis. The afternoons are spent calculating or coding. My research is theoretical so I use computers to conduct my experiments. Depending on the day of the week, I also attend seminars, group meetings, meet with my supervisor and some teaching.

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What is it like to be a female studying physics?

Emma: Being a minority in the subject of my choice was something I never really thought about. It wasn’t until I started university and people were talking about it that I realised the full extent of the problem. I don’t feel that my experience has ever been different to that of my male colleagues. I think the problem stems more from society and the expectations placed on people because of their gender. Quite often people are told that science is ‘hard’ as a suggestion that something being hard is a bad thing and that they shouldn’t pursue a career in science. STEM subjects do need to increase their diversity as it is very much dominated by one demographic, and the problem arises as one demographic can potentially have a very similar mindset which is not great for trying to push the boundaries of human knowledge. After all variety is the spice of life!

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Outside science then, what do you like to get up to?

Emma: I like to cook mainly! I developed this passion as I have a real love for eating! I like to make copper plated jewellery and clothes and customise nearly everything in my wardrobe too, but I don’t have much time for this at the moment. A lot of my spare time is now taken up with various outreach projects. So when I get actual down time I like to do as little as possible, which usually includes hanging out with my husband, taking our dog for walks and visiting friends and family. I’m also really good at cutting hair!

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Let’s talk about these outreach projects then. You started a YouTube channel recently. Tell us a bit more about that.

Emma: Ah yes! My YouTube channel. This is the real reason I don’t have any spare time now. It all started in March 2016 when I took part in a competition called ‘I’m a Scientist Get Me Out Of Here’. This competition was great fun as you get to chat with school students and answer their questions online. It’s spread over two weeks and in the final week they vote for their favourite scientist. I was honoured to be voted their favourite and I won £500 to fund an outreach project of my choice. I originally wanted to visit some of the schools that participated and build a table top gravitational wave detector together. Unfortunately this was proving difficult to do due to time constraints, so instead I thought it would be fun to start a YouTube channel that describes the ideas from Einstein’s theory of gravity, as this isn’t usually taught until the last year of physics degrees at university. By doing this I would also reach a larger audience. The videos are aimed at GCSE students and above, so around 14 years plus. They are less than 2 minutes long and are animated. I make them completely on my own, although I have received some invaluable advice from some very knowledgeable people.

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And did I see that you did your first Science Showoff recently? What is that?

Emma: Science Showoff is a London based event where science communicators can do stand up comedy about science. I found out about it via Twitter and a couple of friends of mine had done it before so I thought I would give it a go! After signing up I thought ‘What have I done?’ I had never done anything like this before. I like to think that I’m funny with my friends, but stand up comedy is a completely different beast. They say that magic happens outside of your comfort zone. Now I’m not sure magic actually happened but I did thoroughly enjoy myself. The crowd was amazing and people said to me afterwards that they really loved it. I didn’t put many jokes in due to a lack of confidence but I have since signed up to do another set and I will certainly put more jokes into my next one!

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What other scicomm activities have you been involved with?

Emma: I have been a speaker for Pint of Science, Southampton’s Science Room and Winchester Skeptics, demonstrated at Cheltenham Science Festival and the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. I have also been on local TV and radio promoting Pint of Science and chatting about my research. I have been involved in science and art collaborations too which has been great fun as I love exploring different mediums for communication. Picking a favourite though is tough as they are all so varied. I love creating the imagery of my YouTube videos, I love hearing everyone’s questions when I give talks and I love being put on the spot like in Science Showoff.

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Why is scicomm important to you?

Emma: Because I absolutely love science and find physics incredibly fascinating and I just want to share it with as many people as possible so they too can gain the same enjoyment I do. I feel that in our culture it’s not cool to like science, but science is really cool! I feel that by making science as accessible as possible that its one way I can break down this perception. Also we need to broaden the diversity of people within the scientific community. The more people that come from different backgrounds, ethnicities and genders then the more different ideas and approaches we will have for more productive science. If I can inspire just one person to study science who felt that it might not be for them, due to social conditioning, then that would be amazing!

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What is the next step for Emma after your PhD then?

Emma: That’s quite a tough one! I would love to stay in research, but there are more PhD positions than postdoctoral opportunities, so I am keeping an open mind. I love doing outreach, so I will at least continue with that. Otherwise, who knows? I’m very open to the opportunities that will come my way when the time comes.

