I’m very excited to have the amazing Rhys Archer on my blog this week. I find Rhys incredibly inspiring, and I closely follow her work that explores what it feels like to be a woman working in Science on her blog Women of Science (link below).
Reports show that although 47% of the UK workforce are women, only 13% employees working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are female. I hope you’ll agree with me that this imbalance isn’t right and we need to do everything we can to inspire the next generation of girls to feel able to consider a career in this field. I think Rhys’s work is so important for making science feel attainable and for helping to break down the stereotypes of females in science. During this post, Rhys talks about her passion for science and her goal of finding balance in her day to day life.
Talking positively – especially about your day to day life – is hard, isn’t it? If someone was to ask me what it was like doing my work, I guess the response would usually be pretty negative. That’s because I live it, day in day out, and get caught up in all the difficult things. I don’t take the time often enough to sit back, reflect, and appreciate the fact that this, what I do, right here, right now, is what I’ve always wanted to do. I guess this post is my chance to do just that.
For openness, I should start by saying that I exaggerated just now. I haven’t *always* wanted to be a scientist. Ask my parents, and they will tell you that I wanted to be a famous waitress who cycled around the world. Ask school friends and they will tell you that I wanted to be the next Hendrix or Page. There was also a short lived dream of being an actor, which was dashed pretty quickly. I have always been flaky and indecisive – but even long before I acknowledged it, I was becoming a scientist. I asked for those kids lab kits for Christmas, I would talk to my dad about space and the universe for hours. I was curious and would ask questions. So. Many. Questions. It was there, that passion for science, to explore and to discover, and by the time I was making university choices it had found a way to creep into nearly every part of my life.
So, fast forward 10 years and I’m now indulging that passion every day – that should be rewarding right? In some ways it is. I feel challenged every day – I could be analysing data, trying to understand hard math, in the lab preparing samples, experimenting on expensive instruments. I’ve learnt that I need to be challenged, to be pushed intellectually and to constantly learn new things – in a corny way it makes me feel alive. It’s also rewarding in the feeling of purpose it gives me. I am constantly reminded that my job is to contribute a new piece of science to the collective knowledge of human kind through research – that’s pretty cool. It feels like I am a part of something important, huge, and forever evolving. I also feel my own sense of purpose, that this is what I should be doing.
In those ways, being a scientist fulfills the needs that I need to find satisfaction in my life and work – and that’s a huge thing to say. To find a feeling of content in what you spend the majority of each week doing. It’s great – but I don’t always feel the positive impact it has. Why? Well, because being challenged every day has its drawbacks, on harder days it can make me feel stupid and underqualified, and imposter syndrome starts to set in. And having such a grand purpose? That’s a lot of pressure, and when you feel like you are failing (and I feel like I fail a lot), it feels like you’re not just failing yourself, but failing science. These feelings can be so hard to overcome and it can make life quite turbulent.
I try to cope with the roller-coaster of emotions through ownership of my work – not just my PhD work, but also through my other passions like outreach and equality projects. Helping other people, and doing it in my way not only gives me a sense of achievement but also helps remind me that I’m not the only person who is striving to make a difference, and I’m not the only person who finds it difficult. So much of the positivity that I do feel comes from talking to others about their work, their inspirations, their motivations, their victories and their losses. Sometimes, it’s easier to see how much good we do, and the positive impact of our work, through others’ eyes.
I hope one day to find more balance in what I do, to find the harder days less overwhelming and to focus more on the positive impact that my work has on my life, rather than just the negativity. Perhaps this post is the start of that.
Thank you again to Rhys for writing such an honest and thought-provoking piece! Please check out her page Women of Science to hear more about her important campaign. Are you inspired by this post? Get in touch! Comment below, or find me on Twitter here, Instagram here or Facebook here.