Coke float drinking pocket rocket, planetary scientist, presenter, space comedienne


Why thesis writing is like being pregnant…


So I’m due to submit my thesis around the same that my sister is due her 2nd baby. Yay I can’t wait to be an aunt again, and it’ll be interesting to see how having a niece is different, or not, to having a nephew.

Its been really funny this time around because of her cravings for McDs chicken burgers and also, she has serious pregnancy brain!

Now I think pregnancy brain is something quite well known. I guess its something to do with the body having an alien growing inside it, making the bearer scatty, tired, silly, emotional.

The weird thing is though, I’ve been like that recently too!

I am tired all the time, I can’t remember what day it is, I cry at the drop of a hat and I have to do basic maths on a calculator (and I mean basic, the other week I did “27-10” on the calculator!).

And I can tell you for sure I am NOT pregnant!

So it can only be one thing; I have thesis brain!!

And the pregnancy analogy does not stop there.

I’ve put on weight too. Mostly through comfort eating, but also because I feel like I ‘deserve’ to eat junk food when I’ve ‘delivered’ a chapter.
I have cravings. I had to have a Gu chocolate pudding for tea last night before I could possibly finish writing the paragraph I was doing.
I sleep funny, I have indigestion, I sit in bed all day, I have really bad backache…..the list goes on!

I guess writing a thesis is so like having a baby. The idea for the thesis starts as a seed in your mind, then the ideas are conceived and after a lot of experiments it becomes this thing that takes over your life. You nuture it for months and months, it grows and feeds off you, you spend 24/7 on it until its all you can think about. Then after 9 months of writing and typing and stressing and enjoying the thesis is printed, bound and submitted.

Well, I hope mine takes only 9 months total til its due, and I’m certainly not going to pay for it to go to university.


Space Princess

So things have been reeeediculously busy recently hence the lack of blog, and for that I’m sorry. I hope to use it more, maybe as a Sunday night therapy session after a long week and before another long week ahead. It kind of makes me feel like Carrie Bradshaw, but my fashion sense is sadly not as good.

This post doesn’t have a theme or a point or a story, it is just me and my musings, typing whatever comes out. Enjoy!

Regardless of what our science minister might say, I’m proud of being a girly girl space princess and a space scientist!

So I guess you may have realised I’ve been a little bit moody/down in the dumps recently.

I’m not going to lie, its not over yet!

And part of the problem is that our careers services are so bad, and there is a distinct lack of support and respect for who and what we are.

However, I need to concentrate on finishing my PhD and being proud of what I’ve achieved. Regardless of what the future might bring. It will all be ok, because it has to be.

All I have to do right now is work really hard and finish my thesis to the best of my abilities; I have a positive feeling that the rest will just fall in to place.

I have to remember that I have a lot going for me. And of course it won’t be easy and I won’t just get the first job I apply for, but it will all turn out how it is supposed to.

I’ve been trying to think about what job I actually want; and I find myself in a new situation. I’ve always wanted to be in space science, ever since I was little. And now the doors have been flung open, the world is my oyster once again. What shall I do once my PhD is over?

Is science my vocation?

Its not that I dont want to stay in space science; I really really do. But try finding a job that fits all my criteria and everything else I want! And I’m applying for everything that comes up, but so far, no job. Maybe a PhD just isn’t enough?

Dad suggested I use my PhD to go and work ‘in the city’. With my maths and physics skills I guess I could earn megabucks? But I’d rather get paid less and do something ‘for the greater good’. Any suggestions?

So my current thinking is to use space, and science, as an inspiration. Something to help children. Teach the future generations. Make people realise that the world is an amazing place and it is worth living and fighting for. I’m thinking “Dead Poets Society” but with equations instead of poems.

How do I go about this? Answers on a postcard!

I’ve noticed recently that all the sitting down writing has been really hurting my back. Reckon I can sue someone? 🙂

If I take my yearning to go into space out of the equation I’m not left with much. Teaching, I guess. Children and charity work. Animals. Hmmmm.

Last shuttle launch planned for the end of this week. Gutted I never got to see one. Going to try and get to a Soyuz launch one day to make up for it.

The harder I work the more I enjoy doing the science. And the more I treat it like a ‘proper’ job the more I enjoy it too. But I am enjoying writing up more than anything else so far. I like the feeling of being an author, having writers block and waking up to scribble notes into a little notebook I have beside my bed. I’m going to start going to Starbucks for coffee and free wifi soon too.

