Baskeptics.org

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Hello Science fans,

Hope you all are enjoying the (kind of) sunny days so far. I was in India for the past month, so I am a little behind on my local news. But as science is global, let me update you about my activities in India. This time I went with a mission of science outreach, which was fairly successful as I landed opportunities to talk at two research institutes: NCBS Bangalore and IISER Pune. The topics were careers beyond academia and why scientists should indulge in science outreach. I won’t delve too much into the content of the talks, but for those interested, here’s a link of

the recorded version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMI8YMwT9Bo&feature=youtu.be

One important issue that came up in our post-talk discussion seemed globally relevant: use of the term ‘alternative careers’ for researchers moving out of academia. The term implies an inherent bias that there is one mainstream ‘true career’ path after PhD, and any deviation is an ‘alternative’ career. Why does this nomenclature matter, you might wonder? It is important because it is tough for researchers who want to change their career course after PhD, as they start worrying about having to justify being ‘good enough’. Already, mental health issues loom large among PhD candidates. A very recent study reported that one third of graduate students suffer from depression due to the demanding lifestyle in academia. Add to that the pressure of not being able to exit the cycle and it becomes a closed loop for such students.

Seems like apart from engaging people in science, dehumanization is a major problem that scientists are facing these days. In another recent incident, a snow leopard geneticist shared the following message that she received on social media: “Science & glamour have nothing to do with each other”. Enraged, she took to Twitter to broadcast the message that scientists have multiple sides to their personality, but they remain #StillAScientist. Her simple initiative triggered an outburst of mass movement, wherein scientists from different fields started tweeting about their multifaceted life and the importance of treating them as any other human. Check out the hashtag #StillAScientist on Twitter to know more.

As a society we need to stop normalizing mental health issues in academics, avoid labeling divergent career paths as ‘alternative’, or simply treat scientists as any other human. A refreshing podcast on CBC radio recently covered PhDs who moved on to different careers, not just away from academia but from science in general. Steps like these are important in putting forth the point that scientists, just like any other human, show all ranges of emotions, including boredom and frustration. If changing careers helps them lead a happier and healthier life, there is no shame in doing so.

Finally, a reminder that the SkeptiCal2018 conference in Berkeley is coming up on June 10. For those who don’t know, SkeptiCal is a one-day conference for curious, science-loving people to learn about science and critical thinking in an informal setting, at an affordable cost. So do register for this one asap!
Moving on to my pick of events in the upcoming week:

  1. Microbia, Tuesday, 05/22/18, 7:00 PM in Corte Madera
  2. Bones NightLife, Thursday, 05/24/18, 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM in San Francisco
  3. Science Saturday: Water Wild, Saturday, 05/26/18, 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM, in Pacific Grove

Have a curious week ahead.
Greetings,
Minu
Science writer and journalist

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