We Are Not Impostors

Returning to a popular (and important!) theme I wanted to share this article by Stephen J. Aguilar (doctoral candidate in education and psychology at the University of Michigan) on the Imposter Syndrome.  Stephen highlights that:

  • It’s O.K. to be slow and clumsy at first
  • Anxiety comes with the territory
  • We are Novice Experts

Some tips to avoid feeling like an imposter include:

  • Build multiple relationships within your community
  • Avoid idolizing your mentors and advisers
  • Go to conferences — both your field’s flagship conference and a few niche ones
  • Celebrate your accomplishments, but avoid the dreaded humble brag
  • Don’t fear peer review — embrace it

Read the full article to find out more…..


Why Such Tepid Government Aspirations?

On 16th July Athene Donald published a blog post about the gender pay gap, and how equality needs to be on everyone’s agenda.

‘………. changing a workplace culture doesn’t happen overnight. It is hard and many women will still suffer setbacks and possibly victimisation for speaking out. Everyone has to play their part and, unfortunately, not everyone wants to. People have axes to grind, egos to fuel or just intrinsic blindness to the lack of equality surrounding them. Management has to take a clear lead so that they are responsive to the issues every time they are raised.’

gender pay









What needs to be done at the University of Reading?  What more can we as individuals do?

Challenge for the summer

Kate Turner is currently working with Marc and a number of technicians to record and label all of the chemical waste across the School so it can be sent for disposal.  This is a huge task!  As you can imagine there are some ‘veteran’ chemicals on the shelves, including this tin of Activated Carbon which Kate found from 1967!


Activated Charcoal from 1967

















Challenge for the summerhave you come across any old chemicals/samples/files etc in your office or lab?  Is there anything dated pre-1967?  Send in photographs and we will update the blog.  There is no prize but you may set the record!

Lisa Jardine – Desert Island Discs

Hilary Geoghegan highlighted a recent edition of Desert Island discs with Professor Lisa Jardine (Professor of Renaissance Studies, University College London). Lisa was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society on the 10th July 2015.

Historian, biographer, public thinker, mathematician – her proclivities are wide ranging and well regarded with prize winning books on subjects as diverse as Sir Christopher Wren, Seventeenth century Holland, Erasmus and women in the time of Shakespeare. Her current day job is leading the Department of Renaissance Studies at University College London, she’s also a prolific writer and broadcaster. If that all seems a little ivory tower for your tastes think again; as Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for many years she was at the sharp end of the complex conundrums and high emotion that surround the artificial creation of life, leading the world in developing the legal framework that governs IVF treatment.’

In this episode Lisa discusses how she is a very emotional person but how ‘women have to come across as cerebral if they are to be taken seriously.  It is shocking but they do.’  Do you agree?

Lisa also highlights that ‘I only do things I love, and I love everything I do…….’  Is this true for you?  Is this possible?

You can listen to the full episode here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05xcsms


Plans to tackle gender pay gap

One of the main stories on the BBC News website today is about plans to tackle the gender pay gap.

‘The government is to press ahead with plans to force large firms to disclose data on the gender pay gap among staff.  A consultation on the measure – introduced in the final months of the coalition – is to begin on Tuesday.  David Cameron will say the move will “pressure” firms into boosting women’s wages, as he vows to eliminate the gender pay gap “within a generation”.

gender pay gap








Although not covered by this initiative, at the University of Reading there is a 25% pay gap between genders at Grades 9 and above.  This was highlighted at a recent ‘Ask the Board’ event as an issue which needs to be tackled.  How can this be changed?  In the long-term how can this be prevented from happening again?

Public Speaking Challenges

You may have experienced or witnessed a presentation beset with technical difficulties (I did a couple of weeks ago).  It is a horrible experience to be on the stage when this happens, but it is always good to know that you are not alone.  It happens to everyone!  In her latest blog post Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge) discusses her latest experience –

‘Technical glitches during talks are all too common, but never easy to cope with. Recently I had a simple talk to give, one which could safely be brought along on a memory stick to the event: I was giving a brief talk to a CUSPE meeting on ‘Effective Policy to Bridge the STEM Skills Gap’ in which I had only a handful of slides with some relevant data on, plus a few striking images of the sorts of things that deter girls from sticking with subjects like physics at schools. I couldn’t imagine a problem.  How wrong can one be? I have never seen a computer manage to mangle ten simple Powerpoint slides so comprehensively! Even had I checked beforehand I’m not sure what could have been done. It began with……………..’