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And finally, where in the world should I visit next?

Emma: Ooo, I love this question! I would have to recommend Morocco, particularly Marrakech. It is a beautiful country that is quite close to the UK but incredibly different. Each time I visit it’s like stepping into a whole new world. It’s like walking into Disney’s Aladdin. The food is amazing! The best food in the city in my opinion is at Marrakech’s night market which is also great for just sitting there and soaking up the atmosphere. The architecture is stunning and the weather is great too! I recommend going to Essaouira – a coastal town about 2 hours from Marrakech but easy to day trip to – as you can feast on seafood and get involved in watersports. They also have beautifully clear nights which are perfect for stargazing, especially in the Atlas Mountains. It’s my favourite place and I highly recommend it to you!

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Huge thank you to Emma for sharing your science journey with us. It just goes to show that you don’t have to do the ‘traditional’ route to become a scientist! I was always fascinated by physics at school but gave it up as my teachers just couldn’t help me understand most of the concepts. But now I am finding more and more awesome scientists like Emma who are explaining these concepts in a fun, engaging and most importantly memorable way that my fascination for space is being reignited. I love what Emma is doing for science outreach and I hope you have got a flavour of it in this post, so much so that you could be seeing a collaboration between Emma and I soon. Yes that’s right – a collaboration where stem cells meet gravity! Intriguing right? So watch this space!

Emma is such an enthusiastic scicomm-er that she already has many dates booked in but her next one is at the Science Museum in London. She will be at a late session of a gravitational wave exhibit on 30th August so if you’re in the area please go and say hi and learn some more about gravitational waves 🙂

But if you’re not in London please follow Emma on her science journey through her YouTube channel, her Twitter or her Instagram. Feel free to ask her some questions about her research, spacetime, jewellery making or even travelling through Central America. I am sure she would love to hear from you guys!

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Also this is the last scientist in the spotlight before my big announcement so here it goes – September on Soph talks science is going to be ‘Spotlight September’. I love this feature of my blog so I will be sharing the stories behind even more awesome scientist with you rather than just your usual one post a month. I have some really exciting scientists lined up for you so hopefully you’ll enjoy what I have planned.

Science love.

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Science & me

Soph talks science turns 1!

Happy birthday to me

Happy birthday to me

Happy birthday to Soph talk science

Happy birthday to me!

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I cannot believe I have been doing this properly now for one whole year!

The time has gone by incredibly quickly! But I am still learning every day how to chat science better and portray grad school life with you, and I just LOVE what I’m doing even if this blog has to get put on a back burner while lab life gets busy. But I love it, and I love and am truly grateful for the opportunities I am getting from it too!

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But, I do have a tiny little confession to make amidst this celebration. For the eagle-eyed readers amongst you, you might have noticed that there are blog posts on here dated earlier than 2016, so how can today only be the blog’s first birthday??

And you would be right. However, I can explain.

When I came to the end of my undergraduate studies, I was debating what to do next. Get a job or go into a PhD – you obviously know the answer to that debate. But at the time, my younger self was thinking if I wanted to get a job in science writing! I had NO experience, so I thought I could try and write a blog in the meantime to try and help with that lack of experience. I wrote a blog post here and there, but nothing that was really going to help me with any science writing experience. That was until 22nd July 2017. I made a commitment to write a science blog properly!

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I have likened my blog journey so far to that of human development, so let’s take a look back at where my blog came from and the similarities to where each and every one of you came from 🙂

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Stage 1 – The Conception

Human development starts with the fertilisation of an egg; the conception. The idea for me of writing a science blog was conceived in 2014 with my very first post So, where do I go from here?. This was the beginning of an incredible journey for both my science blog and also each and every fertilised egg.

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Stage 2 – The Cell Divisions

We began with one cell! Or one idea! Now over a matter of hours (or a matter of months for my blog), one cell splits to give rise to 2 cells. Each of those splits in two to give four cells and so on and so on until we reach the 16 cell stage. Over time, the number of cells is multiplying and likewise, the number of different blog posts I tried out and published multipled too, starting with Are cancer stem cells ready for prime-time?? and What are stem cells? and finishing with Tennis ace to undergo stem cell treatment.

