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So this is a new topic for this blog, as I am usually writing more about biology, post-university options and things that interest me generally (books, current affairs blah).

But I have been pretty busy with a different type of writing for the last 7 months now. And that is my current job: Technical Author (well…Graduate Technical Author)freedom

SO. MANY. CHOICES (courtesy of xkcd.com/freedom)

Those of you who know me personally know who I work for but just I figure I should keep it to myself on here. Just in case. The big change for me is that it is within the Engineering Sector (I haven’t left STEM! Just changed letters).

Now, this has come with some brilliant advantages and exciting prospects but with change obviously comes challenges.

I am not an engineer. I am not a computer scientist. Before starting to work here, I could not code (I’m at a basic level of learning Python as part of my personal development, although I don’t need that type of knowledge for my role, it makes me feel more at home with my colleagues).

I have had a lot of people ask *WHY* if I’m a biologist (which I am and always will be, at heart) am I working where I am. I suppose there are three answers really:

  • Between working as a Publishing Editor and a tech author, I was working about 30 hours a week at a popular supermarket chain. It was awful, soul destroying, painful (due to the illnesses I have) and paid ~£6.83/hour. Believe me when I say, I was applying for everything out there.
  • I love learning. My old job was at a chemistry company and though that is considerably more relatable for a biologist (especially with a lot of biochem in my degree), it was still a change of discipline. And one that I dealt with well and thoroughly enjoyed (despite how it ended). So I didn’t see why the same wouldn’t be true here.

Now onto the main reason…

  • I got an interview and the job. Now this seems like I’m not really answering the question but stick with me. I saw who the job was for and wasn’t going to apply. But I looked into it as a job role and thought it sounded like something interesting that would lead me to good places in the future (and also thought, hey, if nothing else, it’s application practice). And then I got the interview. Well, three of them. A writing test to do at home, then a phone interview, then a face-to-face interview with a formal writing test and then an HR interview over the phone. And I got the job. So as nerve-wracking as it was (and occasionally still is) to work somewhere like this, *they* think I can do it. There are people in my department that come from other strange backgrounds for this company (English Lit, Linguistics and Translation, another biologist) and people who are closer to the sector but still, not engineering (couple of physicists). Basically what I’m saying is, not everyone in my department is an engineer. So why wouldn’t I be able to do it? As long as I put in the time and effort, inside work and out, I will pick up the necessary skills and knowledge. Which means I get to do a lot of reading (and coding is fun!)

So this post is about the WHY I am here. But when I tell a lot of people my job title, I get a lot of confused looks and mumbles of “Oh…um…what’s that?”

Which brings me nicely to the end of this post and onto the next:

Technically Speaking – What is Technical Communication?

Hope someone out there cares enough to read these, I am enjoying writing again and am hoping to make this more regular (I’ve set writing reminders now and everything).

Has anyone else had a big change of career, or subject base? I’d love to hear from you and why you did the change too.

I received my degree last year. It was not what I hoped I would get but I will leave it at that.

I did, however begin my job at a large science journal publishers, which was brilliant. I moved to Cambridge, which I loved, I started the training which I loved, made friends at the company and genuinely enjoyed going to work. 

Seven or so months in and they decided not to renew my contract to a permanent one and said I should maybe reconsider my career pathway. While I respect their right and decision on my contract with them, I disagree wholeheartedly with the latter sentiment. I even said so at the time. 

I loved my job. And despite what they said and what it all implies, I was *good* at my job. I needed some adjustment time, I admit that and it was longer than most (not all, I point out). However, they knew that when they hired me. I have some medical concerns that mean I sometimes will need extra time.

Anyway. This post isn’t about bitterness. It’s about what it did for me. It did give me 8 month intensive experiece or proofing, editing, peer review, team work, targets, multi-tasking, dealing with high stress customers, solving problems with said clients when there were language barriers etc etc. I came out of this with a whole lot more than I went in. 

And not just that. Most importantly, they gave me the grit and determination to know that working in STM/academic/research publishing is what I want. It is my end goal and that is good as it gives m something to aim for. Maybe it’ll take me a little while to get my foot through another company door but I know that is what I want. I will keep finding opportunities to increase my skill set. So although it was not the ideal situation, I am trying to remain positive.

