Podcast | How to survive academia (& enjoy it!)
In many parts of the world, it’s that time of year again! In this episode we discuss what it’s like to study and work within academia, how to survive it, enjoy it and more..! Joining our host Dr Nick Askew is Dr Fernando Mateos-González of Bioblogía – or Nando he’s often known – and Dr Stephanie Schuttler from the world of Fancy Scientist.
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[00:00:00] Okay, so welcome to this latest episode of the conservation careers podcast. And joining us now are kind of, I guess, regular co-hosts friends of the show, career, super coaches our friends, Dr. Stephanie Schuttler Fancy Scientist. And also Dr. Mateos Fernando Mateos Gonzalez.
[00:01:07] So where should we start? Let’s start with, what’s been going on who would like to kind of give us a bit of an insight in the last few weeks or.
[00:01:20] For me, it’s easy for me to see I’ve been on Holly base the first time in a year and a half, and I really, really enjoyed it. And yeah, it is really fantastic. I’ve been, I flew back to Spain and then spend some time with my friends and then with my family in south Southwest Spain, so very hot. And then, and then I traveled back with my parents in a motorhome all the way from Spain to here to Czech Republic.
[00:01:49] So it was a whole adventure. It was fantastic. And they came back with a track load of, of Amman and wine and all the delicacies I was [00:02:00] missing from my own country. So yeah, I cannot complain. It’s been a few nice weeks. Nice. Did you have like a proper break from work then? Did you manage to kind of put all that stuff down and defect?
[00:02:12] Yeah. I was working on the, at the airport before leaving from the plane on the plane and then on the plane. And then I just kept once I learned that, and then I haven’t touched one or two things that were emergencies, but the rest has been leisure. It’s been fantastic. That’s nice. See you fully recharged then back in the subtle yes.
[00:02:36] Full one. Nice. How about you, Stephanie? So, I mean, I guess I’ve been doing mostly more of the same, like, like following up with those those research calls that I’ve been doing. And this week I recorded a podcast summarizing some of the answers. I guess what’s new and exciting is I filmed a [00:03:00] segment for the Discovery Channel show expedition X.
[00:03:03] So that was fun. I went to Branson, Missouri to investigate sightings of initially the Ozark Howler, which even though I lived in Missouri, I’d never heard of the Ozark cowler before, but I guess it’s you know, big foot ESC animal looks kind of, supposedly it looks kind of like a black bear with horn, so I’m sure it’s just a black bear that people are seeing.
[00:03:27] And also black Panther sightings where people say that they’re seeing and. So I go through just how incredibly unlikely it’s a black Panther and if it is a black Panther, it’s probably an escapee, but but yeah, well, you’ll have to watch it to see how a scientist figure out, like what’s really out there.
[00:03:50] And then I don’t know. I guess I’m becoming some sort of like crypted specialist because the history channel reached out to me too. And they had me like investigate [00:04:00]video footage. I have some weird looking animals and I mean it’s because of my experience with camera traps. I’m so used to looking at animals with like, I mean, I’ve probably looked at, I mean, I’ve definitely looked at hundreds of thousands of images.
[00:04:11] But but yeah, people think they’re seeing weird stuff, so I’m there to say what it really is awesome. What have been some of the kind of more unusual things you’ve been asked to look out like and what did they turn out to be. Well, I mean, we don’t always know for sure. Like some of the photos are really blurry and really difficult, but for the black Panther sightings.
[00:04:35] So first of all I got contacted because I have this YouTube video about it. And most people don’t give me pictures. Like, I’m like, you know, like where are the pictures? And like, they never have their phones or, and a lot of these are recent too. So it’s like everyone has their phone and they always had these like big stories of it, like climbing across their car, like feeding it a deer carcass.
[00:04:55] It’s like, it would be there enough for you to take a picture. But when I do get [00:05:00] pictures, it usually it’s house cats. So, so Yeah. How big house cats Bobcat’s like, I saw one recently on this forum. That was definitely a Bobcat. And yeah. People just arguing with you. Yeah. Or just like, like, like this one guy showed me a picture.
[00:05:17] What he said was like a big foot like Yammer mall. And it did look weird, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t an animal. It was like foil edge, but I could definitely see like how he made a face out of it and that the particular sequence was really windy too. So it’s really likely that it’s just, you know, branches making this weird shape.
[00:05:35] Hmm. That’s really interesting. It must’ve been don’t nine, maybe 10 years ago or more ago. I remember this guy called Chris Packham here in the UK is a wildlife presenter. And he did a series in a similar vein where as a scientist, he kind of like investigated sightings of strange, unusual creatures and sort of debunks.
[00:05:53] But also said, well, there’s some credibility around others. And remember like, almost like the Loch ness monster. I don’t know if that’s sort [00:06:00] of traveled, but in Scotland, there’s lots of NASA, great, big, deep, really deep Scottish lake, essentially. And within it there’s meant to be this monster, which is kind of.
[00:06:11] Places saw, I guess like a dinosaur with a really long neck, when you see the pictures of them and he sort of went into what it might be and what the pictures were. And some of them have been proven to be fakes actually. Now in hindsight, others are maybe something else, you know, whatever. He didn’t think there was much credibility around that, but there’s still lots of believers out there, big tourism around it.
[00:06:29] And then another one was like, yeah, the sort of the big cats again, like seeing in the UK. So things like Panthers and lions and drank Ewers and things like that. And he thought there’s some quite a bit, if you too. Here in the sense that at the time, like the dangerous wild animals act was introduced in the sixties or something like that.
[00:06:49] And people in the sixties did have these big cats, you know, as a kind of fashion statement. And when the act came in, you know, a lot of people just release them and let them go [00:07:00] wild rather than, you know, have to, you know, go free rather than put them down or look up them in a certain way. I don’t know why, but, you know, as a result, you know, there have been lots of sightings in the UK of these big cats.
