Beginning my journey to nowhere

I have been gifted with a rare opportunity.

The next step in my life is what I’m calling my ‘Journey to nowhere’. (#JourneyToNowhere on Twitter and Instagram)

My PhD left has me quite mentally and physically drained. I wanted to do the best damn job possible, and sadly that comes at a cost sometimes. I wouldn’t advocate making this sort of sacrifice to anyone (see my previous post about mental health and your PhD), it was a decision I made myself.

It took me about 3.5 years into my PhD to recognise that I had achieved what I wanted, and done as much as was possible with my time. I’ve got quite  a successful social media presence, have campaigned relentlessly for ‘open science’ practices, have written a dinosaur book for kids, and have 5 more which I’m consulting on now as a result. I’ve become a freelance science writer for venues like Discover Magazine, and have published 11 research papers at the end. I’ve been invited to lead numerous workshops, give talks, and attend a variety conferences around the world. I don’t know how you measure the success of a PhD, but these seem like decent indicators if anything.

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Decided to start keeping a notebook for the adventures 🙂

But at the end of it all, I have sacrificed relationships, and some times other aspects of my social life for this, so there has been a cost. And one which I don’t regret, but would not wish upon anyone, unless they thought deeply about it and recognised that this is the pathway for them. My ethos was always ‘work hard, play harder’, and the experiences of both have been unforgettable. But after several years of burning as bright as possible, I’m a bit out of fuel and need some time to recover.

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Leicester Town Hall. Doesn’t look bad, but smells a bit dodgy..

My plan is to start at home, in Leicester. From there, to London for my PhD viva (eek!), then Budapest to explore, then Utah for a conference, Brussels for a keynote talk about Open Communication, London for a panel discussion on the future of peer review, Washington DC for OpenCon, Berlin for our OpenCon Satellite event, and then December-January in Thailand. After that it’s still a bit open, but chances are I’ll explore Cambodia and Vietnam alone for a bit, depending on visa things. I will be using these experiences to grow as much as possible in a personal and professional capacity.

So with this blog, I don’t know what’s going to happen either. I don’t want it to become another wanky ‘look how awesome traveling is’ blog, but if I do have some useful realisations or learning moments, I might share them if I believe they can help others a little. I recognise that the opportunity I’ve been granted is a rare privilege too – I’ve managed to save up enough cash to travel a bit (after being utterly skint for 10 years as a student..), and am lucky enough to have a flexible job that allows this. I’ll still be working for ScienceOpen on the way and hopefully freelance science writing/consulting, so am not completely disassociating myself from that part of life (also money is good).

It’s gonna be tough and bumpy along the way. I have no expectations of what will come, who I’ll meet, or what will happen at the end. All I know is that it’s needed, a rare opportunity that I have to embrace, and whatever happens I’ll emerge stronger and ready to take on the next big phase of life! I’ll see some of you on the journey too 🙂

Note: I realise that a lot of information about the potential catalyst for this has been shared by certain parties (*epic side eye*) around on various social media platforms. All I ask is that if you have seen these posts that you reserve any possible judgements until you have spoken directly with me, and I will be more than happy to answer any questions. I’m quite loathe to share sensitive personal information in public, and would rather keep it that way.

OpenCon comes to Berlin!

A few weeks ago, OpenCon hit Brussels in a tidal wave of awesomeness, and led me to thinking about how open access and all that jazz aren’t really about just making papers openly available, but in making the statement that knowledge is something that everyone has equal rights to.

Open Science isn’t just a way of practising science by making your research outputs available; it’s a mindset, a way of thinking, a way of conducting the entire process of your research.

It also made me fully aware of the ‘open community’, and despite the fact that there’s a global network of ‘open champions’ out there, the vast majority of academics, or those involved in academia, are still very poorly informed about the importance of open research on the fundamental level of how to practice it, but also on a deeper level of the importance of it. To me, this highlights the importance of developing active networks and communities that aren’t just discussing the current issues of research and publishing, but also working to improve them.

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Beautiful view of Alexanderplatz in central Berlin for our satellite event

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Networking at academic conferences

For junior academics, networking at conferences is both a great opportunity and a terrifying prospect! They offer unparalleled chances to enhance and develop your career, but one false move and you could be doomed for all eternity! Well, not quite, but there are still certain unwritten rules that might help you out a little bit.

Nature recently featured an article documenting the experiences of several social media savvy researchers at conferences, including David Shiffman, Jacquleyn Gill, and for some bizarre reason, little me. It’s a really great piece worth reading, documenting tails of epic karaoke quests, to the overwhelming benefits of using social media at conferences. For my part, I talk about the social advantages of conferences, in that they can help you develop a global network of colleagues and friends, something which has helped me get through this *expletive deleted* PhD without a doubt.

I can’t remember what else we talked about during the interview exactly, but do remember my one key bit of advice is to treat social media-oriented networking like real life conversations (i.e., “don’t be a dick”). Don’t think the internet provides you with any sort of protection, just because someone you’re talking about isn’t there in the room next to you. Courtesy trumps everything. Those who know me personally will appreciate the irony in this statement, as I have messed up a couple of times (big time..) at conferences earlier on in my career, but I guess the important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Thankfully, articles such as the Nature one are there to help make sure you don’t make those mistakes in the first place!

Are there issues when industry and academia team up for research?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1215

As an academic palaeontologist within a university, I have almost no industry links or prospects in my present or future. However, Dr. Alice Bell, science-policy aficionado, has invited me to join several distinguished guests in sparking a discussion about the links between industry and academia. This was following a twitter discussion (a twebate?) we both had following her post on the genesis of a partnership of sorts between one of the government-funded Research Councils, NERC, and fossil fuel giant Shell. It’s on May 20th at 7pm, the Fairly Square in London, and it would be great to see some of y’all there. I have a request beforehand though, for you to share your personal experiences or any thoughts and comments with the blog about links between industry and academia. Alice has set a number of target questions on her site.

The questions which I hope to address in my few minutes are:

  • Does increasing industry involvement alleviate the responsibility of the government to fund research?
  • What the implications of ‘strategy alignment’ between Research Councils and industry mean for research
  • The types of research that industry (Shell, maybe others) actually fund
  • The lack of obligation for industry to be open/transparent about the outputs of research (e.g., no OA obligation)
  • Overall implications for the impartiality/independence of research
If anyone has thoughts on these points, or those Alice has asked on her page, please do share them here. It would be useful to gather as broad experience as possible before delving into something that, admittedly, I am only familiar with on a general level and within my own department at university.

My year in 2013

Inspired by Martin Eve, I decided to make a documentation of academic-related stuff I’ve achieved in 2013. The last year was mostly occupado by the first year of my PhD, but other academic-ish stuff too as complimentary activities to research. This is kinda like a personal diary of ‘achievements’, as well as a documentation of the extent of work-procrastination. As such, please feel free not to share this with my supervisor 😉

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