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    Archive for May, 2015

    Communicating science for a living

    By S Donaldson, on 28 May 2015

    Dr Buddhini SamarasingheDr Buddhini Samarasinghe is one of the founders of STEM Women, a site devoted to addressing gender inequality in Science. She has a PhD in Molecular Parasitology from Glasgow University, and is now a Science Communication Manager at CRUK, putting together scientific content to help fundraisers appeal to donors.

    Last week Buddhini spoke to us about her work on STEM women. Here she tells us about her career path and current role at CRUK.

    How did you move into Science Communication?

    After my PhD, I had the opportunity to take up a post-doc position in Hawaii, which was amazing. But as I got towards the end of my contract and started looking for jobs, I realised just how many talented and well-qualified people are struggling; there didn’t seem to be any permanence, and getting a job had stopped being about merit, and seemed more about luck. At the same time, I started to do some outreach work, to bolster my CV and broaden my awareness of what was out there. The more outreach I did, the more I liked it, and I started to realise that people actually got paid to do science outreach work, so maybe I could do it as more than just a hobby. Alongside my academic applications, I applied to a science outreach role at CRUK, which I saw advertised in The Guardian. Unfortunately I wasn’t given that job, but I did get the next one I applied for, my present role as Science Communications Manager. The role was part-time and fixed term at first, but it’s now become a full-time permanent position.

    What does a normal day look like to you?

    Lots of meetings and lots of writing. I meet with fundraisers to find out who, either individuals or companies, they’re pitching to, and what they need from our team. I’ll then search our research database for something that fits the bill, and write about it in language that will appeal to the potential donor. I also write updates on our progress for existing donors.

    What are the best bits?

    I’ve been able to stay within science. I get to see people and talk to people, which wasn’t always the case in research. When I first started in this role, it was part-time maternity cover, and yet oddly, given the current employment situation in research, it still felt more secure than when I was on post-doctoral contracts. And I’ve now been made full-time permanent staff, which feels quite nice!

    What are the downsides/challenges?

    Office jobs are a lot more stationary than laboratory research, and that’s something I’ve had to adjust to.

    What’s the progression like?

    There are more senior roles that people can move into within the team, and many people will move into communications roles in other organisations, or move around within CRUK, which seems to be positively encouraged.

    What are your top tips for getting into a science communication role?

    Don’t wait for anything, just write. That’s what I did, with my Jargon Wall blog, my series of Scientific American guest blogs , and the blog that I co-founded addressing the issues women in STEM can face. There are so many avenues for self-publishing, so set up a blog and get your voice heard.

    Sticking up for STEM women

    By S Donaldson, on 22 May 2015

    Displaying Studies show that women leave academic research in larger numbers than men, and are poorly represented at higher academic levels. Initiatives like Athena SWAN have been set up to address the problem, but there are other sources of support out there too. One example is STEM women.

    The site was put together by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, Professor Rajini Rao, and Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, three women with PhDs who wanted to generate open debate around how to improve the situation for women in STEM. Over the next few days, we will hear from each of these women about their own career journeys. Here, Buddhini tells us a little more about the site.

    How did you first start the website?

    Back in 2012, I think it was on International Women’s Day, someone on Facebook shared a list of female scientists whom you may or may not have heard of. Obviously Marie Curie was in it, and there were lots of other black and white photos of women who were mostly already dead. Great that such a list is being shared, but I figured I should put together a list of more current female scientists to whom people could better relate. I used Google +, which was pretty new at that time and had lots of female engineers and scientists who were posting publicly about their work. So I started compiling a list of their names and ‘shared’ them around, making a group of strong female role models who could inspire people. Off the back of that, I teamed up with two other female researchers and launched a website to celebrate females in STEM, and to comment on the current issues they face.

    What kind of things does your website cover?

    We profile successful female scientists, and host Q&As with them, to help inspire the next generation of female scientists. For example, we featured an amazing woman called Annika O’Brien who runs robotics workshops in disadvantaged areas in LA, and has her own company now. And we also talk to high-profile male scientists to try to get their input in how to improve the STEM environment for women.

    And we call out and comment on current issues that are relevant to women in STEM, such as sexism. As an example, last year the journal of Proteomics published a paper on the sequencing of the coconut genome, and the picture that accompanied a link to the article featured a scantily-clad woman holding coconuts in front of her breasts, which was extremely inappropriate. One of my fellow website authors wrote to the journal’s editor to complain, and she received a less-than-satisfactory response from him, telling her it was all normal, and as a physiology Professor she should be familiar with female physiology!