I’m still trying to get into TV. I want to present science on TV, even on a kids show. I honestly think I’ll be ace at that. Anyone have any job openings? 🙂

Guess I should head to bed soon. The start of a very busy week ahead. Going to Boston for what could be my last science conference with my last science poster next Saturday. Happy times, happy memories.

Here’s to Happy Sheila. I hope a bit of my happiness rubs off on you all too.


Remind me what the point of it all was again?

I’m trying to be an inspiration, trying to make everyone want to be scientist, trying to rave about how amazing what we do is, how much I love it, how I’d do nothing else. And most of the time I do believe all that stuff.

This is one of those times that I don’t.

This is tough, its hard, it’s depressing. It isn’t worth my time or effort because no one values us! In fact, I’m pretty sure most people are just laughing at us behind our backs. Being a post-grad student sucks!

The REAL grad student life is here.

And a nice Simpsons montage here:

This is the situation at the moment (thanks to our government and other such influential factors like money)….based on what I know in the space sector (I can’t speak for any other areas!)….

The government (via the research councils) give us £14k a year for up to 4 years to train us and allow us to become doctors of our chosen subject. Tax free, we live here and work our arses off and then at the end of it all….


So the natural progression is to go from post-grad to post-doc and then work your  way up that ladder until you eventually get a permanent position and hopefully a professorship.

Problem is, all our rungs have been taken away. Yup, a ladder with no rungs. How am I supposed to climb the career ladder?

I have very few choices and they all frustrate me.

I could try to get a post-doc position abroad. But I am a two body problem and both of us want to stay in the UK near our family.

There are almost literally no post-doc positions out there for people like me. My research council has seen to that.

There are fellowships I can apply for but I’ll only be considered if I have 2 years post-doc experience (how do I get that?). There was one I could only apply to if I had children. I politely told them that I could have children between now and the post-doc position starting (I had over 9 months left of my PhD back then) but for some reason they declined my offer.

I can’t apply for any job adverts now because they all want someone to start straight away, which I can’t do. So I’m left waiting it out, hoping that the right thing falls into my lap.

And when it does, I can almost guarantee it will be nothing like what I’m trained to do, and often we have to start at the same level as the graduates. So I’m fighting with 22 year olds even though I’ve spent the last four years getting more experience and more life experience than you can imagine. What is the point?

To top it all off, if by some miracle I do get a post-doc position the pay won’t be great (but then we have flexi-hours and lots of conferences and we can work from home whenever we need to and we get lots of holidays) and contracts rarely last longer than five years. After which the whole process has to start again.

Wrong place, wrong time.

I can’t help but feel that if I’d done something more vocational at uni and started work straight out of uni I’d be climbing that career ladder by now, instead of a student who feels wretched and useless and isn’t taken seriously. But then someone once said to me “being a scientist is your vocation”. Which made me feel positive for about ten seconds then doomed ever since.

Having chosen to do a PhD and be a student that little bit longer I also have a few confidence and ‘personal’ issues. I feel younger than others my age and people don’t take me seriously. My friends who are my age and not in science are taking sabbaticals they have been working so long. They have houses and fiancées and are planning weddings. I can barely plan my life as far as October let alone to next summer. And try telling your bank manager that you want a mortgage when you are still a student (even though I take home more than some people I know because I don’t have to pay tax!).

Science, particularly space science, just isn’t viable in the UK. We’re underpaid til the end, there aren’t enough jobs, no one gives you merit for your achievements. Things have got to change!

Space is exciting and awe-inspiring. But it isn’t a realistic future unless you are some of the lucky few.

Maybe it is my fault though. Maybe I should be more willing to move country or something. I don’t want to though! Which leaves my only other option, change jobs!

My time is running out and my biological clock is ticking. When am I supposed to excel in my career and  have four children and be able to pay for them all? I’ll be 30 next year for goodness sake!

And I always wanted to be in a career that worked for ‘the greater good’. I really should have become a vet.

The future feels, right now, rather bleak.

If I’d left school at 16 and gone somewhere and worked my way up, or even if I’d got into work right out of uni, I’d be happier and richer by now! I might not have met my boyfriend though, so I guess there are some plus points I’ve picked up along the way! Everything happens for a reason and all that. And I DO believe in fate, so maybe the reason I’m here now will become apparent in due course, maybe I’m just panicking because of the stage of PhD I’m in right now?