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Stage 3 – The Blastocyst

Now you’ve probably heard me mention this word a lot before and that is because this is the stage during human development that embryonic stem cells are derived. The cells in the developing embryo continues to divide and grow in number, in the same way the number of blog posts for me continued to multiply. Eventually, the embryo will form the blastocyst consisting of an outer surrounding layer called the trophoectoderm, which will turn into the placenta for example, and also that group of pluripotent cells in the bottom of this picture called the inner cell mass – the bit that gets taken out to make embryonic stem cells. Now these pluripotent cells as I’ve told you many times before are going to create an entire human body, so each one of those cells at this stage has the potential to become any cell type that you find in your body.

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My I won my first science prize!!! …. well sort of! post was my blog’s blastocyst stage! I realised that I could make my science blog into something amazing, and at this point I realised it could go in so many different directions. It could become anything I wanted it to be; a blog about grad school life, a pure science blog explaining big science news or a blog showcasing amazing scientists and their work. I just needed to decide what!

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Stage 4 – The birth

After the blastocyst stage, there is still a long way to go and lots of development to do. Whether that be the formation of essential organs and limbs, or the development of a blog website, a logo and a brand – there was development to be done!

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Then, on the 22nd July 2016, Soph talks science was born with Feeding time in the lab. From the initial idea, to the potential of what it could become, to the development of what it is today with this blog post, this was the big event to bring it into the world! But I’m still learning now, one year on! I am learning what things are good for science communication and what things don’t work, in a similar way to a newborn getting to know it’s surroundings and learning new skills.

So there it is! The development of my  blog has been similar to how YOU developed in the first place, hence the old blog posts with a publication date of before 2016 and hence why I am celebrating on 22nd July!

See – you didn’t think you would learn any science in this post now did you?

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Finally, I want to thank each and every one of you who has read, shared, liked, commented on and followed my blog over the past year. Thank you all for your support.

Soph talks sciene is still growing every single week which is so rewarding to see. I hope you continue to follow my scientist life through my blog and/or my social media platforms as I and my blog start learning some new skills this coming year. I hope you continue to learn with me and please please please ask any questions you might have, and there is no such thing as a stupid question so ask away!

So, I’m off to pop open the bubbly and eat that delicious looking cupcake to celebrate! And here’s to the next year of Soph talks science 🙂 Maybe for Soph talks science’s 2nd birthday celebrations we can learn about the science of cakes :p

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Science love.

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Science & me

Feeling the BENEFIT of highlighting my face AND my study notes

Brains or beauty?

Brains OR beauty?

Why can it never be brains AND beauty?

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I am not a morning person. But after hitting snooze a few times and finally pulling myself out of bed, I still manage to put on some make up before heading to the lab to get a step closer to that Nobel prize winning discovery I am going to make – I hope anyway :P!

But I don’t feel that if I don’t put make up on, I’m going to have a bad science day, or that I’m going to make that discovery because I look good with my full face of slap on! Beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive and I choose BOTH!

But what is the issue? Why am I sharing this?

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The  problem

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Picture taken by @science.sam

This!

This is the problem.

‘Skip Class, Not Concealer’. This is the tag line that Benefit Cosmetics, a brand that I used to love and buy from, has opted for on a global ad campaign.

Really?

There has always been an ugly side to advertising but to imply that you have to choose between looking good and having an education is infuriating! I have slogged my ass off at school, throughout uni, in evening and extra classes and now at grad school to get the best out of my education that I can and have ALL the options! But for this campaign to imply that I can’t look beautiful doing it! AAARRRGGGHHH!

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This slogan is a step too far! This ad for me is saying that if you don’t look beautiful, then don’t go to class! I am not normally one to get immersed in these sorts of issues but this one really struck a nerve and angered me. The amount of times at uni I turned up to lectures hungover or still with remnants of last nights fancy dress plastered across my face. I didn’t care what I looked like. The important thing was that I was there to press record on my dictaphone and learn something that eventually got me my First class honours degree, my Masters degree and hopefully soon my PhD.

I mean how can something like this firstly get chosen out of what was probably multiple ideas and then finally go through rounds and rounds of finalising without anyone at Benefit Cosmetics thinking ‘Is this really the message we want our brand to be known for?’. And then for someone from the company to come back and say it was meant to be taken in a ‘tongue and cheek’ way! I for one LOVE my comedy! I am often found at comedy gigs and think I have a good sense of humour. But I cannot understand from any angle how this ad could be perceived as funny in any way!