I a obviously working in the meantime and have stayed in my new city as I have friends here and I settled in really well.

I think this is something very important for every young person in their early career (or career hunting). Deciding what you are aiming for, what you want, gives you the will and direction to look for the right experiences to enhance yourself (and your CV)

One final note: I have even signed up with a recruitment company that works specifically in finding their candidates work within publishing; you can even specify the types of publishing, locations etc. My contact there has given me other places to look for help and advice on graduates getting into publishing. Basically then, I think sometimes you need to not only be always looking for your passion but looking for places other than just the average job sites. To get where you want to in life, all help is good help!

RESULTS DAY

EEK.

I’m so scared. Four years, a chronic illness and mental ill health and I’ll find out if it was all worth it tomorrow.

I keep being told to calm down because I already have a job lined up but:
1) these people CLEARLY don’t know me :chronic worrier:

2) what if the job is taken away? Granted, there was no clause in the contract about needing to achieve a specific grade but to apply you had to have or be expected to achieve a 2:1 or above and to bring your certificate on your start day.

I’ve worked so so hard for this. I just hope it showed and has paid off.

I feel sick to my stomach…though that could be because of all the ice cream.

Better post soon, when things are somewhat calmer!

So I promised to do a popular science book review and it’s been in the pipeline for long enough have also started working on my next post, which requires a lot more research but I’m hoping to have it up by the weekend. It is something that is close to my heart so I want to do it to the best of my ability.

Also, as it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I’d just like to point out Time to Change, a UK charity that is aiming to end the stigma surrounding mental health and make the services easier to understand and access. This is especially important as the rates of suicide have been rising year on year, dramatically so in men. So any male readers, please know you aren’t alone and that it doesn’t make you any ‘less of a man’ to have this illness. Just get help if you need it, please.

Back to the topic at hand!

The book I’ve reviewed, Molecules at an Exhibition, first came to my attention almost 4 years ago now. A group of friends and I went on holiday and of course we never bring enough books so we got around to swapping. It is only a small book, at 240 pages and it is split into 8 ‘Galleries’, where the author has grouped certain molecules together depending on their actions and descriptions.

The book begins with a light introduction outlining the why’s of the book (he is particularly interested in these molecules) and a quick guide to some chemical terms and measurements so all readers are at a level pegging.

The galleries are:

  •  Nearly as Nature Intended: food and drink
  • Testing Your Metal: essential metals for the body
  • Starting Lives, Saving Lives, Screwing Up Lives: helping and harming the young
  • Home Sweet Home: detergents, dangers, delights and delusions
  • Material Progress and Immaterial Observations: molecules that make life a little easier
  • Environmental Cons, Concerns and Comments: molecules that stalk the world
  • We’re on the Road to Nowhere: molecules that transport us
  • Elements From Hell: mainly malevolent molecules

The food and drink section was probably my favourite purely because of the two sections on garlic and caffeine, which I think was a brilliant start to the book as it sets the tone of the book and eases the reader in easily. It is not a serious, sluggish read, the author writes with an irreverent tone throughout. For example, when talking about garlic:

“Uncooked garlic in salads can be enjoyable to the eater but not to those they come into contact with afterwards”
“Some people [who] eat it regularly…protects them against illness because it keeps others at a distance”

There is a hint of Ben Goldacre about his style although a lot more subdued in how he disagrees with certain lifestyle choices and supplements; he holds something back but makes it very clear what he thinks on the matters.

As well as being an informal guide through some common molecules, it is also full of factual gobbets you can casually throw into conversation (eg. Smoking cigarettes reduces the time that caffeine has a stimulatory effect by two hours! And we need 14 different metal elements to function properly).

Add to this, the historical and cultural context of the discoveries of the molecules themselves and it makes for an absorbing read. Due to the fact that it is split up into Galleries means that the book is great as a pick up and go read, say on the commute to work or train to town.