I want it all. I want happiness and love and to be with those I love, and settle down and have children and live a long and blissful and simply happy life. But I want a career and to use my PhD and to be remembered when I die. Why can’t I have it all?

I sort of wish that when I was younger I had slightly lower hopes and dreams. Becoming a vet is slightly easier than becoming an astronaut, for example. If I didn’t have SPACE in my head, my life would be much simpler! I sometimes think that if I win £10m in the lottery I’ll just go up to the ISS and be there for a few days so that when I come back I can actually start living my life without this pressure hanging over me!

But then I worry that going to space would change me so profoundly that when I come home I’m never happy with life on Earth and I end up topping myself. I’m a bit of a worrier, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Maybe mum and dad could have helped by making me go into pharmacy. Then I’d be qualified by now, I could take over dad’s shop, he could retire, I’d make loads of money, for the greater good. All the boxes would be ticked!

Maybe being in science is good, but maybe we are just in the wrong science. A friend of a friend is a psychologist who got her PhD  a year ago in the epidemiology department at UCL. She still has to write loads of grant proposals and the contracts are shortish, like ours, but there seem to be more funding sources and her PhD supervisor at UCL earns in excess of £100,000. What if space is a dead-end? What if I throw my life into it and it comes to nothing? No career, no job, nothing. What then?

But I guess you could say the same about anything, right? And space is pretty cool and special!

I was think what I could do if no jobs appear when I end. I was thinking “whats the point” of being a science communicator, what is the point in doing that? But again, you could say that about a lot of jobs. And if you enthuse the next generation about STEM subjects, even if they don’t go into the space industry they are more likely to take up STEM careers, which makes up about 80% of the jobs in the UK.

I’ve been fighting the thought of becoming a teacher. Again I feel like if I wanted to do that I should have just done it post Uni instead of ‘wasting’ time with the PhD. But when the crunch comes, it is such a viable career that it would be stupid of me not to take it. If I’d left uni and become a teach I can imagine I’d be head of department, physics teacher, spanish help, hockey coach. It’d be amazing! Bugger! The grass is always greener….

I like space science because you tackle the big questions but now I’m starting to think that its better to save the lives that are living now, change the lives that are living now. But then, if people didn’t look on the bigger scale we would never have evolved into the intelligent society we are today. And in 100 years time people will remember the big stuff, not the small stuff.

But would that make me happy?

I guess for now I have to keep plodding along. I’m so close to the end of my PhD I can taste it, and that is probably why I am feel so down in the dumps about it right now! I do have a secret positive feeling that things will work out in the end. The perfect career is out there for me, I’ve just got to wait until it drops into my lap!

And until then if I feel down again all I have to do is to wow a crowd in a pub somewhere, or tell a stranger than I’m a space scientist, and see their amazed reaction. If that doesn’t make me want to stay here, nothing will!

I’m not an expert but….

So we went to see Uncaged Monkeys last Friday and I feel a bit annoyed and underwhelmed at the whole experience. I’m not sure how controversial I’m allowed to get in public so I’ll start by telling you what I did like about it all!

I like that these guys have made science popular again. The whole theatre was full to bursting, everyone there an advocate of Carl Sagan and Feynman. I think that this is fantastic. Not so long ago you wouldn’t see a theatre packed on a Friday night, in Manchester, for people waiting to see popular science. And the audience were of all ages too. Another plus point of course, always great to inspire the newbies (though I  know a lot of the audience are just there to see Coxy in the flesh!).

Another great bit was the use of Twitter for the Q&A session, really clever! (But I felt that there weren’t many questions answered and none of them were about science really. It descended into a silly slanging match between the Monkeys and then private jokes and comments about Brian’s hair.) These people want to learn, let them learn!! 🙂

These things are great and I admire the work the Monkeys have been doing over the years to get to where they have today.

OK. Here comes the but. Now honestly, who am I to criticise other people’s work? I hate people like me who are ‘nobodies’ and then tell people what to do and how to do it. Like those who can’t sing having a go at Simon Cowell for not letting them through to the next round…


I felt a bit like Uncaged Monkeys was a crapper, ‘middle aged man’ version of the simply brilliant Bright Club, run by UCL once a month in a pub in London.

