Lessons that I learned in 2018

Photo by Steven VanDesande Jr on Unsplash

As 2018 draws to a close and I write my final blog post of the year, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to reflect on the year. Whilst it would be easy to focus on all of the positives (as social media often does), I think it is important to say that my year has had some ups and downs, it certainly hasn’t been a completely smooth 2018!

A rocky start

Perhaps understandably, academic successes are shouted about, and they certainly should be, but in a competitive field where failure and rejection are all too common I think we should talk more openly about the things that haven’t worked out. The rise in the use  of social media and the cut-throat competitiveness of academia often means that it can be all too easy to compare yourself to others. But please do not compare yourself to others (that is a lesson that I have learned this year!), you don’t know what other people have going on in their lives and you can only control your own behaviour.

Although my 2018 was full of great things, it started off to be rather ‘rocky’. I was really struggling with work life balance, it was really starting to get me down and affect my mental health. This is something that I hadn’t really experienced before, so it took me a while to figure out what I was going to do about it! I decided that I would take two main steps:

  1. To join a netball team
  2. To start some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

At the beginning of 2018 I was feeling rubbish and I wasn’t doing anything other than work! So I finally decided to do something that I had been meaning to do for a while. I joined a netball team! Okay, so the last time I played netball was in school, but ten years after last picking up a netball, there was no sign of any gym knickers or itchy horrible pleated skirts (maybe that was just my school!). So I plucked up the courage to go along to netball training. It was nerve wracking and I wasn’t in the best physical shape. But I was welcomed in by everyone, there were a range of abilities and above all a lovely group of people.

At netball we have players from different backgrounds, different ages, and importantly for my different professions. Finally I was in an environment where nobody really cared about publications or grant income and they were just interested in you as a person. Importantly for me, when you play netball, you can’t really think about work and you certainly can’t check your work emails (well you can try but you are likely to be hit in the face with a netball and your team probably won’t be too happy!). Netball training as well as matches has certainly improved my physical health, but most of all it has really helped my mental health. Perhaps one of my biggest personal achievements of 2018 has been joining a netball team! I am really thankful to everyone for welcoming me into the team and I hope for lots more great team performances in 2019!

I was also referred for some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The waiting time was far longer than it should have been, but eventually I was sent an appointment. Discussing mental health issues is never going to be an easy conversation but I was reassured by the friendly face of my practitioner and  that I was able to have multiple sessions.  I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about CBT before, I had tried mindfulness, but it didn’t really work for me. But CBT really did. It is focused on understanding why we think in the way that we do and learning strategics and ways of thinking differently (although that is what I understand of it anyway). I found it really helpful and would certainly recommend it. I am very grateful to my practitioner and although I was sad that the sessions came to an end this year, I am now confident that I can employ the skills that I have learnt when I need them in 2019.

Public engagement kicked off!

Overall I think I will remember 2018 as the year where my public engagement and outreach activities really began to take off. I have written several other blog posts about these, so I won’t bore you by repeating them here, other than to say my highlights included; The 2018 Hay Festival, Pint of Science 2018, Soapbox Science 2018, The Charles Darwin Award Lecture at the British Science Festival and my TEDx Cardiff University talk!

I well known for loving all things public engagement, I feel passionately about the topic and am an advocate for all scientists talking about their research in accessible and interesting ways. While I am talking about scientist’s being engaging and entertaining, a festive mention for the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, who were this year presented by Prof Alice Roberts, and Genetics Society guest lecturer Prof Aoife McLysaght. The Christmas lectures were a TV highlight of 2018 for me and they are still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer for those who are interested, the topic of this year’s lecture series was ‘Who am I?’.

Aside from the thrill of taking part in these science communication events, often on the evenings and weekends alongside my research, I get a great deal of enjoyment of meeting new people through them. At this point I have to mention the other British Science Festival Award Lecturers, whom I had the honour of meeting in 2018. It was certainly a highlight getting to know you all this year, cheering each other on through our lectures and continuing to support each other in our academic journeys. Thank you and I hope for a reunion in 2019!

Another highlight was working with Claire, Hazel and Kay to produce a peer reviewed manuscript for the #WhyWeDoResearch campaign. I will keep you posted on this as the publication is due to be released in early 2019. To say it was a pleasure to work with you all is an understatement. It was an absolute joy being able to work with you all for this publication and I am sure that the #WhyWeDoResearch community will achieve even more (if that is possible) in 2019.

I have been able to take part in other continuing professional development activities including Welsh Crucible and the Royal Society Pairing Scheme. Applications to both of these schemes will open again in 2019 and I would seriously consider applying. Alongside the practical skills and knowledge that both of these schemes provided they also allowed me to develop networks and gave me a huge confidence boost, something that I really needed this year.

My hopes for 2019…

I am under no illusions that 2019 is going to be an easy year for UK science. But we must press on continuing to do the important world leading research that the UK in well known for.

On a personal note, I hope that 2019 is the year that science communication, engagement and outreach is recognised, appreciated and valued. I know that budgets are being tightened and cut, but if we want more people to volunteer for clinical trials, more people to choose science as a career option and more people to appreciate and fund science, we need to be telling people about it!

On that important note, I will end my final blog post of 2018 by wishing everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year! I hope that the New Year brings all that you have worked hard for and remember to be kind to yourself as well as others. The road may begin rocky, but bounce over those rocks and although it may not seem like it at the time, you can learn to conquer and overcome the challenges that life presents.

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