This week, I was invited to speak at a science careers event at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. It was quite the honour to be asked to speak to students about my career, particularly as I've never really believed I have a career in the traditional sense of the word.
I always struggled to find my place in the world of science and technology - and the haphazard nature of my CV reflects that. I've worked as a software developer, tech journalist, marketing assistant, web editor, BBC runner and research scientist. That's quite a mix of jobs.
Now, as "the freelance writer who gets tech" all these different roles have pulled together to give me my USP - I've worked in the science and technology fields I write about, so I have a unique level of insight and experience that not many other writers cannot offer.
The variation seen on my CV is not a disadvantage - it's actually my greatest advantage.
And, when I rocked up to the careers event, I thought I was going to bring a unique perspective on my career in science. On my haphazard path to freelance science writing.
How wrong I was.
The event featured talks from academics and those working in industry. What really struck me is that each and every one of us - no matter how different our career path in science seems to be - gave the same messages to the audience.
It turns out I'm not as unique as I thought. My messages to the audience were echoed by the other speakers. Whether you're interested in industry or academia, here are six core elements every scientist needs to build a successful career:
1. "Work with those you love, not those that will boost your career"
Candidates can be drawn to work with the rock stars of the science and tech scene. Whether you want to work with Google or Stephen Hawking - big names build reputations, right?
Yes. But you need to focus on the people you will work with. Sometimes, it is better to choose a role based on the team and your fit with that team, rather than be blinded by working under a big name and, most likely, a big ego.
2. "Collaborate, don't compete"
Competition in any industry is high, but in academia (for example) the race to publish a paper can be overwhelming.
But this competition is not important in the grand scheme of things. More important is your ability to collaborate and network. You need to throw your net as wide as possible to make connections with your fellow scientists and technologists, you never know where an opportunity will come from.
One speaker got her job through a connection at a careers event and a LinkedIn message. I got my "big break" into writing from an old employer who heard I had turned to freelancing.
The importance of mentorship was also discussed from both the mentor and mentee perspective.
Simply put, you never know where your next opportunity will arise.
3. "Accept rejection"
If you work in academia, you will have to apply for multiple fellowships and funding grants. Sometimes, a rejection can be difficult to accept - but boards can base their decisions on weird and wonderful criteria. Don't take it personally.
This is also true within industry. I pitch to publications regularly. Sometimes, the most beautifully worded pitch is rejected or, worse still, ignored. Sometimes, a two-line email with a sketchy idea is accepted instantly.
You never know what people are looking for. So, make sure you have a thick skin and, no matter what you're doing, keep on pitching.
4. "Deadlines can force your hand"
As a freelance writer, this is a message I can definitely sympathise with. I'm faced with regular and, sometimes, crazy deadlines that force me to write quickly and trade off on the quality prose that I would ideally produce.
This is true across academia and industry. As one speaker said: "Deadlines mean you cannot be as accurate or as rigorous as you might like to be."
5. "Transferable skills are everywhere"
The skills you will build in a career in science and technology are highly transferable - and in great demand.
Coding is a great example here. It's filtering down to help teams across the board and is a highly desired skill, as one speaker said: "If you are doing something time and time again, a chunk of code could solve that issue and eliminate that repetition. Everyone's work could benefit from learning to code."
6. "There are gems out there"
Or, as another speaker said: "Don't listen to what others tell you. Look at what they do. Not everyone does it the way you're supposed to."
This is great advice for anyone looking for a career in science. Internships and work experience, for example, were highlighted by the speakers. You have to be adaptable. You have to find your own way.
You may have to try a host of different jobs, as I did, until you find one that fits. Or, you may have to be adaptable under one career path.
To paraphrase another nugget of advice from the event: "Your scientific career is not longer based on a ladder. It's a rock face. You may scale it horizontally, vertically or even have to backtrack - but it's a more interesting climb in the long run."
It's the world's most famous equation. It's E = mc2.
But what does this mean?
It means that energy (E) is equal to mass (m) multiplied by the speed of light (c), squared.
What does it really mean?
It means that energy and mass (or matter) are interchangeable. Energy and matter are just different forms of the same thing. And, under the right conditions, energy can become matter and matter can become energy.
Under the right conditions, the energy Flash uses to run to Batman's pool party could turn into a chunk of matter - like a rubber ring.
We don't see them that way. Flash's energy and the rubber ring are completely different to us.
But we're wrong - energy and matter are two forms of the same thing.
The little c
So, where does the speed of light or "c" some in?
Remember when I said that energy can become matter and vice versa under certain conditions? One of those conditions is that when you convert a rubber ring or any other piece of matter to pure energy, this energy is moving at the speed of light.
This is because energy in its purest form is electromagnetic radiation (for example, the UV light filling your room) and electromagnetic radiation travels at the speed of light.
Why is the speed of light squared?
The speed of light is squared (multiplied by itself - so c x c) because of the nature of energy.
When the Flash is moving at two times the speed of Batman, Flash doesn't have two times the energy of Batman. He has four times the energy of Batman (2 x 2 =4).
Or, if the Flash is moving at four times the speed of Ironman, Flash doesn't have four times the energy of Ironman. He has 16 times the energy of Ironman (4 x 4 =16).
In other words, that figure is squared.
It's worth bearing in mind that the speed of light squared is a huge number. It's 90,000,000,000,000,000.
Lego Flash only weighs 4g. But if you could turn every atom in Flash into pure energy, that would equal 360,000,000,000,000J (where J is a unit of energy called Joules).
As a frame of reference, the Hiroshima bomb exploded with an energy of about 63,000,000,000,000J.
In other words, Lego Flash has more energy than five Hiroshima atomic bombs.
