Why do I want to give up my blog?

[Disclaimer:  there are so many amazing people in science who have been fantastic, but sadly its often the negative comments that affect you most]

For a while I have been struggling with feelings of wanting to delete everything, remove my blog, take down my YouTube channel, and resign myself to a non-sciencey job that I am not passionate about. Now this isn’t some huge existential crisis, where I am crumpling under the pressures of wanting to achieve, but the reason I feel like throwing in the towel on science communication and equality in STEM is honestly due to science itself. I feel exhausted by elitist attitudes.

This may be breaking news to you, but I don’t have a PhD and I don’t have a Masters in science. I did an undergraduate degree in neuroscience and loved it, and when I graduated I was walking into a competitive world where if I wanted to do a PhD, I would probably need a Masters degree. And a Masters costs £9,000. For some people, £9,000 is nothing, and they could find that in their back pocket. For me, someone from a working-class background, that is a lot of money, and therefore postgraduate education seemed inaccessible to me, and despite my passion for science I decided that academia would not be achievable. So, I now work in writing, PR and communications – some in science and some outside of science (because I need to pay my bills).

Because the letters after my name stop at BSc, I find (or at least I feel) that other people look down on me or judge me. I feel pressure to say, ‘my background used to be in neuroscience’, because despite adoring this area of research and writing about it, I feel like by not working in research that I am not entitled to say that my area of science is neuroscience.

A stand-out moment for me that summarises all of these feelings, was after a talk I did at a university about how we can help encourage young girls into science and keep women in STEM. At the end, students and staff from the university came up to me to discuss the lecture and ask me questions. One of the university staff asked me what area of science I worked in, and I responded with my typical ‘my background used to be in neuroscience’ response, feeling compromised and embarrassed about my lack of doctorate. And she responded with ‘used to be?!’ and a facial expression that was a potent cocktail of quizzical and disgust.

This interaction has stood out to me for several reasons:

  1. It made me feel like I wasn’t good enough to be part of the scientific community.
  2. It hit a nerve, as I feel insecure about my role in science.
  3. I feel passionate about science, and about sharing science through communications as well increasing the number of women in science – but this left me feeling like I didn’t deserve to do that.

This hasn’t been the only interaction that has left me perplexed about my role and my relevance in science.

I love communicating science and I love talking about science. After resigning the idea of academic research as a potential career, I decided to follow my passion of talking about science and began working towards a career in science journalism. I will be as bold as to say that I want to be ‘the Brian Cox of brains’.

In pursuit of this, I have created a YouTube channel and have written for science magazines, but my ultimate goal is to present or produce science documentaries. In stage two of my plan to infiltrate this industry, I contacted a production company with an idea of a science documentary – and I was so pleased when they liked my idea and invited me to talk about it further. During the exciting conversation, where it was mentioned how I was a brilliant and natural presenter, and the discussion about the documentary idea was full of compliments and enthusiasm from all sides, a comment was said to me that crushed me.

“The thing is, you don’t have a PhD so no one will take you seriously as a woman.”

And as ridiculous as that statement sounds, I get what they meant. As women, we need to work harder to be believed and we are often less likely to be taken seriously as an expert. But as someone who was just about to start this career, which was an alternative to a PhD, this shattered all of my hopes.

Is science only reserved for people with PhDs? Because, from what I have experienced, a lot of scientists feel like it is.

I am (at least for now) a stubborn enough person that I won’t be giving up on sharing science, trying to increase the number of girls in science, or helping to shape policy to support women in STEM. But is it incredibly disheartening to see elitist attitudes in science, when I am trying to open science up to more people.

Have you experienced something similar? If you have and would like to share your experience with me, please get in touch on mindfulofscience@gmail.com.

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Author: Alice Gray

STEM-inist blogger hoping to raise awareness for the issues facing women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

10 thoughts on “Why do I want to give up my blog?”

  1. I’m not sure if the following is a point of view that you have considered, or if the production companies have either. It is however something I hope will be of use.

    Letters after your name do not matter to the majority of people. I am a 40 year old professional who has no idea what those letters even mean. Young people do not know what those letters mean, and don’t base their trust on that, they will base their trust on your style, your passion, and an ability to educate in a meaningful way. An example of this is Johnny Ball. When I was young he was a popular presenter who focused on popular sciences and maths. He gave that bug to tens of thousand children, maybe thousands. Many scientists aged 50 to 35 will credit him as a inspration. He left formal education with 2 O Levels.

    I have seen your videos, some of your presentations, and read some of your writing. You do have a passion and style that will work in presenting, you have a flair about you that will connect to an audience.

    Please keep your dreams alive, and don’t consider what you don’t have to be the key factor in your development. Focus on what you do have, and sell that, because that is more valuable to what your stated aim is.

    A new Johnny Ball, would be fantastic, much better than another Brian Cox. At least in my humble opinion.

  2. I can’t argue that there’s serious snobbery in science. It’s not just the qualifications (subject, level, awarding university…): you have to be full-time, presenteeist, paper-publishing-not-data-generating, grant-winning-and-sod-the-teaching, and God forbid you should consider any kind of parental leave! It’s a lot to change, but in the words of Jyn Erso:
    “What chance do we have? The question is what choice?!”

    I love what you do. I think you make an incredible contribution to science. And every time you do something fab, you chip away at the wall of bullshit that’s kept underrepresented groups out of the scientific establishment forever.

