How science communication saved my PhD

Bookmark scicomm available to purchase from my Etsy shop for £8, check here.

Yesterday I came across a funny tweet. One of my virtual friends asked whether science communication improved mental health in graduate school and if any data was available. I didn’t have any data last night and I just answered that tweet by saying “science communication saved my PhD”. At some point during my PhD, end of my first year, which I failed BTW, my mental health was extremely poor. I was crying every day, couldn’t stay still, had nightmares, strong headaches and felt unsafe to be in the lab. I was questioning my skills as a scientist every moment and thinking of quidding my PhD 5 times a day every day.

52126769_498578510671813_7407311052079104000_nIt is sad to say that my experience isn’t an isolated case, rather the norm among doctoral students. Academia might get a very exclusive and suffocating environment and it is easy to question whether you fit in or you are worth your scholarship! Plus, the lack of positive results aggravates the poor mental state of students. In fact, there is an enormous pressure from universities to get their work published as # of publications = research grants. The spiral of negative thinking become immense: “I don’t have any data”, “I am wasting public and charity money”, “I am a failure”, “suckers like me shouldn’t be doing a PhD!”.

Science communication can be a very good way to get out of this environment and the narrow-minded mentality that the small niche of your research is representative of the whole world od science. It definitely helped me to rediscover my passion for science by going back to the original purpose of science: serving society by producing new technologies and innovation. You can do it by doing cool stuff in the lab or teaching the general public how to make good use of science, which news to believe in and which one to label as fake news and a lot more. Definitely a good activity to do if you ever wonder whether your scholarship is a waste of public money!

Engagement also creates human connections, helps to connect with new people as well as gives the idea of working toward valued goals. All these aspects create satisfaction and fulfilment hence, science communication could really help in having a positive outcome on one’s wellbeing.  53819595_2303075476643776_1131525596740845568_nAccording to the Handbook of Student Engagement (1): in high school, students who engage with school activities tend to have higher emotional, academic, social and learning drives. They put forth afford, persevere, self-regulate their behaviour towards goals, challenge themselves to exceed, enjoy challenges and learning.

I totally second this. Being active in science communication definitely made me more curious about my own scientific research and different science topics. Any time I come across scientific news or I read about science, I do my own research to learn more about the topic. And I agree that it challenges you to excel and put an extra afford in your job because, one day, I would like to talk about the cool stuff I do in the lab and share my passion for catalysis with other people.

In my opinion, science communication adds enormous value to a PhD. I personally gained a countless numbers of new skills such as public speaking, science writing, social media marketing, video editing, communicating science to a non-specific audience, leadership, team-working, time-management, not to mention that science communication is becoming a source of extra cash as I started this new endeavour of communicating science through my crocheted bookmarks.

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Finally, I am an international student and I really struggle to make a network of friends in the UK. Doing science communication introduced me to new communities and environements. I met tons of people, mostly online, who became close friends and I got over this constant sense of isolation, a quite common feeling among students. If you ask me whether science communication is something to go for during your PhD, I definitely say yes. It is enjoyable, fun and a way out from certain mentalities and dynamics in academia!

(1) Sandra L. Christenson, Amy L. Reschly, Cathy Wylie, Handbook of Student Engagement, 2012, Springer Science & Business Media.