[00:07:11] And I think there’s credibility to some of them. There’s probably lots of domestic cats that are photographed with a perspective thing, but you know that there are some out there that seems. Yeah, here in the U S we have more tigers in captivity and just the state of Texas than in the wild. Wow. So us is, yeah, it has some pretty lax laws and and all of a sudden, Missouri, actually, they are getting mountain lions too.
[00:07:36] So it’s, so people can see mountain lions, but they’re not black. There’s no cases of, of black or melanocytic mountain lions. So I don’t know maybe the darkness of night or something. Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. I think it’s probably a bears or cats or Bobcat’s, that’s probably the most likely, so it’s [00:08:00] fun.
[00:08:00] It’s fun yourself getting sort of TV work. Yeah. See how that’s developing and where it’s coming from. And yeah.
[00:08:08] Yeah, well I guess, well, it’s been good on my side. Just more of the same. I’m ready for me. I’ve not been anywhere. I actually had one trip last week, the first work trip in literally a year where I went up to to visit a wildlife trust. It’s basically the Leicestershire and Rutland wildlife trust, which are about 45 minutes away from where I am big nature, reserve, Rutland nature of where they’ve been releasing and reintroduce things like ospreys for.
[00:08:35] Often the last of 20, 30 years. And they’ve done really well, this big introduction program of a bird of prey, and it’s just a fantastic nature. Or they’ve got a great visitor center. They’ve got a volunteer training center as well, where they kind of, you know, put people through a training program each year and they go off into great jobs being Rangers and wardens and managers of nature reserves.
[00:08:55] So I went and met with the staff, the head of conservation and a bunch of other people for the [00:09:00] day. And we were just exploring how we can help support them and support their staff and concerns or capacity development or, or training professional development, I guess, of, of, of the staff. And that was just a, a nice day meeting people in a lovely place and exploring what we can kind of dig together to help their staff to be even better and more impactful and happy in their roles as kind of like a pilot program and something which could potentially, you know, be rolled more out across, across the wildlife partnership.
[00:09:27] I think there’s something every counselor. In the UK has a wildlife trust and there’s about 46 counties. I think there’s 46 wildlife trust of which this is probably the smallest one actually. And it’s just interesting to kind of start talking to the networks like that and understand what their problems are and what we can do.
[00:09:45] And its conservation careers. We’ve spent a lot, we’re seven years old now, but we’ve been spending a lot of our time helping people to kind of secure their first job to gain entry to the sector. And it’s fun the last year or two to start exploring alongside like what can we do to help professionals who are already working in the [00:10:00] sector just to be as good as they can be and provide that sort of access.
[00:10:03] And it was, it was kind of fun to kind of get out and talk to people. Yeah. I love how this is a work trip. How, I mean, I guess half the audience or more now say no to thinking how lucky you are to have this have created this job where you can go and meet a wildlife trust and spend a day bring brainstorming out to her.
[00:10:24] That was fun. That was fun. It does not very often. It really doesn’t. You know, most of what we do is either stuck behind the desk or maybe running the workshop, you know, but meeting people’s fun, but then, you know, listening back, you know, you guys going filming Nanda, you’ve been doing lots of fieldwork recently, too.
[00:10:38] You know, it’s kind of, there’s lots of work within the sector and it’s kind of nice to reconnect with that and not be too much sat behind a desk and the podcast mic and everything else that kind of goes on. It’s always a mix. We need to do a bit of everything. Do we have? Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s quite easy.
[00:10:56] I think, as you go through your career to kind of disconnect from that, what we got into [00:11:00] it for, which has been out and helping and seeing and experiencing and yeah. And the first one. Yeah, absolutely. It’s like that. Yeah. It’s I think that same thing we can apply to the topic of today. Right? It’s how you can use.
[00:11:17] Well, we were, we were chatting after the last episode about the potential topic for this next episode. And we agreed that it will be fun to talk about academia because we all have this background and now we are doing many other things, but still have it. Food or somewhere in this, in this sector. So we will have fun things to Sarah and interesting things to say.
[00:11:45] And that’s why for the people listening, I, I don’t, this t-shirt is a t-shirt that says research tool. So well, if it’s something, one of my [00:12:00] old desserts that I had in Spain and I discovered in this trip, so I brought lots of all desserts from 10 years ago. And this one I bought during my PhD, or I don’t know if it was a present, but.
[00:12:14] Certainly certainly very descriptive of the work I was doing back then working. Yes, I was, especially at the beginning and you are kind of a remote control to find data and then they have, they teach you how to use it, then how to interpret it. So I thought it was fun. I like it. I like it. It sounds like the topic like academia.
[00:12:44] Are we talking specifically about working within like a university institutional environment or are we talking about people who do research because they’re sort of related, but they’re slightly different because there’s people outside of universities doing research in NGOs and we’ll just like you, you [00:13:00] know Nando, Alka, you know, which bits are we talking about?
[00:13:04] I think, I think we have bled the for several episodes, but I don’t know where we could choose. To talk about how to start working in, in research in general, like through any, any path. But of course, academia is like the main door, the main gate to this, to this kind of work, but they don’t know what they’re using.
[00:13:29] What, how, how do we structure this? I mean, I think of academia as being research in a university setting, just because like, like you said, like nonprofits and the government can do research, but their main focus is not necessarily publishing papers. And to me, like that’s like academia is main, main thing.
[00:13:54] So. I just think in terms of like our answers, they will [00:14:00] vary so much if we extend it to these different job categories, because they have just, you know, different priorities than, than academics have. So I guess when I think of academia, I think of graduate students and professors, or, I mean, there are here in the U S we do have like extension biologists too, that are half with like the government and academia, but most people in academia are, are professors graduate students.
[00:14:30] And there are like lectures positions too that are just teaching. Oh yeah. Postdocs to postdocs. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. It’s one of the few areas of the conservation sector that almost has a defined career. Path like a conveyor belt, you can kind of work through and stay with it. And it’s quite sticky. I think it’s quite hard to leave that environment typically, I guess, in the UK and probably elsewhere, you know, you’d go to university, you’d do like a degree, a bachelor’s and undergrad type thing.