  3. This blog post has really hit me – I hadn’t thought about the way I was communicating my research in terms of how I might be alienating other communicators. Being a PhD student or having a PhD is definitely used too frequently as a badge of honour; it’s as if people without PhDs can’t be trusted, and that’s just complete rubbish. As scientists we (you included – you are a scientist!) need to check ourselves every so often. Thank you so much for bringing my attention to this, I think it’s time that PhD students start to think twice before we categorise ourselves as such – it pushes others out without reason. You’re a brilliant scientist, and science communicator; your videos make me understand concepts I totally glossed over throughout my undergraduate degree, and I really hope you keep doing what you’re doing.

  4. Some (probably incoherent thoughts)

    1. In this time and age with or without PhD it’s very difficult to be taken seriously as a woman in general.

    2. I am a Nutritionist who did a PhD in Psychology and I now work in a department of public health. I struggle to say where exactly my background is. I am not really a nutritionist anymore, I didn’t do an undergraduate in Psychology to claim that I am a psychologist either. Unless you have a solid single discipline background you will find you will struggle to find your background.

    3. I find the same kind of elitism when it comes to STEM in general. My area is social sciences. But sometimes It feels that unless you are a woman working in a male dominated STEM subject you “have it easy” (which is not true) or you are not “STEM enough”.

    4. I have seen your videos and read your blog. They are fantastic! Relevant and well researched. I wish I had your natural skills in front of the camera!

    5. Imposter syndrome does not leave you once you have a PhD. In my experience it gets even worse!

    The bottom line is that you should keep doing what you are passionate about! With or without PhD you have communication skills that many PhDs (including me) can only dream of!

  5. I´m sorry that you have faced that kind of comments and that there are people who thinks that other people won´t put attention / believe what you say just for not having a PhD.
    I hope that you don´t stop doing science, I enjoy and learn reading you and watching your videos.

  6. Im so so sorry youve had to deal with such negative experiences and comments. its so prevalent in academia, its ridiculous. i feel the elitist nature too, when it comes to even thinking about doing something outside of academia, professors always say well you can still do a post doc and do the scicomm/writing on the side until you figure it out. its like theres no other career path if u get a phd. so i feel your pain, on the phd side. even so, getting a professor position, they filter applications by the impact factor of your publications, so if you dont have science cell or nature, then dont even apply – i was told that once. it crushed my dreams but until someone decides to go against that stupid standard and reality, nothing will change. its as if im not important as a scientist if my work isnt published in any of those journals, which is stupid. dont let ANYONE make u feel inferior, PhD or Bsc, you have the science knowledge and are able to COMMUNICATE science, which is a skill many a scientist still needs to learn. Let people have their close minded opinions about you and your career choice. It doesnt affect your progress. We need more people like you and I who are outspoken and want to spread science and its importance, now more than ever! You are amazing and should say you ARE in neuroscience, because even though you arent doing research, you ARE still a scientist.
    keep doing what you are doing. dont let anyone tell you no or otherwise!!
    PS. If you are still interested in grad school, a LOT of the PhD and maybe Masters programs in the united states will pay your tuition and fees and give you a stipend. just a thought!

    xo
    Andrea
    http://www.phdfashionista.com

  7. I know I’m a lad, but I have felt the same for years. Similar qualifications, never broke into science in a big way. A palpable feeling of never really being fit to bear the honour my degree was.
    I wrote my own post about rediscovering meaning in science by reaching out to the elderly. There’s no point in preaching to the choir, so I feel that trying to get across to people who have never even dreamed of science is worthwhile. Your channel is great, and you just need to keep on truckin’!
    I found the environments I did work in full of overt snobbery. I was just treated like a big dumb guy, and realised that science wasn’t for me. But sharing it is.

  8. Alice, from someone with 14 years of research experience, master, PhD, postdoc, etc etc etc, and advice: “FUCK THE WORLD”. You are great, and you do more “science” that 1000 of “PhD scientists” licking asses around the world.

    You said “I love communicating science and I love talking about science.” Feel your heart, and your dreams, it will bring you further than thousand titles and for sure, you’ll be happier than a Nobel prize winner : ) keep on it, sooner or later you’ll achieve it and me, and millions of scientists will keep reading you and watching your documentaries without even questioning ourselves, “does she has a Phd?”.

  9. Knowing you as I do this all makes me so sad. To have already given so much, worked so hard and actually achieved so much already, only to be told it’s not enough, must be like reaching a false summit on the only mountain you’ve ever wanted to climb. I can only imagine the amount of determination and willpower it has already taken to get where you are – and I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to stand at the edge where you are – but I do know what it’s like to try, fail, coast, accept (supposedly ‘acceptance is not the same as giving up’ but it doesn’t always apply…), think about binning it all off, try again… I’m not as ambitious as you are but being true to myself and flying in the face of my own self doubt has ultimately been a great victory for me.

    You are a scientist. Do science!

  10. Your post resonates with me too, as I ‘only’ have a BSc and feel like I’m punching above my weight in an industry teaming with people with Masters and PhD. An attitude I’ve noticed in many people with a PhD is a sense of knowledge entitlement – they think they know everything about everything! The very fact you don’t have a PhD is, for me, the exact reason you should have gotten the documentary job, so that others can see how open and inclusive science can be. Please keep going with your work, it is so valuable and inspiring.

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