Since submitting my MSc dissertation, I’ve been thinking how I got here; what led me to be so passionate about science communication and, if I could travel back in time by ten years, what advice would I tell myself to keep my head up and get me through those times that I struggled to see what was in front of me.
When I was 14, one of the things I was worried about was who I was going to be in the future. That’s partly why I chose science because I thought there would be a future career at the end of it, people would take me seriously and I would be successful. I was sort of right, even though I now champion science rather than doing it, I’m still glad I chose it as a career path. It has led to me doing some really exciting things that I never thought I would be able to do. I never doubted that I would be able to pursue science, but I know that for a lot of girls, science is the last thing on their minds. We’re constantly reminded about the onslaught of social media that teenagers face and how this has led to a downward trend in mental wellbeing.
I was lucky that social media exploded after I passed that delicate teenage stage and I was able to separate myself from what I saw online. I know this isn’t so for all my friends, some turned to social media for confidence boosts that only led to disappointment when their post failed to attract enough likes. I turned to social media to network and find a campaign that I could get onboard with.
All the way throughout my microbiology degree, I struggled to find the one thing I was both really interested in and passionate about, but my problem was that I was interested and passionate about a lot of areas of science. Plant pathology, immunology, AMR, infectious diseases, astronomy, Dementia, equality, birds… the list was broad and endless! That’s what led me into sci comm – it was a chance to dabble in all sorts of science and help to communicate it at the same time, but even now I am only beginning to realise that community outreach may be my thing.
I knew I liked talking about science and although I love doing my podcasts, I love to have meaningful conversations about science with different people, helping them to recognise that science is simply the product of curiosity and the willingness to follow it.
But what leads people to realise this curiosity? With the various Women in STEM campaigns that I’ve come across, I wonder what gets girls to cross the barrier from ‘where do I fit into society?’ to ‘where can I find the answers to this question I sometimes wonder about?’
Instead of simply asking more questions, should we try to get people to think about how they would find the answers? If they can’t find the answers, that could lead them to pursue science in search of the answer.
I’m not saying that science has all the answers, but it is researchers that endeavour to answer questions. Whether the subject is has roots in physics or psychology, the approach they take to answering those questions is scientific and grounded by the desire to satisfy a hunger for knowledge that many people have. That’s what we are still struggling to communicate; science isn’t just about grades, it’s about havig the ability to motivate yourself to act on curiosity.
If I was able to tell my 14-year-old self that in the future, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a clue about what’s around the corner and that what drives me now is the ability to be creative and problem solve, I would never believe it. When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet because a vet was a solid idea; I knew what it was and how to get there. What I’m doing now, coming up with science communication ideas while sat on my boyfriend’s bed, is something that doesn’t have a clear path and I don’t know if any of my ideas will be successful. That’s part of the fun. I’m no longer intimidated by the unknown because it’s my job to make it known. I’m driven by passion that has grown over time.
That’s what I would have wanted to be told all through my life; you don’t have to decide what you’re passionate about as soon as you start secondary school; you don’t even have to find what you’re passionate about if you’re doing your degree! It’s alright to change your mind: there will always be at least one person that can help you and eventually you’ll discover something that you can really sink your teeth into!