No wonder he moves so quick.
Extra reading and watching
If you want to find out more about turning matter into energy and vice versa, this article from Forbes covers the basics.
Here's an excellent video from Epic Science covering that famous equation (and a great example involving Dr. Seuss)
What is Sunday Science?
Hello. I’m the freelance writer who gets tech. I have two degrees in Physics and, during my studies, I became increasingly frustrated with the complicated language used to describe some outstanding scientific principles. Language should aid our understanding — in science, it often feels like a barrier.
So, I want to simplify these science sayings and this blog series “Sunday Science” gives a quick, no-nonsense definition of the complex-sounding scientific terms you often hear, but may not completely understand.
If there’s a scientific term or topic you’d like me to tackle in my next post, fire an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. If you want to sign up to our weekly newsletter, click here.
So, how confident are you that the universe we live in is made up of teeny, tiny particles?
Sorry, you’re wrong. Under String Theory, the fundamental constituents of our universe are not particles — they’re strings.
The particles we perceive are actually vibrations in the loops of a string. These strings could be a closed loop or an open loop, like a skipping rope. Each particle has its own shape and frequency.
One of my favourite descriptions of String Theory says: “the different elementary particles we see — the electron, the photon, the quarks, and so on — may all be the same entity: an elementary string, just singing different notes.”
But these strings are so small that our best instruments cannot tell that they aren’t point-like particles.
If you only read one thing by Caitlin Moran, it has to be this article: "12 Things About Being a Woman That Women Won't Tell You". It'll tell you much more about her than I ever could.
If you read this article and then don't instantly start trawling the internet to read her other brilliant work then I don't think we can be friends. Sorry.
Dr. Sue Black is a technology evangelist who penned a wonderful book "Saving Bletchley Park" about saving the code-breaking nerve centre of WWII. It's a beautifully written story where social media, for once, is the good guy.
Her #techmums initiative is also grabbing the shortage of women in tech by the horns. A true science communicator and inspirational lady.
I follow Constance on Facebook. You need to follow Constance on Facebook. Each post makes me respect this woman a little bit more.
Her tales of the people she meets, the fellow queens (and kings) she believes deserve a little recognition, or the experiences she shares as a parent are always honest and effortlessly worded. Sometimes they make me laugh, sometimes they make me cry - and usually they do both.
4. Susanna Clarke
A friend of mine lent me Susanna Clarke's huuuuge novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell when I was a 20-something in London. I never thought I'd read it. It was too big to hold on the Tube for starters. And I have the attention span of a 2-year-old high on chocolate buttons.
Oh, how wrong I was. From the first passage about the statues in York Minster coming alive - I was transfixed. It's been the same ever since. Pleeeeease write some more books Susanna. It's been 10 years since The Ladies of Grace Adieu. And you're brilliant.
But why do we need to accelerate particles at all?
Well, we need to accelerate particles to incredibly high speeds to smash them together and see what's inside and what happens.
It lets us answer some of science's most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of all the matter in the universe.
Let's imagine Lego Ironman and Batman collide at a catastrophically high speed (as seen above). BOOM! The pieces of Lego are blown apart by the impact. But, as detailed by the orange shards of Lego in picture three, you may also see some other particles that flicker into existence for a few moments, before disappearing again.
Those short-lived particles have never been observed before. Proving the existence of such particles (like the Higgs boson) helps physicists build theories to explain how our universe is put together.
In the real world, you can do this one of two ways: you could use a linear accelerator (which propels particles along a linear, or straight, beam line) or a circular accelerator (which propels particles around a circular track).
Where does the Large Hadron Collider fit in?
The particles it accelerates are a class known as hadrons. These hadrons (usually protons or iron ions) travel very close to the speed of light as they travel around the LHC, before they collide.
Because the LHC is so very big, it means we can accelerate these particles to speeds never seen before on Earth creating incredibly high-energy collisions. The higher the energy the more chance we have of seeing some pretty amazing science.
For example, the LHC is also tasked with solving several other scientific mysteries, including the existence of dark matter and dark energy, the reason why the universe is made up of matter (and not antimatter) and string theory.
If you want to find out more about the LHC and particle accelerators - check out the CERN research centre's site here.
And here's a pretty cool video explained the science behind the LHC from DNews:
What is Sunday Science?
So, I want to simplify these science sayings and this blog series "Sunday Science" gives a quick, no-nonsense definition of the complex-sounding scientific terms you often hear, but may not completely understand.
If there's a scientific term or topic you'd like me to tackle in my next post, fire an email to email@example.com or leave a comment below. If you want to sign up to our weekly newsletter, pop your email in the form below - thanks!
It's not just a waste of your time and effort, high bounce rates are a big no-no for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). In other words, you could be adversely affecting your website's chance of being discovered on the world's search engines.
So, here are the most common blogging mistakes - and how to avoid them.
1: Using long and complicated language
The Hemingway App is a good tool to access the readability of your work. It highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors.
2. You're grammar sucks
As an editor, grammatical errors like this really wind me up. They're sloppy and give your readers the impression you're sloppy too.
Another great tool here is Grammarly. It'll automatically highlight your mistakes any time you write online. Or, if you don't want to download another app, this is a great infographic to improve your grammar.
3. You forget the flow
It's important to structure your post so it flows for your readers. You must make sure you guide them through your post. Here's how:
- Remove any paragraphs that don't impact on your story or argument.
- Make sure every paragraph naturally follows the paragraph before it.
- Take out the funny anecdotes that aren’t relevant - or (just, maybe) aren't that funny.
What writing mistakes really wind you up when you're reading a blog post? Please share in the comments below!
Science and Technology
And I explain science with Lego in Sunday Science.
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