There are boys and girls around the world fighting for the chance to get an education and a global brand like Benefit is palming it off as if it is not a big deal. Well, Benefit you are wrong! An education is a HUGE deal and I for one am not going to sit back and let the world think otherwise! An education is important for me to be able to do the career I want to do to the best of my ability, and also so I can use my brain, call out and fight back against awful ads like this one!

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The fightback

During my PhD journey, I have been incredibly lucky to come across an amazing online community called The Stem Squad which is full of inspiration women working in science, technology, engineering and maths. It was one of these gals @Science.Sam who brought the issue to my attention and has since lead the fight back against this campaign by sharing their messages across social media using the hashtag #SkipBenefitNotClass.

Here are a selection of the messages found across social media:

But since, the social media campaign against the Benefit ad has grown to include entrepreneurs, doctors, mothers, nurses, lawyers and more so the number of people involved in this fight back is ever growing and it is not to late to post a selfie/blog/video with #SkipBenefitNotClass to state your case. For me, this is just showing that girls (and guys) that have brains AND beauty are a force to be reckoned with!

One of the reasons I started my blog and Instagram features was to break down the stereotypes associated with being a scientist. I for one will not give into these stereotypes and will not be silenced. I am so happy that SO many other guys and gals are standing up for what they believe in.

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The future

So most of this post as been a bit doom and gloom, so I wanted to finish by looking to the future and hoping that this won’t happen again.

Firstly, I want to make a shout out to L’Oréal who have a  L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme which recognises the achievements and contributions of exceptional females across the globe, by awarding promising scientists with Fellowships to help further their research. A cosmetics brand that is empowering women to be role models in what is considered a ‘not conventionally female’ career path, so I want to say thank you. Check out the 2017 winners are here.

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All companies can make an advertising mistake. I completely get that. But this is not the first Benefit campaign that has caused a stir. Now, unfortunately for whatever reason, Benefit do not look like they are going to pull the ad, as their Twitter account was reeling out the same reply to all displaying their outrage to the campaign.

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Some stores have agreed to take  down the adverts but Benefit Cosmetics are not taking any action to change their controversial campaign so far! Maybe it just needs a re-brand! And I even have the solution for you! Pitch it as ‘don’t skip class, wear this concealer instead’!

Of course it will need a catchier slogan as I’m not a marketing whizz! But if there was a concealer out there that could have hid my hungover eyes at the lectures I still attended at university, or there was a concealer out there that could hide my tired eyes after endless 12 hour+ days in the lab at grad school, I would buy it! Just pitching it the other way, to me, sends the complete opposite message! It would be a message of empowerment for whoever chooses to wear makeup for whatever reason, and show them that you can still look on point and work towards that exam, ace your degree or achieve whatever you want!

A simple solution right?

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In a world where social media is taking over and younger generations are being influenced more and more by what they find on these platforms, cosmetics brand should be promoting their followers to make the best out of themselves. You have a global reach! Be a brand that send positive messages and encourage younger generations to go out and get everything they want to!

I will always be here standing, hopefully, as a role model to all young girls and showing that you can still be pretty and get somewhere in a male dominated field such as science! If science is what you love to do, you can do it and it doesn’t matter what you look like! And I’m not the only one. Instagram, for one, is full of truly incredible women in STEM who did not skip class and highlight their face as much as their study notes to get those 1 or 2 or even 3 degrees that are as real as those lashes!

I just want to remind girls, and guys, out there that you are so much more than your looks! I would 100% take class over concealer any day!

Being brainy AND beautiful is awesome!

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Science love.

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A day in the life of a PhD student

A day in the life of a PhD student: Chapter 6.

Being a PhD student working in a lab environment, no two days are the same! Of course, there are always some techniques and tasks that you need to do a few days or even weeks running – that is the nature of research – but you are always moving forward or changing direction with what results you get! This diversity in my days is one thing I love about Grad school and one thing I did not realise would be a thing while studying for my PhD. So, I hope anyone that is interested or anyone that is thinking about starting a PhD can read my ‘day in the life of a PhD student’ blog feature and see that I am not doing the same thing everyday.

So, let’s take a look at another typical day for me in the lab.

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7.30am – Okay, so this bit is usually the same each day! I have to force myself to get out of that warm and cosy bed and head to the lab to do some science!

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9:44am – Been at work for a little while now and start of the day reminding myself of what is on my ‘to do’ list, checking any emails I have and then getting ready for my day of experiments.