[00:14:59] And then you [00:15:00] would move on if you were staying with an it towards a PhD and there might be a master’s in the middle, but you don’t necessarily have to do a master’s, but that’s the progress. And then from your PhD, then it’s a post-doc, which can all several, post-docs going to short-term research, postings, you know, usually following your thread and then ultimately you’re working towards like a professorship, I sort of tenure type position, you know, where you’re just part of a faculty or, you know yeah.
[00:15:24] College or whatever. It might be a department where you sort of become. Part of the institution and part of the research and training, and I think probably higher up you go, it does seem to divide nowadays where you kind of doing research and perhaps doing some teaching as well alongside that. But there are some people who are just, just educators, just, just doing the teaching elements and don’t have much of a kind of research focus.
[00:15:47] There’s sort of two aspects, sometimes balanced or sometimes specialized. Yeah, I guess in terms of the difficulty with that huge load of administration, too, a lot of red tapes on top of that in the U S [00:16:00] the universities are, we call them research one or research two schools for the most part. So research one, the emphasis is on research and you, you definitely do have to teach, but in terms of getting tenure, you the evaluations are really based on like how many papers you produce, what journals those are in and how many grants grant money you bring in.
[00:16:24] And I talked to, to professors who actually brought in a lot of grant money, but they didn’t bring in like one single big grant, like those, like, you know, million dollar grants, which is really hard for our field, because there’s just not that much money as, as in like, like the health field or the medical fields And then we have research too, which you still have to do research, but there’s not as much emphasis on publications and grants.
[00:16:50] And, and there’s much more emphasis on, on teaching as well. And then there are lecture positions where you don’t do any research and [00:17:00] community colleges to where you can teach. And I think they do a little bit of research, but not really any emphasis on that for your, for your job. Hmm. And research one and two, is that, are they just two different.
[00:17:15] Parallel streams. You can go into one or the other one is one follow from the other. No, you can choose one or the other. So I dunno if you can switch between them, but I’d imagine it’s much easier if you’re at research one to switch to research to then research two to one, because just because like you would be set up.
[00:17:34] At two for a slower publication rate and a slower grant rate. So it’d be harder to make that jump, but again, I guess it depends on how productive you are and yeah, but usually in my experience in graduate school is like, my colleagues were like, I love teaching. I want to do research too. And, and, and the research too also, it’s usually sometimes only grant undergraduates and then usually master students [00:18:00] to it.
[00:18:00] Usually, no PhD is it’s, there can be PhD, but I think that’s really rare. Whereas research one tends to favor, I would say PhD is like, I was at a research one Institute and just a lot fewer master students. And at least in the biological sciences department and the fisheries and wildlife department, there were more masters students.
[00:18:20] Right. Okay. Yeah. Since that’s the chat today, then where should we focus initially? Should we focus on like choosing and making the most of say a degree and then maybe. Then also discussing around PhDs as well. Or should we start just talking around the PhD element, which really kind of cements the academic roots and you know, the kind of the formality formalization of that.
[00:18:42] If that’s the right word, what, what do you guys, yeah, this is where most of opportunities are, I will say in sort of the PhD route. Yeah. And then from there you can, then it narrows at the top in the academia sector, but with a PhD you can do many other things outside. [00:19:00] Yeah. Yeah. So, so, okay. So if someone’s listening and they’re interested in thinking about going into academia, they think a PhD might be right for them.
[00:19:10] What the sorts of people that should be some people, you know, tend to get PhDs, like, you know, how what’s their route in and and how, how should they be sort of looking for these opportunities or creating these opportunities? I think it’s actually great that we have. International here, because I think our system might be a lot different than your system.
[00:19:33] For, for us, I think actually one of the biggest things that people should know about graduate school is that it’s really different from undergraduate. Whereas like undergrad, like you take courses and you study for a test, or maybe you have a big project or a paper or something like that, and you get graded, but graduate school at least the thesis track or the dissertation track with a PhD is it’s all about your [00:20:00] research.
[00:20:00] So it’s kind of like horses take a back seat and you, yeah, you have to take some courses and stuff, but even the courses are, are structured differently. At least here in the U S where a lot of it is like reading scientific papers and discussing, or maybe you have some sort of project, but usually the project is based on your research.
[00:20:18] So you’re not like, you know, like adding work, it’s kind of It’s kind of helping you in your research. But for us, the process there are, or advertise positions, like say a professor gets a grant and they write in a master’s position or a PhD position, and then they’ll advertise it on like Texas ENM wildlife or, or your, your site conservation careers, and people can apply for that.
[00:20:43] So my cat is like, he really wants to sit on my lap. But I think the better route is because those positions tend to be really competitive unless you have like really great experience that matches that it can be hard to get those, I think a better route is to develop a relationship with a professor.
[00:20:59] [00:21:00]And just, just start like emailing people whose research you’re interested in and ask them if they’re taking students soon. And you know, talk a little bit about your interest and why it matches their research and attach your CV. That’s, I mean, that’s what I did. I just researched professors. I was interested in and contacted them and you’ll get a lot of no responses and a lot of no’s, or I don’t have money right now, but but you keep going and you’ll find someone and for you, is that based upon like a research topic and area of interest, you were particularly passionate about like elephants.
[00:21:37] I was totally lost. I had no idea what I wanted to study. So I did a really not a bad job at searching, but a really non efficient way at searching. I like, I just, like, I, I knew like, oh, like I would look at a professor and I’d be like, oh, their research is super cool, but it would be like all over the place.
[00:21:56] Like from, like you said, elephants to like tracking sea [00:22:00] turtles, to like lions and Savo all over the place. Everything sounds cool. No. Yeah. So if you can like try to figure out what you’re interested in. That’s that’s best. And then I recommend people probably searching through Google scholar, like, like type in, you know, like, like sea turtle.