We sat there at Monkeys barely moving, let alone laughing or being ‘wowed’. I’d heard the jokes before. I’d heard the science before. I’d seen the demos before. And that wasn’t just because I knew half of the acts on the stage, nor because I am a scientist myself. To top it off the tickets cost £30 a pop. The format was ok but seemed a bit unfinished, the slides were all run from different laptops and the speakers ran over time and had to race to finish. I wondered a few times whether I’d walked into an old Manchester Uni lecture course rather than something that was supposed to be energetic and inspiring.

Now, Bright Club is a thinking man’s variety night. A night of music, comedy and science. Here you will find even the scientists are funny. I’ve been to a few and been in a few and they have always delivered. They are packed out month after month and a steal at £5 entry. They are slick beyond belief and everyone has to turn up early for sound checks and presentation uploading.

I understand that science is always going to be a testosterone festival, but at least Bright Club tries to even things out a bit. All the scientists at Monkeys were men. They were all older men too. Where were the young, enthusiastic, bright-eyed young women on the stage? I got annoyed sitting there listening to the all boys club, I felt like I was back at uni with ‘those’ geeky physics boys. You know who you are.

Sorry to burst any bubbles but whilst Coxy and co. are great at what they do and I admire their work, if you scratch away at the surface they remind me of my peers from when I was at uni. Nothing wrong with that at all, just nothing ‘special’ about that either. So take off those rose-tinted glasses please!

Talking of the boys, now it is time to mention the girls…

The women who performed at UM were amazing! Helencomedienne was engaging and sweet, Helensinger was crude and sassy. They both used new material, they were witty and funny. I liked them. More please!

(I’m not a crazed feminist either, so no comments on me being biased about the fairer sex!).

Now I’ve mentioned new material I do need to chat about it. When I do sets at Bright Club I make the material up myself. This is risky as it does mean it can fall flat, but sometimes the audience appreciate the funny side of it and the house goes mental. And then I can sit back and think “I wrote that, they are laughing at something I made funny.” It feels great. And because it is new material I know that no one else would have seen it before. Much funnier than the old spherical chicken joke. Of course I had to be trained in all this (kudos to you who taught me), and I’m still learning a lot every day, I’m not saying I’m amazing at it by any means. But at least no one will have heard the jokes before (apart from my other half on whom I practise). If Bright Club expects us scientists to make up our own jokes, can’t the Monkeys do it too?

Maybe the problem for UM was the venue. Bright Club is in a little pub in London whereas UM has to tour and has to speak to the masses. Its easier when you know that your audience is over 18s, who’ve hopefully had a few beers to boot. People in pubs are generally happy and you don’t have to worry about your language upsetting anyone!

I’m not sure what the point of this little rant is, nor the take home message. I guess I just wanted to get across how great Bright Club is, and how I think UM needs updating. I hope I haven’t come across bitchy or jealous, because I’m neither of those things! I want this stuff to come across more like constructive criticism rather than a rollicking. And I know this is a slightly slanted view because I’m already a scientist and already a science communicator.

So to summarize:

1. UM was great if you have never been exposed to popular science before and if you love Coxy. But.

2. We need to make sure these things are slick, current, fresh, informative and funny.

3. And we need more women on the stage to stop it feeling like an all boys club.

Of course I’d love to be on the big stage like the Monkeys, and having seen them in the flesh I honestly feel like my time will come. I would have fit nicely up there on Friday, and I would have taught everyone something and made them laugh too!

Sigh. Post over. Gosh I’ve done a lot of work this weekend on the train to and from Preston! My fingers hurt. Better carry on with that thesis typing before said fingers fall off.

Hopefully no hard feelings between me and the Monkey boys. I’m happy to have comments on what I’ve written, constructive or not!

So I guess this is where it all begins…

I can’t promise this blog will be very sciency other than I am a scientist and I am writing it. If you have specific science questions please email or tweet me so that I can answer them. I’m not shy and am quite open, so if you want to know what its like being a PhD student, how much I get paid, or whether I love or hate my job, do get in touch.

I’m also not promising much on the grammar front. I type faster than I think and it doesn’t always end well. I like text speak even though I am too old to use it. I use LOL like a real word. But I hope you enjoy reading my musings, and through this maybe I can inspire those uninspired souls who got lost along the way (probably during a nasty encounter with a boring physics teacher back in high school).

Tomorrow I’m going to see Uncaged Monkeys, that is pretty sciency. I’ll report back on it in due course 🙂

Planetary Science Rocks!

Sorry that was a pretty bad pun.

I’m new here and just testing everything out.

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