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10:02am – I am currently starting a new technique for me called chromatin immunoprecipitation, or ChIP for short. But what does that mean? Well, we all know that every cell in our body contains DNA, but that DNA is about 2 metres long, so how on earth do we fit that into the tiny tiny nucleus in each of our cells? Basically, we fold it! The DNA is folded and coiled thousands of times until it is a tiny compact mass! But there are certain proteins that help this DNA coiling called histones. There is a term we use for DNA when it is combined with histones and that is chromatin! And it is that that we are interested in using this technique! But first in order to analyse the chromatin in my cells, I need to get it out of my stem cells which is what I am doing here by using a scientific pestle and mortar and grinding them basically. Very low tech!

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10:15am – While I am starting to get my stem cell chromatin sheared, I also have a Western blot to finish. I do spend a lot of my time in lab doing different western blots and I have shown you both the first day of the protocol in Chapter 1 and the second day in Chapter 4 of this series so I won’t bore you too much by going over it again – but if you want to know more go and check those out!

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10:50am – As I’m progressing further and further through my PhD, I have slowly become more and more senior in terms of PhD students in the lab. And with that comes more responsibilities, such as teaching – which I’ve discovered over the past year or so that I love doing! I love seeing how other peoples minds work and how other people interpret results and provide new hypotheses. It also really tests my own knowledge because I would never have dreamt of asking some of the questions these guys I teach do, and it has made me realise that I need to do a lot more reading and googling 😛 But anyway, today I’m helping one of our new Masters students get Western blotting.

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11:50am – Welcome to my second home! The dark room! With so many Western blots to develop in the old school Hollywod glamour way, I am often found in this room, which at this time of year is basically a sweat box as it’s so darn hot in there! Again, check out Chapter 4 to see more details of what I get up to here and how I develop my blots!

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12:31pm – Back to teaching! So my students gel has run and now it’s time to teach them all the tips and tricks I’ve learnt for a successful transfer!

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1:16pm – Doing your lab chores is an essential part of being a good labmate in my opinion. Much like your house chores, it is something that everyone hates doing but it is something that must be done! Lots of the reagents we use are communal so I think it’s even more important to replace them if you finished the last bit – because it is SO annoying when you go to start your next experiment and you can’t because someone used the last of your important enzyme for example. The same goes with buffers! Some of the hundreds of clear liquids I use to mix with other clear liquids – the joys of being a molecular biologist 😛 ! So, I’m currently making some up fresh and checking they are the right pH, or the right acidity, to use!

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2:21pm – Amongst finishing my Western and helping the student start one up, it is time to start cleaning up my chromatin samples. So, when I was grinding up my cells earlier, it did release my chromatin but also the rest of the cells contents. So now I have to follow several steps to make sure that my sample only contains chromatin before sonicating the chromatin to break it up into smaller chunks!

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3:39pm – Time for some quality time with my cells! My ChIP experiment will need to be repeated a few times to see if any effects I find are ‘real’ or not! So, I am now collecting new samples from my cells! To make sure all the proteins and histones remain stuck to my DNA I need to fix my cells and we do that using formaldehyde! Most people think of a cell as a static thing, but there is SO much going on inside that – proteins are being made, DNA is being folded and unfolded, proteins are being shuttled around so it’s a busy environment! Fixing the cells basically makes everything freeze in their position. Think of it as the entire contents of the cell playing a game of musical statues and me adding the formaldehyde is me stopping the music! Everything is stuck in its place which will allow me to see what proteins are bound to the DNA.

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3:45pm – I might be collecting samples from some cells, but I also need to keep some stem cells growing and happy to use in other experiments, so it’s feeding time for my cells now!

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4:05pm – Remember those new chromatin samples I was collecting? Well, I need to store them at -80 degrees in the form of a pellet. So, I started with a liquid that contained all my cells. I put that in this machine called a centrifuge which will spin them at 1500 times a minute. This forces all the cells to the bottom of the tube and forms a pellet! Better get this into the freezer quickly!

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5:19pm – Lab work is done for the day! Being in grad school it is really important to have a good work life balance – something I am really awful at doing if I’m honest! But today I’m trying to be better! Off to the gym now to try and blow off some grad school stress!