However, nothing is ever perfect is it? Despite this book calling itself an exhibition, I feel that it would have benefitted from some pictures, even some diagrams throughout the book. I think it would be a nice start to the chapter and an interesting way to split up the text. This may sound a little childish but I think if you’re going to call it an exhibition of molecules, he may as well have gone the whole way!

Despite this, I think this is a good quality book, for readers wanting to get back into science, for students…for anyone really, who has an interest in the unseen world around them.

News and the Future!

So, my exams are finally over, and as if that wasn’t good enough news, the day after my final exam I got a call offering me my dream job!

As you may have gathered, my two big interests are reading, science and reviewing and my job is a publishing editor for the royal society of chemistry. I elk get to read the latest of research coming through, organise peer reviews and proof read/edit it…I can’t believe it.

Now, my start date isn’t for a while as I need to actually graduate, relocate, get a car etc. Which means I will finally be able to finish off and write some more blog posts, cause I’ve had so many topics and books to write about but obviously revision and exams had to come first.

I’m considering reviewing some topics I’ve seen in the recent science literature too, so watch this space! Especially medical news stuff, me and my friends all seem to have such interesting illnesses.

You should see the pile of books that now await my eager eyes! I’ve been getting them all to treat myself with after exams and now it’s here =)

Are you any of you coming to the end of exams at the moment? Got things lined up for after uni?
Or want to tell me what books are on your reading to-do lists? Please do comment below.

Looking forward to writing for this blog more, hope you are up for reading it!

Sorry!

It’s been some time since my last post, is a busy, scary time right now!
Finals start on 30th, and God the modules are bigger in you’re final year!

It’s made it very clear where my interests lie, although my thoughts on my future career remain very much up in the air right now, but will maybe use another post to talk about that…

My modules this year have been Mechanisms of Toxicity & Disease, cellular Neurobiology, Human Reproduction & Development and Cellular & molecular Immunobiology.

Bizarrely, my two favourite modules ended up being mechanisms and human reproduction- this bring odd as they were the ones I was umming and ahh-ing about whether to choose or not.
Suffice it to say I’m glad I did, as I have not enjoyed the other two as much add us expected.

Guess it’s something to bear in mind, your interests develop and change as you learn more and you try more areas of biology. I’ve enjoyed the debated that have been sparked from doing reproduction as obviously we learnt about IVF and assistive conception techniques. I think I thought I knew where I stood but again, there are rarely any simple answers, it’s hard to choose what’s ‘right’…I do not envy the HEFA at all!

Anyway, this is really all I’ve got time for- would like to start discussions here so will give it a go: what have been your favourite modules at uni and why? 

Science and Creativity

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I have never really understood the idea that people are either creative or logical, artsy or sciencey.
I remember being told this and of course, yes, some people do follow this trend. However, during my time at university I have discovered that I am not alone in enjoying and taking part in both.
Take my a levels- I did biology chemistry maths and classical civilisations. It was a struggle having it at that as at school drama and music had been huge parts of my life and I have always loved the reading and writing of fiction (though I sadly do little of the latter anymore, can never seem to start them or get my ideas going).

I then watched a documentary yesterday from BBC, unsurprisingly from the Horizon team looking at the creativity mind or the neuroscience of insight. This is what inspired this post really, it was fascinating stuff but it did also fall into looking at the differences and not the similarities.

If you think about it, all scientists have to have that creative spark inside of them to think of the experiments and hypotheses that have led us to where we are now. And it’s beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong, human biology has its share of ick factors and there’s some pretty grim stuff I get to learn about. But if you really think about it, the way the ideas flow into each other, the processes of the body (and yes even plants) is pretty astounding.
And it takes an incredibly creative mind to look at life and think…there’s more to this. And you know, then there’s the people that looked at fish and thought, you know what they need?
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TO GLOW!

Before this becomes a ramble about the beauty of life, there’s also the fact that biology and science in general can lead to some pretty creative outlets. There’s science journalism, science photography, colour manipulation of scanning electron microscopy (SEM)…in fact I’m just going to show you some incredible examples of these SEM images. You’d be amazed at how pretty the common cold can look…

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Look at how cool the common cold is! Then the other pic is pretty-in-purple chromosome.

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And finally, who knew a tangled hair could look this pretty?!

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