[00:22:22] Tracky and then look at the different papers and see who are the main people publishing on that. And, and then look them up on their website, but basically I would like go to a college and I would like look up all the professors and, and I’d be like, oh, their research interests me. Their research interests me, but it just took a long time.
[00:22:44] And I was in internships at that time. So I, I did have time. So I did, you know, do that over several years, but if you can narrow down what you’re interested in just a little bit and look on Google scholar, I think that’s a much better route to [00:23:00] do that. Yeah, it works very well to have a focus from the very beginning.
[00:23:06] And what happens usually is that you like anything, you, you, they speak to you, they tell you a bit about some research and then you say, oh, that’s really interesting. And anything cool could be like that. So what I did was like the second year of my undergrad already, I, I knew. Since my early childhood that I wanted to study animal behavior.
[00:23:29] I wanted to be, I wanted to get money out of looking at how animals move, move, or talk or interact. This. This was like my dream. So I just went up to, to the third floor. the department. And then I asked, is anyone here working in animal behavior? And they someone point to a door and then I just knock there and asked, I want to be an animal by behavior or scientist, get I help.
[00:23:57] And then they gave me my first job [00:24:00] like that, that you go and put water in there for the birds and give them water and unfolding the aviary. And then through that, I mean, I couldn’t have done anything, but through that, I started working yeah. With birds and birds were my first topic. Yeah, you started doing little things there and working the weekends or where they eventually stopped going to the university to the actual classes and just, just the research.
[00:24:29] And that was what opened the doors later to future positions. But I think isn’t it. I like in any, in many conservation. Yeah. Puff in a, yeah. The best is just to choose one topic that you like and, or do some internal research on yourself and say, okay, well, what I like the best and then just choose and go for that one.
[00:24:53] And then, and then you can focus on reading all those papers you find in Google scholar and really get the guests [00:25:00] out of how research is done and how, how the different groups are working on different problems. And then with that, we will give a much better impression when you are trying to apply for even a master’s position or as small project, which is which is that the connection.
[00:25:18] So once you get. In contact with a professor, and then you say, hi, I’m interested in what you wrote in this paper. And I was wondering if I could help with the field work you do on this island every year, because I have read about it here and there that’s much, much more efficient than, than just writing.
[00:25:38] Hi, can I help? And I, I think also people should think about what they ultimately want to do in their lives too, because one thing I did was follow my passion. Like when I finally chose an advisor, she specialized in non-invasive genetics. So I actually [00:26:00] had like a huge. Variety of things I could study.
[00:26:04] Like, she didn’t really say like, oh, you have to study forest elephants. And I decided on them because I saw a gap in research and I, like, I was formerly in love with Savannah elephants. I was like, this is so cool. Nobody studies them. But it also is important to think about where that will take you because things are just much more competitive now.
[00:26:24] And once I was on the job market, people saw me as an elephant biologist or geneticist. And just like, I love my field work in Africa and stuff. But if I had taken the time to explore the jobs before I chose my research, most of the jobs and elephants are not surprisingly where, where elephants live in Africa and Asia.
[00:26:47] And you know, at the time I was married, so it would have been a big trip for all of us to move. And I had the animals to sir, for all of us to move over there. And I just wasn’t as competitive for jobs here in the U [00:27:00] S doing things like, you know, bear research or something. So just things don’t don’t I expected things to cross over more.
[00:27:08] And again, just because things are so competitive that if you’re applying for a job doing bear research, they’re going to hire somebody who did their PhD in bears and not an elephant. So so like, yes, follow your passion, but also think about like what your, what your long-term passion is. And for those jobs that studied elephants, like where you could go abroad and still live in the United States, really, those are only in academia.
[00:27:32] And I didn’t want to go into academia because academia is just so demanding. Like, like we talked about the publish and the grants and stuff like that. I didn’t want that, that type of lifestyle. And then the other jobs that zoos are just, they’re just really rare. There are those jobs, but. They’re just few and far between.
[00:27:51] So, so again, like this is advice I always give, like, look at the jobs you want now and, and and use that kind of like as your [00:28:00] north star to like, figure out the steps in between. What about you, Nick? How did, how did you get into academia? Yeah. Sort of similar, really similar roots, what you guys are talking about.
[00:28:12] So I, I did did a biology degree and undergrad, and it was a really broad degree that allowed me to specialize a year. One was a bit of everything. Year two, you could actually start to pick subjects that were most of interest to you. And I kind of really fell into kind of ecology and everything kind of environmental.
[00:28:30] It just, yeah. That’s the bit that it was just so natural to me, I just enjoyed it and I sort of thrived and soaked it out. Whereas other aspects like genetics, I just kind of struggled through with that. Just wasn’t my cup of tea. So in the end that kind of fell out with kind of an ecology degree. And during that process and alongside my studies I did a lot of volunteering, a local nature service.
[00:28:49] I kind of ran a conservation volunteer group. My best friend was the guy who managed several national natures and I sort of lived with him. And through that, I was always out in the reserves more than us, probably [00:29:00] in the lecture theater. And part of that experience allowed me to spend a lot of time to landscape.
[00:29:05] That was really good, particularly for barn owls, but in the UK, they’re really becoming quite rare at the time, the more common now. But the area that we were working in lower dough, it just had more barn ELLs, a high density than anywhere else sit in the UK, possibly in Europe as well. We had loads of birds and it, and I started to understand well where the nest sites were.
[00:29:25] I knew all the landowners and we had this great kind of study population. So it kind of just lends itself really nicely to kind of some detailed research, like why is this population doing so well? Why is it thriving? And what can we learn from this population that we can apply elsewhere? So towards the end of my three, what is four year undergrads that to do a year’s work placements?
[00:29:43] I sort of, I sort of, I had this knowledge and I kind of knew one or two people are also interested as potential supervisors who helped me to kind of find funding and kind of supported me into a PhD position, really. So I was really lucky. My supervisor was a geneticist. You know, he’s an ecologist, but really [00:30:00] it’s a geneticist.