Five cities, seven years: my life post-PhD

Posted on the 30th June, Catherine Fletcher (Historian, Author, AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker 2015) discusses how being an early career researcher is challenging.  In the seven years since she graduated with her PhD Catherine has had seven jobs.

‘In the conventional terms of academic “successes” (problematic though those are) I’ve done pretty well. The point is that this career track would have been close to impossible for anyone with caring responsibilities, or whose well-being relied on stability and routine. Five cities in seven years? This is not a good way to run things. But you know that. The first years of academic life are more than ever characterised by insecurity.’

You can read more on Catherine’s blog










What advice would you offer someone considering a post doc?  Is it possible to get security and stability while also doing a post doc?

Can you prescribe nature?

Featured today on the BBC news website, Helen Briggs discusses the benefits of taking a walk through a green-space (as opposed to an urban environment). ‘After decades of research, the scientific world is moving closer to pinpointing how exposure to nature seems to promote well-being.  A recent US study found that being close to nature might soothe the mind by reducing rumination – when negative thoughts get stuck on repeat, playing over and over in the mind.’

Can you prescribe nature?

You can read the full study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)









We have the Harris Gardens on campus.  This is a great place to walk and escape from the pressures of work.  Keep a look out for me there!

To find out more visit the Friends of Harris Gardens website – http://www.friendsoftheharrisgarden.org.uk/

Garden highlights include:

•The garden is set in an area which contains many rare and unusual trees and shrubs from around the  world, some dating from the original 18th and 19th century gardens. These include the veteran Turkey Oaks of which only five now remain.
•Under the Turkey Oaks you will find the stream flowing through small pools into the pond. It has spring and summer planting on its banks.
•Beyond the stream is the Flower Meadow featuring mainly native wild flowers which provide a magnificent sight that is enhanced by the addition of bulbous plants such as narcissi, camassias and alliums when they are in bloom.
•The Crab Apple Orchard and the Cherry Bowl provide a wonderful sight in the spring. Most of the ornamental apples have colourful autumn foliage and decorative fruit which provide a feast for birds and squirrels.
•Several large herbaceous borders in the Formal Garden and elsewhere provide colour from spring to autumn and contain a wide range of plants. The Conifer Circle provides a wonderful backdrop.
•The gravel garden is a recent addition and was created around two large eucalyptus trees. It contains many drought tolerant plants which give texture and structure and are attractive to bees and butterflies.

Female scientists put in the picture

Athene Donald (Professor of Physics at Cambridge University) is championing a plan to introduce more portraits and busts of female scientists at the London headquarters of the Royal Society.  This is in an attempt to reverse its male dominated image. The Royal Society is planning to install busts of Mary Somerville (a 19th century astronomer, and first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society), and Lucie Green (television astronomer), as well as a portrait of Dorothy Hodgkin (received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964).

This story was covered in the Sunday Times (the full article is only accessible if you are registered with the Times), and The Herald.

What do you think?

Athene Donald (Physics Professor Cambridge University)

Athene Donald (Physics Professor Cambridge University)

The postdoc experience: hopes and fears

What is it actually like to be a postdoc? Do the pressures to publish, secure funding and network keep you awake at night?  Or do you relish the challenge?

Holly Else from ‘Times Higher Education spoke to six postdocs who work in a range of disciplines at UK universities about their hopes and fears, and the reality of life in the choppy waters of the academy immediately after completing a PhD.’


Filippo Contesi – ‘Some people have a plan B. I don’t. I am not going to make a plan B until I feel myself not getting what I want’

Elena Riva – ‘The baby changed my life quite a lot…I loved research but when you find something that makes you happy, you follow it’

Ozlem Edizel – ‘Sometimes all the deadlines from both universities come at the same time’

Bert van Landeghem – ‘I have moved around a lot already. It is nice to move around but you cannot keep on doing it for ever’

David Loudon – ‘You can’t keep carrying on being a postdoc without trying to progress in some way’

Adina Feldman – ‘I know that there are problems with academia but there are also good things. I like the flexible work environment’


You can read the full interviews here – https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/the-postdoc-experience-hopes-and-fears?nopaging=1

What are your experiences? What advice would you offer someone completing their PhD and considering a postdoc?