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7.16pm – Time for a lab social! We don’t head out together as often as we should but we have a few things to celebrate as a lab so we have exactly successfully organised a social for once! A bite to eat at what I hear is the best burger place in Southampton!

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8:10pm – One thing we forgot to factor in when booking this meal was that Southampton were playing in the Premier League that night and traffic was a nightmare so we ordered much later than planned and cut the social short because of the lack of parking around, but it is always good to get out of the lab and chat about anything but work with your lab mates! Plus if it involves food that’s always a bonus! Especially if it’s a towering tall burger like this!

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That’s a wrap! Another snippet at a typical day in my science life! I hope to be able to share something a bit different with you soon 🙂 But for now go check out the other chapters to get more of a feel and please ask me any questions! I’m happy to answer them and you will learn something too 🙂

Science love.

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Scientist in the Spotlight

Scientist in the Spotlight. Alex D.

In today’s world, social media influencers and YouTube personalities are basically celebrities. So, I am thrilled to announce then that I have a celebrity on the blog today… and she’s a scientist with over 25,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel!!!

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This month’s Scientist in the Spotlight is a science vlogger and shares her videos on YouTube to teach you about lab life, science-y things and more with a stellar and joyous personality! So, let me introduce you to Alex D. Alex is a native East Coaster but is currently working on a Californian Genetics PhD. She is driven in science, and life, as there is so much to do and see and she just wants to do everything; I feel your pain girl! Years ago, her friend described her as having a wealth of ‘motividrill’ – her amalgamation of ‘motivation, drive and skill’ and it is something Alex is determined to live up to everyday. Besides her love for science vlogging, her PhD research looking at how levels of different genes affect disease and development in the heart, Alex has a not-so-secret love of marine life! Anyone that follows my blog or Instagram knows that I am starting my own YouTube science vlog soon so as Alex is a big inspiration for some of my ideas, I had to share some aspects of the chat we had in case there is any inside knowledge that others what to know. Plus she is a super cool scientist so why wouldn’t you want to get to know her more??

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Tell us a bit about your PhD research?

Alex: I’m currently in my fourth year of being a PhD student in the Genetics Department at Stanford University working on Cardiovascular Genetics. I study a disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM. It affects 1:500 people and is one of the leading causes of death in young adults. HCM is often caused by changes in the genes involved in the cardiac sarcomere, the smallest contracting part of your heart muscle! You get two copies of every gene – one from your mother and one from your father – and often in HCM these disease-causing mutations are only found in one copy. The goal of my research is to use small DNA and RNA molecules to turn off the bad copy and leave the healthy copy of the gene behind and hopefully relieve the disease symptoms. Since I can’t study and test this in humans, I work with induced pluripotent stem cells. We take skin or blood cells from patients and turn them ‘backwards’ into stem cells that I can then use in my research. This way we can study the genetics of the patient safely and efficiently without having to work on the patients themselves.

Here is a video of my induced pluripotent stem cells that we have turned into cardiomyocytes – or simply heart cells – and they beat all on their own in the dish! In essence, we took skin cells from an adult patient, turned them into stem cell, and then turned them into heart cells! It is pretty wild and it amazes me every time I see a new batch start beating!

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What have you been up to in the lab most recently then?

Alex: I’ve actually been travelling ‘in the lab’ which has been super cool! I spent six weeks working in a lab in Helsinki that studies endothelial cells rather than my cardiomyocytes or heart cells, so it was super cool to get a chance to work with new people and learn about a new cell type and system. I feel like I get stuck in a routine in lab, especially with cell culture where I spend hours a day just trying to keep my experiments alive! So, it was great to shake that up a bit and do some new things in a whole new lab and country.

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What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt so far on your science journey?

Alex: The importance of saying ‘I don’t know’. Often in science we feel like we need to know all the answers, but the whole point of doing science is to find out new things! Saying ‘I don’t know’ means that you’re willing to learn new things and do the work required to truly make scientific discoveries. Similarly, some of my very best videos have come from the times where I’ve said ‘I don’t know… let’s find out together!’ That process of discovery is one of my favourite parts of science.

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So, you mentioned your videos. Why did you start your YouTube channel?

Alex: After college, where I got both a biology degree and a film degree, I went to work at a media company for a couple of years, making videos and interactive exhibits for museums. I loved my job, and learned so much from it, but I also really missed talking about science. YouTube seemed like a great way to merge my love of science and my love of making videos, and allowed me to talk to the whole internet universe about science.