[00:30:00] So not really a behavioral ecologist or a conservation ecologist that wherever you want to connect, call the work that I was doing, but he just liked, I guess, me and the subject matter and wanted to support in. And he’s that sort of guy that did that to a few other people, as well as I was sort of embedded within a genetics research group.
[00:30:16] And, and just really enjoyed it. I think for me, like a PhD was like four years of doing something I really felt passionate about. I really loved, still do. And it was a good training. Good qualification. Good. Funny is like the first paid job really? That gives you a qualification at the same time. And at the end of it, I also realized I didn’t want to stay in academia.
[00:30:35] It wasn’t for me, you know, I could see other people alongside me that were just really well suited to it. And it was so natural to them. Particularly sort of the writing, the analysis, the research, everything that kind of forms, parts of that. It becomes increasingly competitive. I think once you stay within the sector and I can sort of project forward five or 10 years and thinking there’s, there’s a point at which this is no longer funded for me personally, you know, I want to be doing something else and it’s [00:31:00] more kind of applied conservation on the ground.
[00:31:03] So I sort of jumped ship and decided to do other stuff, but yeah. So that’s why it wasn’t for you. Cause you just wanted to do more applied stuff. I think it was to do more applied, but also, yeah, I think I didn’t want to just keep doing. The kind of research for research’s sake, it felt there was parts of it within that, within the environment that we’re just answering interesting questions, but they weren’t as applied as they could be.
[00:31:26] I think there’s an assumption within academia that we’re going answer some useful questions and then the practitioners will use this information in the field and it wasn’t as connected as it could be. And I want it to be more than the, kind of more on the practitioner and as well, but realizing that there were just people like that who was just to put it bluntly just better at me, academia, you know, more gifted and going to just thrive in their careers more.
[00:31:48] And I felt there’s space elsewhere for what I was doing. Sorry. I love, how would you have given an example of what Stephanie J S explained this, this idea [00:32:00] of focusing a bit on the future, like projecting yourself five years in advance and see if you still will like that and you see better. And then, and then you did that in your own career and decided to be away from academia.
[00:32:14] Yeah, maybe I think looking at. Professor. So, you know, like 10, 20 years ahead of me, right. I felt they were quite hard-nosed I guess would be the word, you know, is you need a thick skin in academia to have got to where they are and to be as good as they are, and to be churning out the papers and to be as collaborative as they were in everything else.
[00:32:34] And I just, I just knew that that’s just not the sort of environment within which was going to suit me personally. I agree. And I, I felt the same way that I thought, and I like this. This is good advice for people who want to get their PhDs or want to go into academia. You have to really, really love science, which is all about the process of like, like you.
[00:32:58] There’s questions about the natural [00:33:00] world and you have an innate drive to answer those questions because academia, you can do applied research, but it doesn’t favor applied research as much. And like, like you’re talking about like, you can do the research and then it’s kind of just like in the journals and the managers can apply it, but really it takes that effort to like work with people on the ground to, to get that happening.
[00:33:24] So you have to really love this process of asking questions and collecting data and finding the answer to those questions. And yeah, I felt the same way that it was like very theoretical, even in my postdoc. I thought the research was like super cool that I was doing. But again, like I, I wanted to have more of an impact and I wanted to direct.
[00:33:46] Help conservation. And I just saw that really so many of these issues were just really about people and their behaviors and attitudes. So that’s why I kind of pivoted more to doing more education and [00:34:00] science communication. I did a couple of postdocs and, and they had a lot of fun doing the staff in the field and writing and doing all the stages of, of science and research.
[00:34:12] But I also met a lot of professors and what I was seeing was was that trend on just paper, where they were preparing the ground for postdocs and PhD students to do the fun work, at least for me. And so they are like the CEOs of a small company, and then they, they try to attach the thing, the funding, and then allocate reserves.
[00:34:38] And direct the research, which is fun, especially for some people or for the ones that are suited for that. But they was feeling that most professors barely went to the field or you have the contact with the animals and that’s, that’s what made me also move away from it. Apart from the sheer competition.
[00:34:59] Yeah. You’re [00:35:00] you’re so right. That in some ways graduate school, I feel like is. Just misrepresentative of what a career in academia is like, because in graduate school, you do all the parts. Like, so you you, I mean, you, you formulate the question, usually advisor’s there to help you and stuff, but you collect data, you design the study, you do the analysis, you do the writing.
[00:35:24] And so like on Twitter, especially, or Instagram, I’ll see all these pictures of graduate students in the field, but you’re right. Once you become a professor and this even happens in other jobs too, once you become a professor your time. Yeah. So much more valuable spent writing grants to get money, to do the research and to write the papers and sit in meetings, administrative meetings or planning mediums.
[00:35:49] And it’s really pretty rare for professors to go to the field. And it’s, it’s really, they’re graduate students who are going to the field and collecting the data. And you’re right there, like the [00:36:00] CEO, mentoring their students and helping them publish the paper and then finding the funding for their labs so they can have more students as well.
[00:36:09] They also put in some long hours, I think all academics do, but it doesn’t seem to ease up the higher up the chain. You go. I remember professors in our department who they were, the ones that were in on Saturdays and Sundays doing their research. Then when they’re not supervising and it was like a six, seven day a week job for them, they’d be in early, leaving late.
[00:36:28] And that can become, and I guess it’s because ultimately the, you know, you are very measurable in terms of your success. How many papers do you play out? How good were those journals? Like, what were their impact factors and how much money have you raised? And really those are the metrics, you know, and there’s no end to that, that how do you work?
[00:36:45] The more you can potentially be doing around all that? And the more success you have. So I think academics have a lot of issues or they struggle with having real boundaries between work and life. And it just things that work and it suits some people there’s a lot of academics choose not to have kids for instance, [00:37:00] you know, because you know, that often means taking a little bit of a back seat, too much of a backseat in your career and feel like you’re kind of dropped off the wagons slightly, you know, as other people kind of continue on without you, you have to sacrifice some stuff to do well in this field.
