Leaving the laboratory: tears and fears

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Laboratory science – biomedical by Bill Dickinson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

You know those annoying kids who knew 100% what it was they would be when they grow up? I was one of those kids. I knew from a very early age that science was my jam and that I was going to don the most stunning piece of PPE (that’s personal protective equipment to you folks) of all: the labcoat. Working on big ideas with other people, helping the world, making a contribution – it was all planned. Done and dusted. It may as well have been tattooed on me: #SCIENTIST.

For the better part of 10 years I have worked my way up from the bottom, found mountains that ought to have been molehills, and probably worked my way through 5000 pens writing notes and exams. All for this. To have realised that tattoos aren’t really permanent. What I mean to say is that I broke through my glass ceiling and discovered that I care more for communicating science then I do working at it. All the signs were there and I was too caught up in my own noise that I didn’t stop and see them.

Real talk: to be a scientist in Australia is hard. There is little job growth, despite what all the analysts predict. There is less traineeships available than before and less opportunity for further development in certain fields. Cuts and closures to several government institutions and public hospitals have created situations that make it difficult for graduates to get their foot in the door and for even the most experienced professionals to feel the stress of having to do more work than is required of their position. Even academia has been affected, with professors and lecturers fighting for tenure because the current system is publish or perish. Doing research is expensive business, so it’s no wonder people are moving overseas or leaving the lab for good.

I was plagued with thoughts that

  1. I was doomed
  2. I had wasted my time
  3. I cannot transfer my skills

Having an identity as a scientist is very personal for me, and is one that I am slowly beginning to accept that needs to be fluid and capable of changing. It is still heart breaking that I will never be the researcher I wanted to be, and that I won’t be spending my days studying and playing with microbial genetics projects. I cried a lot. There was always something else I loved that came with the identity of being a scientist: translator. Being able to explain your work and scientific concepts to non-specialists and. This was something I was always good at and really enjoyed.

For me, the most important part of being a scientist is the role of an ambassador. I LOVED helping people reach that “a-ha!” moment. Talking to other people about science and helping people develop confidence in their analytical and critical skills is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever encountered. I also love reaching such ‘a-ha’ moments from other people too. I will never know everything, but I will keep on learning something new when I can. Part of this move out of the lab is motivated by my desire to encourage the general public to acknowledge the basic science of their everyday life. Trust me, everybody is a “life scientist”. I want to create a thought that you don’t need to be a science professional to be interested or want to learn more. My goal isn’t to produce more STEM grads. My goal is to help produce a more scientific literate public.

Before I left the lab I was mesmerised by the idea of bridging a gap between my scientific interests and those of the arts. Originally the new goal was going to be working in a natural history or science museum; making science themed exhibitions for the public – it’s still a goal I would like to achieve one day.

I was inspired by Emily from The Brainscoop (above videos), who was a fine arts student who, through the power of YouTube and digital media (as well as the notorious Green brothers, they probably have the most credit) was hired by the The Field Museum in Chicago full time to showcase their exhibitions and produce The Brainscoop channel to expose the global community to the world of natural history.I thought to myself “I can do that!”, but then I remembered I don’t know the Green brothers nor do I happen to live in a country where there are many museums of this type. I have to face it, I live in a big country that’s actually pretty small. It’s also incredibly hard to be a behind the scenes volunteer in museums here.

However, after some brain scooping of my own, I realised another way to reach people in 2016 and beyond can be more than just filling a physical space with people and creating attractive marketing campaigns. It’s using a priceless invention to send the message. The internet and digital media.

Just have a look at some of the article titles that are published in the Journal of Science Communication (JCOM) and you can see how researchers, writers, content creators and journalists are making use of modern internet applications to reach out to more people.

Science + popular mainstream internet can work. I’m pretty sure you would’ve heard of the facebook page: I F***ING LOVE SCIENCE. It started off as just a Facebook page posting science news and facts and now it has its own website and popular enough to have made a deal to create online videos.

This is why I’m excited for this new venture in my career. I want to work with the internet and I would like to work on some exciting and thought provoking projects in only a manner that the communications and media field can do. Sorry science academia, but poster presentation sessions and seminars aren’t always the easiest to sit through! 😛

So here I am. I want to be another ghost in the machine that sings her siren song of science curiosity to as many people as possible: BYO ships and rocks to crash in to.

This is the creation of a science communicator.

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