Opportunity in overalls (or a labcoat)

Have you ever had an opportunity come up, where you thought “hmm, that would be great, but I could never do that”? An opportunity that makes you feel both delight and dread; passion and panic? That’s how I felt when I first saw this.

Who were these confident women and how could I possibly be able to stand up on a Soapbox in public and share what I know about science?

Yet the scenario kept playing over and over in my mind. I imagined myself standing on the Soapbox, wearing a white labcoat, with a captivated audience of kids, teenagers, parents, passers-by on the street; telling them all about the brain, MEG, and about the jukebox in their minds. I imagined my kids beside me, as we watched these other more experienced women in action; watching how these women communicate and engage, and relishing the fact that my kids are growing up in an environment where it’s ‘normal’ to see women in science.

So here is how I made up my mind to apply: I sat on it (not literally obviously). But I let the thought linger a few days. The mixture of fear and excitement didn’t diminish. I’ve learnt after similar things have come up, that if that feeling stays with me, then I should just go with it. It’s probably going to be something that is good for me, and after all, I’ve got nothing to lose.

It got me thinking though….Academia is a strange beast. We are trained in our PhD’s to learn the basics of experimental design, implementation, data analysis, writing. Though thankfully, there are plenty of academics willing to offer great advice beyond this, (check out this from Bradley Voytek), not a lot of formal training goes into the skills we really need to stand out as career researchers (eg. science communication, networking, resilience just to name a few). These are the types of skills that we have to be pro-active in developing ourselves. Not that every opportunity we hear about we should run with, (we’d just wear ourselves out).

But we should be intentional about the types of skills we want to develop.

If you want skills in science communication, then start writing! Online magazines such as Signal to Noise are an awesome outlet for PhD Students and Post Docs to get experience in science writing – and gain valuable feedback in the process. You can’t learn about science communication just by reading – at some point you need to start doing it to. And avenues such as this one are like a Course in Science Communication 101! They are always looking for pitch ideas so get in contact:

If you want to develop your network, then get on twitter and start following people. #Academictwitter is amazing. If you aren’t convinced then check out this recent post by @AcademicBatgirl . But don’t just follow people – engage. Yes, it’s an investment of time, but again, if you want skills in networking, then this is a great first step in reaching out.

In a couple of months I’m heading overseas for 2 big international conferences (more info in posts to come…) and for the first time I’m actually going to meet a whole bunch of people from my field, in person. The advantage of twitter is that it’s already paved the way for many of these connections to be formed. And once the conference is over, we can stay connected more easily.

Finally, Resilience….. it’s a little trickier to develop – but we are all going to need it! This is a tough gig: sometimes experiments don’t work, papers and grants get rejected or even scooped , employment is insecure. No one is immune, so it’s vital that we develop resilience. One way that has been working for me is changing my attitude.

Your attitude to your work will bring about just as much, if not more opportunities than your talent.

Over the last 6 months I really have been embracing a new attitude of “what have I got to lose” and it’s starting to snowball. Because as one opportunity comes by, and you get through it, you start to see the next one on the horizon, and with increased confidence ask yourself again “what have I got to lose”?


It’s like exercising a resilience muscle. So when you do get knocked down you are strong enough to jump back up and be ready for the next adventure.

Speaking of adventures…… if you are in Brisbane on 20th August 1pm – 4pm come by King George Square check out Soapbox Science as part of National Science Week.

Because guess what? I got in and I’ll be there discussing: “Changing the song on your internal jukebox: using MEG to investigate manipulating music in your mind”. Its an opportunity dressed in a labcoat rather than overalls, but I’m up for the challenge.

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