[00:37:14] Yeah. And for me, just knowing you have to do, especially with research one school, it was like knowing you have to do research and then teach, but you’re not really evaluated on your teaching. So I felt, I just feel like it’s too much of a workload. Like you, you couldn’t do everything well. And I felt like the obvious thing to let go of would be your teaching because you’re not evaluated on that as heavily, or it’s not weighted as heavily, you’re still evaluated, but it’s not weighted as heavily.
[00:37:40] And for me, like having students and not being able to show up for them a hundred percent, because I had to focus on research like that, that really bothered me. And that’s another reason why I didn’t want to go into at least research one academia, because I just, I dunno, I, I can’t imagine teaching a class and like not giving like my all.
[00:37:59] And like I [00:38:00] said, having to like prioritize other stuff, it’s just, you have to, there’s actually a good lesson I learned from graduate school. You kind of have to learn, or you do have to learn to do. Do some things to be good enough. Cause I think a lot of us are perfectionist and we did so well in school and stuff.
[00:38:15] So you have to learn like when to stop, like, okay, I’m going to, I’m going to kind of do a crappy job on this and it’s good enough and I’m gonna submit it or I’m gonna, you know, that’s, that’s, what’s going to happen. Cause you just have so much stuff to do. So you have to learn like, okay, this is not a priority right now.
[00:38:31] I’ll do the minimum and it’ll be good enough. And then I’ll move on to like what I really need to work on. Well, for people listening just to, to, to compensate a bit, I think Yeah, a few years back, this was the trend, the absolute trend to work as much as possible, publish as much as possible. But I see from what I see in social media or other colleagues, or even people I work with, they are all trying or [00:39:00] the men’s minority.
[00:39:00] They are trying to get pride out of getting breaks or, or stopping for the weekend. So there’s a little hope that that might change and get a bit more logical that like a real job and not this crazy job where you do the admin, the teaching and the research, which is three jobs in one. And it still, it will be difficult and you will be competing with people with no kids that are going all for it and publishing churning papers like crazy.
[00:39:30] But on the other hand, you hope that this, this is gonna push a change at some point, because if not, they will, it will break. Yeah, I agree. I’m seeing a lot of pushback on social media and I’m really happy about that. And yeah, just like, I don’t, I don’t have kids either and it was difficult for me. And I had some like health issues too.
[00:39:52] It doesn’t favor people who are just like dealing or even just dealing with like life issues. Like my mom passed [00:40:00] away and during my well, towards the end of my PhD, but she struggled with cancer. There’s just like so many. Issues that that students are going through. And I just saw a report from either science or nature where I can’t remember the statistics, but basically it’s, you know, like the majority of people have anxiety, depression, and it all stems from this immense pressure.
[00:40:22] So I love, I love that there’s pushback. And then also as scientists, like we, it’s funny. Cause like we use research to like dictate everything, but then there’s a lot of research that shows once you stop working, it’s really like before 40 hours, like 40 hours is like the max, you be, your productivity goes down and you make mistakes.
[00:40:42] And I know this like, cause cause I, that I would do this in the lab. I would like work so much and then I’d make all these mistakes and I’m like, oh no, like I have to fix all these mistakes. And then you have to like go back. So scientists should use researched since it’s to say we’re not working more than 40 hours a week.
[00:41:00] [00:40:59] Follow their own rules. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And it sounds like we sort of, sliming sort of science and academia. Yeah. Which I should say. And I think, interestingly, your thoughts, but I don’t for one second regret doing a PhD. I think it is one of the best decisions I took. I think in my life actually did in my career, as I say, really enjoyed it.
[00:41:20] I really thrived. But then decided to, after that, to pivot and do something else, I think careers are not fixed nowadays. You know, you don’t have to just follow one trajectory and that’s it. You can always decide to shift and jump. And even in the academic treadmill, I feel like there are points at which you can come away from it with, you know, huge transferable skills, you know, stay within if it suits you down to the ground as well.
[00:41:44] So I wouldn’t want to kind of put people off, but I think this is really valuable to share actually what it’s like within it. And I think when you’re choosing things like PhDs, like you’ve already kind of suggested Stephanie there’s were like three things. I think one is like trying to choose a topic that really, really, really, really interests you because you’re [00:42:00] going to, it’s going to become your world for the next 3, 4, 5 years.
[00:42:04] You know, you’ve got to get, I can think of a few people who were just doing PhDs that just weren’t interested in it and it gets harder and harder and harder. So you need that spark to motivate you to put the hours in. Try and get a research group. And I did a supervisor who’s also really supported the account really well with, because that relationship is so crucial.
[00:42:23] And then probably the third bit is what you’ve suggested is definitely just like, think about the end of it. Does it open or closed doors for you kind of like for your career, if you can get those three things together, you’re happy. You’re well-supported and it gives you opportunities at the end. And then it’s fantastic.
[00:42:38] You know, doors are open and it’s, it can be a real springboard into a lot of different stuff. I’m sure having a PhD is opened a lot of doors for me. You know, you guys may feel the same too, so it doesn’t, it doesn’t hurt. So if you’re listening, I think it always sounds terrible. Actually. I think until that point is great.
[00:42:55] And then some people may want to continue on to post-docs and professors, because it suits you down to the ground, suits your [00:43:00] life scaling and everything you want, but don’t see it as a kind of fixed route is all or nothing. You can just keep changing the pivot. I totally agree with you. I don’t, I don’t regret my PhD at all.
[00:43:10] And it was a wonderful time in my life. Like, yeah, it was difficult, but I had amazing friends. Like some of my best friends come from my PhD. I loved the travel I got to do. I loved my research and it’s just so cool that you’re getting paid to, like for this pursuit of knowledge. And even like we talked about, the courses were different, just having these like intellectual conversations about things.