    The photo has since been taken down in response to a twitter storm involving outraged people like us. But I think this perfectly highlights why a site like ours is needed. Firstly, the picture went up when it absolutely shouldn’t have. But secondly, when it was taken down, the apology was far too wishy-washy; they were sorry we’re offended, but they didn’t really acknowledge what they’d done wrong. Which is why things like this keep happening e.g. The Rosetta-landing shirt controversy. Some people think it’s silly to focus on these things, that at least the situation today is better than it used to be. But these are the microaggressions that make women feel less welcome in the male-dominated scientific space. We want to shine a light on sexism within STEM, to help the women facing it know they’re not alone, and to try to move the field forward.

    Picture courtesy of STEM women, taken from their Nature blog article.

    A researcher’s experience of working in science policy

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 20 May 2015

    profile picJavier Elkin, PhD student in Translational Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL took a 6 month break from his PhD to work in science policy at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). He explains how he benefited from this experience below. 

    How did I get the role:

    I was always interested in Science Policy but didn’t know how to find out more about what it entailed. I attended two UCL Careers events which gave me the confidence to apply for a secondment during my PhD. The Newton’s Apple workshop at the Houses of Parliament provided an introduction to the different roles of government departments and politicians. At the UCL Careers Future in Government and Policy Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers I had the chance to meet people from different policy organisations that helped me explore the different possibilities to funding the months away from my PhD.

    What I liked about working in my role:

    I enjoyed the fast-paced and varied nature of the work. I was always working on different projects simultaneously that appertained to a range of scientific topics and had real impact on the world. I was able to contribute to high level policy documents like the Science and Innovation Strategy which the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned on live television during the Autumn Statement. In research we usually have to spend at least a few years on a single project before we see the impact of our work and even then it rarely departs the scientific community.

    What were my biggest challenges?

    A lot of policy involves pre-emptive work in case it is later required under severe time constraints. It is impossible to always accurately foresee the exact task that will be requested due to the nature of government proceedings and Ministers. This means often dropping that piece of work you have been tirelessly working on for days, to concentrate on the next task because a new deadline has been set or new priorities have been issued. This also means accepting that your final work will never be perfect because it generally requires input from many people and deadlines are much tighter than in science.

    To what extent did I use my specialist knowledge and/or higher level skills obtained from my PhD?

    Previous experience communicating my research during public engagement events was useful when writing compelling case studies of the most recent UK scientific breakthroughs to ensure higher spending in science and research. I compiled simple and compelling paragraphs to be used as examples in the Science and Innovation Strategy. I also went from being the worse programmer in the lab to a BIS IT buddy, running around the floor and helping people with computer issues. When I was in the team analysing the Capital Consultation responses, I proposed a solution based on my experience with Big Data analysis which earned me a £300 bonus for increasing efficiency!

    My top tips:

    Be proactive in networking. I had a great conversation with the Brazilian Ambassador over champagne and also met senior people at events.

    Go full time! Immerse yourself in the placement. You will be able to take ownership of your work, assigned to interesting tasks more often, and create meaningful relationships with your co-workers.

    Encourage others to do the same. When I completed my placement, I gave a presentation to the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience to share that Policy is a seldom mentioned but highly relevant part of the research process that impacts all levels of academia.

    The Boston Consulting Group (BCG): PhD Medics & Post Doc Careers Event

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 12 May 2015

    The Boston Consulting Group (BCG): PhD, Medics & Post Doc. Careers Event on Thursday 14 May

    Thinking about what to do next? Looking for a new opportunity that will challenge and develop you?

    If you’re thinking about the options available to you for the next stage of your career, come to our PhD, Medics and Post Doc careers event to find out what management consulting could offer. Our team at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) includes many who have made the transition from academia to consulting, with backgrounds as diverse as medicine, tendon engineering, game theory, 18th Century literature and the history of art.

    Sign up to our Connection Event designed especially for PhDs, medics and post-docs where you will be able to find out about BCG, our global opportunities and the application process. Also meet our very own PhDs and medics over drinks/nibbles.

    – Date: Thursday 14 May 2015

    – Location: Holborn Bars, 138-142 Holborn, London, EC1N 2NQ

    – Time: 7.00pm-9.00pm

    To attend the Careers Event, please register via the following link – https://talent.bcg.com/Events?folderId=10003800

    To find out more about BCG careers for those with advanced degrees, please visit http://adc.bcg.com/. Applications for full-time positions will open in September 2015.