OMG, I did a Stand-Up!

Can you believe it, I did some Science Stand-Up!

Bright Club training is organised by the LIFE Science Centre and I would highly recommend it! Not only is it fun to look at science from a completely different perspective (our job is really weird and funny) but the things you learn for comedy are directly translatable to lectures and science communication. And of course, how cool is it to have performed at an actual comedy club?

Performing with Bright club was an amazing experience and I am looking forward to the next Science communication opportunity!

Solitude in Science

We see more and more articles stating that loneliness is more dangerous than smoking. Families are supposedly less strong than they used to be and we see our friends less and less. Some people blame it on social media (Ok Boomer), others on the lack of community structures like church and clubs. 

It’s been exactly a year since I moved abroad for a PostDoc position, and looking back at the last year my biggest struggle was, indeed, loneliness. Ironically: I am not alone in this. A lot of people in science have moved between countries, states or even continents – leaving behind all of the new friends and connections made and being forced to forge new ones wherever they go. It’s highly encouraged and often essential to move abroad for scientific positions, despite the high emotional investment. In fact, most funding resources for young PIs give high preference to scientists who have moved between countries and institutes – which has been detrimental for scientists who never had the opportunity to move because they did not want to inflict this on their family.

Because it is so normal in science to work in a big group of international, uprooted people, it tends to be a very friendly environment. Our biggest social network consists of other scientists – our friends from work. Which contributes to making work our entire life. I think this can partly contribute to habits of always being at the lab, simply because a lot of people feel like there’s nowhere else to go. What else will you do? Go home and wallow in loneliness? There has been a lot of discussion about ‘toxic lab culture’, where people are at the lab every day including weekends. But what if you actually have nowhere else to hang out?

The first month I lived in the United Kingdom I was struck with incredible homesickness. Up to a year, I felt lonely and homesick. This feeling struck me when I saw my friends making plans to hang out together in the shared WhatsApp-group, when I saw a completely empty diary where I used to have many social plans, when I had the sudden realisation that ‘this is my life now’ while sitting alone in my flat. Often, I have wondered if I had not made the biggest mistake of my life. Sure, I came here for an amazing job. But is the job really that amazing if the circumstances make you so sad? The most difficult part of it was that I felt that most people expected me to be happy. I had just moved to a new, cool place for my dream job. SO WHY WAS I NOT HAPPY?

Needless to say, everything turned out alright. I quickly joined a few dance groups to be both social and active, and have made amazing friends in the last year. Contrary to what I was afraid of, I did not lose touch with my friends back home. The relationships have simply changed. We now hang out a lot whenever I am in the country and rely more on WhatsApp and Facetime. Sometimes my mother Facetimes me in the weekend when I am hanging out in the lab, and we chat about things while I am doing minipreps. But don’t worry, I also spend enough time outside of the lab and am now enjoying the Northeast of England.

Science in the Summer!

In science, we often focus our attention on research. This makes sense and is completely obvious, but science involves more than pipetting and coding. In fact, most – if not all – of the communication of our work will be conveyed in writing for scientific journals. How often have we not been staring at a paper wondering what the author was actually trying to do, and why this is impactful?

This is exactly why I wanted to follow the science communication summer school.

The 5-day summer school gave us background knowledge on the history of science communication and different approaches which do (or don’t) work. We enjoyed a great set of lectures by people who communicate science in several different ways, be it citizen science, writing a book, making television shows, or working for the university as a communication officer. What does it take to write a book and what does it get you? How do you talk about science on television and which events should you definitely skip?

Summer school Science Communication, Leiden 2019

For me, the most valuable aspects of the summer school were the practical ones. We got some very solid insights on how to incorporate public engagement in grant applications, an amazing writing workshop by Lisette van Hulst ( and a hands-on presenting workshop by Julia Cramer. Writing sounds so easy, we do it all the time. Yet it was so useful to have a lecture on the proper construction of sentences and stories. Where is the verb? Last time I had a class like this was at least 15 years ago. It’s useful to revisit basic English, especially for non-native speakers. Lisette asked us to look at our own work and correct it, based on a few simple guidelines. Truly, I felt a bit embarrassed to see very typical mistakes. During the presenting workshop, Julia focused on all the things we normally don’t talk about. Most of our presenting workshops in science are about powerpoint slides and how to talk about our results and conclusions. But we rarely talk about when and where we walk during presentations, where to leave all those limbs (I never know what to do with my arms), or when to put vocal emphasis on a statement. 

These practical workshops were only the start, as Anne and Julia also asked us to spend a few hours to design a ‘product’ to communicate a specific scientific problem. Here again, we discussed issues that I had not properly considered before. Usually, when I wrote blogs, I wonder what I would like to write about. This is wrong. I should have wondered what people like to read about. For someone as highly educated as I am – I felt quite stupid.

I can only encourage scientists to follow the next science communication summer school, regardless of whether you have ambitions to spend a lot more time on science communication. It’s useful for every scientist to know how to engage an audience and to communicate our work. This is literally our job.

Thank you Anne Land and Julia Cramer for an amazing summer school!

Let’s talk about Science

I made a mistake.

This summer I am allowed to join an amazing Science Communication workshop hosted by the Leiden University and in my motivational letter, I promised that I would start to regularly blog about science if I would be selected. Whelp, now I’ve got to do this. As a warm-up, I will share a part of my motivational letter below:

Without gravity, there would be no anus. Why? Read this motivational letter to find out.

At some point, I heard about an experiment where chicken eggs were taken along on a space mission to look at the effects of space travel on embryonic development. The experiment with chicken eggs showed that chicken eggs fertilised 7 and 10 days before a space mission grew to be healthy chicks, whereas eggs fertilized on the day of the mission died. (Suda T, et al (1994) FEBS letters 340;34-38) This means that –somehow- gravity is essential for fertilization or embryonic development.

This space fact has fascinated me for years because of the implications for evolution on Earth. Everything on this planet has evolved with gravity and it’s difficult to predict which processes are dependent on it – we cannot simply switch it off and experiment with it.

This is an interesting scientific fact, but it was excellent scientific communication which allowed it to reach me. This is exactly something I want to learn, to recognise interesting and impactful science and to help it reach people.

At the moment I am working as a Postdoctoral scientist in an excellent institute, this gives me the opportunity to publish papers and consider my future scientific career. And wherever my future scientific career goes, I will need to talk about science and convince both my scientific field and laymen of the impact of my work. More important, I greatly enjoy science communication and I would like to spend more time doing this.

As a dedication to you, if you allow me to follow the summer school then I will start my blog in June.

Now why wouldn’t there be an anus without gravity? The solution to this mystery found me years later at a scientific conference. My friend at the dinner table mentioned that chicken embryos spin around in the egg, placing the yolk on one side of the blastoderm, a disc of cells. This helps to decide on the front and the back of the embryo. So without gravity there would be no anus and no healthy chicken. (Kochav S M , Eyal-Giladi H(1971)Science;171:1027–1029)