[00:43:37] And I think probably the most valuable thing that I got from my PhD and another big lesson that I learned from it is. I can teach myself to do anything now, because in your PhD, you’re, you’re answering questions that nobody else has answered and yeah. Yeah. Like maybe you’re using similar tools and analyses, but really nobody knows the answer for [00:44:00] your, your species, your population whatever the variable is with you.
[00:44:04] And there’s lots of things your advisor doesn’t know too, especially when it comes to statistics and analysis and that’s changing all the time. So you might need to learn how to use a new program or a new method. And there’s no one. Well, lots of times, there’s no one there to teach you. So like you have to figure it out on your own.
[00:44:25] And it just gave me so much confidence afterwards. Like, okay, if I have a job where I don’t know how to do something, I know how to go about figuring out how to do it. Like how to ask other experts for help, how to reach out for people or how to start with this like brand new program and teach myself how to use it.
[00:44:40] It’s, it’s really empowering in that way. I agree that it was one of the best part. It’s all, it’s unlike a big game and then you are trying things to get through. And then it’s like a mission. And I think by, I think I talk about from all of us that we, if we be long hours, [00:45:00] it was because we liked it and we were, we were pushing for it because we liked it.
[00:45:05] But yeah, I guess it’s not sustainable in the future to keep those long hours, but I actually did have a pretty good balance in, in my PhD. I I know, I tend to think people exaggerate the hours that they work. Cause I think probably they’re like thinking about it all the time, but I was actually pretty good at taking time off.
[00:45:26] And I think, I think probably I worked 40 to 50 hours honestly, most weeks. So you can, it doesn’t have to be this like incredibly strenuous effort. You can, you can have a. More normal life while you’re doing that. Should we give people who are doing a PhD or about to start one to kind of make the most of it and to to thrive, you know, through the experience, things that jump to mind for me would be one, if I could replay my PhD, I would collaborate more.
[00:45:59] I [00:46:00] think from the beginning, from the early days I mentioned I was doing kind of, you know, bird behavioral research, but as in a genetics lab. So I was a bit of a. Lone star, I guess, really, I, I think in the early days, what I should have done is read all the papers as I did, but then reached out to all those academics who were working in the same field, doing similar stuff, talk through my research and my idea is getting their feedback and start building the collaborations that will definitely lead to more research and joint work and joint papers.
[00:46:28] And that’s what I mean, the, the really successful academics, the ones that just collaborate and collaborate, they seem to just, yeah. Yeah. And they, their names are loads of papers because they were involved a little bit in lots of stuff and they helped to enable lots of stuff. You don’t have to do it all yourselves.
[00:46:44] And my, my professor, he did that brilliantly and still does. So I think that that collaboration piece I’d have got better research from it. And I’d have a bigger network and lots of more would have come about, I think, as a result. Yeah, and I think also what I, what I, what I’m pleased I [00:47:00] did, I think others should do is try and publish as you go.
[00:47:03] So, you know, if at the end of the day, you hand in this thing, a thesis, you know, like a book, what you’ve researched and your findings and everything. And the, the acid test is, you know, is it on a scientific standard? I really is it, is it publishable? You know, can it be peer reviewed and, and be published and be part of that kind of get a scientific body of work that’s out there.
[00:47:23] Well, actually, if you, if you do research and you publish as you go, you know, your dissertation, your thesis can be just a series of published papers with an introduction and a discussion on the back of, and it’s very hard to say you haven’t meets the standard if you’ve done that and you go through as well.
[00:47:38] So when I got to the end, I had know four or five or something like that papers. And they were basically my chapters and it, and it kind of wrote itself. And I’m so glad I did it that way, rather than some people go this other way, they write a whole dissertation, a thesis, and then afterwards they suddenly have to try and then publish it after their PhD.
[00:47:55] And that’s just, sounds like a nightmare to me. So. [00:48:00] I did. I did a similar thing where I had my first chapter published and you’re right. You just like insert it in your, your your dissertation. And I see so many students like on Twitter and stuff, they’re just like, like this, like dissertation is this like big thing hanging over their head.
[00:48:15] And it’s just like, just focus on making it a manuscript. And I mean, I know papers are not easy to write either. They can be a big thing hanging over your head too. But I just think people focus so much on the dissertation and the reality is like, hardly anyone reads your dissertation. So it’s just like, just, yeah.
[00:48:39] Focus on the manuscript and just, and just get it done again. Do the bigger you need to get, because not like hardly. Yeah. Anyone reads your dissertation, but people do read your publications. That’s that’s the way more important thing. Another another tip. I will give that I was unique who, who [00:49:00] bring it to mind because it was this thing that you had already an idea for a project you had already thought about it.
[00:49:06] And then you came with this packet already to a potential supervisor, even I think looking for sources of funding and giving something already prepared. I have this idea equal work because of this, this, this, and this is the funding that can support it. Do you want to, do you want in and lay that you can get any supervisor and then you can, you can really choose.
[00:49:30] And the ability to choose is the best you can. You can. Aim for it’s it’s like the best in every state. So also during your PhD, try to do the same thing. Imagine little projects and try to get your own funding. Don’t depend on your supervisor or your university. Try to get your own funding for little projects, and this will serve in the future future stages to prove that you are independent, that you can get [00:50:00] those those funding sources by yourself.
[00:50:02] I think that’s a massive tip or for anyone. I mean, a career in academia or in research in any way. Yeah. Even people say, no, you know, I likely to give you feedback as to why they say no, it’s going to help you to refine the idea is that you’re getting natural feedback on your research projects. And then they might suggest into the better person to go to sounds that that’s the ultimate, isn’t it.
[00:50:24] As you have an idea of passionate about, and you find that person who’s going to let me do it. It’s almost guaranteed that if that person doesn’t direct you, then it doesn’t give you that same goal with you with the funding. He will then RC, he E they will introduce you to another potential supervisor and that introduction.