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Vortex

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What goes into making a YouTube video and what do you use?

Alex: YouTube videos start off with an idea, often from some cool thing I myself have just learned about in science. From there I do a lot of research and script writing to figure out what to say about it, and more recently videos have also involved interviewing the scientists actually doing the work, which has been super cool! From there I’ll film the video. I’m lucky enough to have a Nikon DSLR that I use for most of my filming, as well as a couple of nicer microphones. Once I have all of my footage, I edit using Adobe Premiere and make any additional animations I need in Adobe After Effects before uploading to YouTube! A single 10 minute video can take up to 40 to 50 hours of work, and often takes months to go from idea to published video.

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What opportunities have you got from starting your science vlog?

Alex: I have had a number of amazing opportunities that have all resulted from my YouTube channel and the amazing community that supports me. I’ve been able to meet an astronaut, work with amazing, science-supporting companies like Google, work with animators, travel to labs, meet amazing scientists, and so much more. I really feel lucky because all I want to do is talk about science and talk with the scientists doing it, and somehow this little YouTube channel has allowed me to do that on a bigger and grander scale. I enjoy making these videos and going on science communication adventures so much that sometimes I feel a little guilty and selfish from all the fun I’m having.

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It sounds like a huge commitment, so how do you balance lab work and YouTube stardom?

Alex: Balance is something I definitely struggle with in grad school! I go through periods where I’m very good at it: I get up early, go for a run, work a normal day in the lab, and then come home to work on some videos. I also go through periods where I am terrible at it: working 12-14 hour days in lab, not sleeping and working on videos at 2am. I’m trying to be better lately, and sticking to a defined schedule of when I wake up, when I’m in lab, when I go to bed etc which has been helping me to balance everything and stay on track.

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Why is science communication so important to you?

Alex: Firstly, because I just love talking about science. It’s a selfish reason, but communicating science just makes me happy. I love sharing the things I love with others. But I also feel that science communication is important because science affects every bit of our daily lives, and understanding it better can help everyone make better choices about everything from their diet to their health to their hobbies. Also, I think scicomm has a unique opportunity to remind people that science is fun and that science is more than memorising facts in a textbook; and also more than just mixing vinegar with baking soda in the kitchen. I don’t think that there are a lot of great examples of what life as a scientist is like out in the media, so I hope that my vlogs help to portray both the exciting and the normal aspects of life in the lab.

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What do you do in your spare time outside lab?

Alex: Most of it is dedicated to outreach and communication in one way or another. I work as an Oral Communication Tutor on campus at Stanford and I absolutely love getting to help other students, both grads and undergrads, communicate the work and research that they do to others. I also spend a lot of time working on my videos – filming, script writing, editing etc as I mentioned earlier. But when I’m not doing that, I’ve really been trying to take advantage of the lovely Californian outdoors lately by going running, going on short hikes, and trying to be outside as much as possible. Getting to do one fun outdoor thing a week makes me feel much happier and more human.

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So, where after your PhD? What’s the next step?

Alex: My current goal is to graduate in the summer of 2018 and then become a full time science communicator. I’m working now on forming my own small production company where current employee numbers are 1; me! My ideal goal would be to make science videos both for me and the outside clients in order to fund my own projects. I want to take the videos I’m making now and turn them into a full time job talking to the scientists I want to talk to about the science I want to talk about!

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And finally, where in the world should be my next travel destination?

Alex: This is such a hard question! I’m going to have to say the Arctic, partly because I was just there recently and partly because it was so unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been! I started in Finland and drove north into Norway and it was crazy to watch the environment around us change from forests with big trees to very small trees to sticks and then finally nothing but low shrubs and big broad rock faces by the sea. Also, there were reindeer. Who doesn’t love reindeer?

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Huge thank you to my favourite YouTuber for taking the time to sit and answer the questions I had. I’m super excited to get filming my own now vlogs now especially if I can potentially get awesome opportunities like this. Plus I want to work in your lab and for your new company 😛 Please pick me to be your intern! Keep creating amazing videos! I look forward to watching them ALL! And keep being an inspiration! Good luck with all your future projects girl and I hope we stay in contact 🙂

Go and subscribe to Alex’s Youtube channel, Twitter and Instagram here! And do it now! Get lost in a YouTube video abyss but I guarantee you will learn something in every single video you watch!

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Science love.

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