[00:50:43] Links and bonds already with a new potential person. So even if that person going do it at the time, do you have already a new link and then you can collaborate with these people in the future? I mean, it’s super powerful. It’s the best. Yeah. Yeah. [00:51:00] I didn’t feel I’m just clocking time as well. So this is maybe a good time to start thinking about sort of wrapping things up we’ve tipped and we’ve already started then with the tips and let’s keep going then, as we wrap up in terms of tips, perhaps around, you know, success in academia or success within your PhDs, my final tip is I sort of think about as I’m listening would be broadly just like don’t be shy.
[00:51:21] I think it can be quite daunting to be within academia. There’s quite a lot of egos there and you probably see everyone else’s experts and you having to learn it can be quite harder. On your own confidence, but I think the more you can get yourself out there. So I sort of mentioned before, you know, network talk to other people, doing some of the research get involved, but if you can get yourself in Atlanta of giving talks and presentations and posters or writing blogs or promotes yourself, because it will, that promotion will, will really stand you in good stead.
[00:51:49] Do you need to make a little bit of a name for yourself? I think to be quite well, not in an egotistical way, but you know, don’t, don’t be shy. It’s the people who put the sales forwards tend to do quite well in [00:52:00] this sort of vein. So find ways that you feel comfortable with, you know, stretch yourself a little bit.
[00:52:05] If you can, and get yourself out, don’t wait till the very end to give a conference talk for instance, you know you know, it takes time to kind of build and kind of get your name out there. So, so don’t be shy, you know, be confident, talk about your research, share what you’re doing, because that will really help.
[00:52:21] As soon as possible. Yeah. Sooner the better. Exactly. Yeah. I mean, gosh, I hated giving talks at university right. Through university. Right through honestly, but you know, I’m glad I sort of did, you know, cause it does build your confidence and you do get used to it over time. So, you know, if you’re scared of public speaking, that’s very normal.
[00:52:39] I used to take beta blockers back in the day to kind of control nerves. You know, you get, you do get used to it. Well, yeah, it’s true though. Right? It’s a real precious situation. So yeah, so I understand you might be shy and lacking confidence, but you know, go for it and you will find ways of doing that in a kind of safe space before you can do more, more generally.
[00:52:59] What [00:53:00] about you guys? What would be your sort of final tip to share to people today? I think my final tip is to learn are this is a really practical one. So, so much of a. Research nowadays is really involved statistics. So are, is a program that most scientists use for for doing their statistics.
[00:53:26] And there is a program called squirrel within our, that teaches you how to do it. But I’ve even noticed just like such a change. When I went to graduate school, when, when I started everyone was using SAS and then like people just slowly started using our, and now ours, like just so frequent and just so much of, of Research today depends on technology.
[00:53:51] So you’re just like handling just a lot more data and which requires more statistical power. So the more you can get used to [00:54:00] R and coding and statistics, you don’t need to take courses. Like I mentioned before, you can teach yourself. So I have, there’s two statistics books that I recommend the, our book, which will not only teach you how to use R, but it also is like a good overview and introduction of different statistical practices.
[00:54:19] And then there’s one called statistics for terrified biologists. I think that’s the name. Yeah, that’s a really, really good intro book. Like, cause it’ll take you right. Like very much step-by-step. Cause I remember every statistics class I took, they would start off with like flipping coins and I’m like, okay, I get this.
[00:54:35] And then all of a sudden you’re into these like complex model. Okay. Weird. Like, yeah. And that’s like, it’s really for people who just yeah, like want to take it really slow step by step. So getting, yeah. Getting comfortable with statistics and AR is my tip. Perfect. And on top of that, they will love that.
[00:55:00] [00:54:59] Now we ha we are seeing lots of this. Well, we talk about this in another episode, this crypto new world and Bitcoin and all of this, this has particular part of this call, the smart contracts. If you go a beat into this in Google a bit, and you can somehow start learning this now. And connected somehow with research.
[00:55:23] I cannot tell you how, but this is going to be the new internet. It’s like, it’s going to be a new breakthrough. And if you start now, you are likely to get ahead of everyone by a long shot, because we are at the very beginning of something very, very big that is going to change a lot of things in the war.
[00:55:43] And then, and then if I can add that I’m more a specific tip, not so abstract would be, I’m going to do a very, very little one. You know, when you, when you find a paper that, that you think you will like, but there is a pay wall and then usually you will go [00:56:00] well to Sci-Hub or something like. Which is fantastic for most of papers.
[00:56:05] I try to find its own way, but I think the best way, and the most efficient for you for a paper that you really like is to contact the author and ask directly, can I have a copy of a PDF of the paper? And yes, this liter Lima is giving you that first connection to then build. Because I haven’t, I read the paper, I liked it a lot and I have this questions.
[00:56:26] And do you think another, and from this, you can start that, that connection with talk about a, and it’s, it’s a tiny bit, a tiny tip, but I think it’s very useful. Great. And you can always try and sell them some Bitcoin at the same time. Right. He’s a bite.
[00:56:46] Great. That’s fantastic advice. Yeah. As always. Thank you guys. And I enjoy these conversations so much. It’s nice to kind of go deep on a subject and to hear your thoughts and experiences too. Yeah. So thanks as always. I mean, if people want to [00:57:00] find out more about you guys where should we send them Nando?
[00:57:03] What, where should we send people want to find out more about your work? Pick me in, in Twitter at BR blogger, bio blogger, bio blogger, and we can turn there, get me in the Twittersphere. Great. You can just head over to a fancy scientist.com and that has links to everything I’m on. Most, all the social media is I have to, I have to go back a little bit on some of them that cut down too many social media, but, but that’s the best way to find me on Tik TOK yet I have been on tic-tac, but I had to stop.
[00:57:39] It’s just been so much work. Oh my gosh. Yeah. Like I’m, I’m focusing now on Instagram and YouTube and my podcast. Let’s see, that’s already too many are really focused my blog and everything else. Yeah. Great. Okay. Well, thanks again as always stay safe so well I’m sure we’ll be chatting again before too long, but [00:58:00] thanks everyone for listening and we’ll see you on the next episode.
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