I’ve been hinting and teasing about something BIG happening in September on Soph talks science! And now that September is finally here, I can reveal that it is Spotlight September across Soph talks science for one whole month!
One of the reasons I started my blog and my science communication across social media is to try and break down the stereotypes that are associated with being a scientist, and show that not all scientists are dull and boring nerd that spend most of their lives cooped up in a lab. So, I started this blog feature called Scientist in the Spotlight to show you some actual living scientists and show you their science journeys and their everyday lives. It has become probably my favourite feature on my blog and so I wanted to highlight it – no, put it under the spotlight! hah! – and have one whole month dedicated to showcasing you some amazing and inspiring role models. I have such an exciting line up for you that includes bloggers, artists, TV hosts, authors, physicists, biologists, engineers, entrepreneurs and even an Ironman – BUT they are all scientists too and I cannot wait to share their stories with you and show that being a scientist is not just one thing!
But other than introducing you to some extremely cool new scientists I want to also catch up with all those other guys and gals that have been my Scientist in the Spotlight over the last year and see what they are up to now which you can follow across my social media throughout the month!
I can’t wait any longer I’m stupidly excited about a monthly special on my blog – probably a little weird I know but hey! celebrating the small wins over here! – and I want to introduce you to my next Scientist in the Spotlight, Maria A.
Now if I said the word ‘scientist’ to you, you would probably imagine someone in a white coat working in a lab,. But if I asked you what they were working on, you would probably have a guess at something like cancer research or working on a treatment that will benefit us as humans! But it is not only use that need medicine, animals need medicine too – and that has come from scientists in a lab doing research to find a treatment for an animal disease, much like they would for a human disease. And this is what Maria does. She is a veterinary scientist who is originally from Portugal, but moved to the UK to do her PhD – which involved looking at cat flu and dog flu. There are many reasons for cats to sneeze and dogs to cough – much like us! But Maria’s work helps us to understand which of these factors and bugs are more relevant and how we can better manage them in order to decrease disease in cats and dogs.
Maria is obviously a big animal lover, but also loves to spend her time reading fantasy fiction and taking photographs surrounded by nature, especially sunny beaches. So, let’s uncover her science journey.
So, you’re a fully qualified vet. Why are you doing research?
Maria: It is still a way to help animals, just slightly different to what one does in practice. But after my PhD I will be working in veterinary practice but I still want to be involved in research. We will see how that goes!
We have all heard of bird flu and man flu, but now cat flu and dog flu. Can you tell us a bit more about these?
Maria: Flu viruses, or influenza viruses, are zoonotic. This means they are transmitted between animals and humans, and they are also well known for their ability to evolve and mutate. Where cats and dogs are concerned, these are potentially dangerous for them in the same way they are potentially dangerous for us. For this reason it is very important to study their real role in respiratory disease in feline and canine patients. Generally speaking, infectious respiratory diseases are a common problem in dogs and cats, especially in cases where they are housed in crowded environments like shelters. A lot of different viruses, as well as other microorganisms, are involved in causing respiratory disease – some are known and some are unknown. My PhD helps us draw a more accurate picture of which agents are involved in causing these problems.
What have you been up to in the lab most recently?
Maria: I haven’t been in the lab for a long time now. Instead, I am analysing epidemiological data using computer software and writing up my thesis.
As you are writing up then, what is the most valuable lesson you learnt during your PhD?
Maria: Simply that life is more than just work! A PhD can be very lonely and bonding with other in a similar situation – whether in real life or online with the STEM squad is very important.
After finishing vet school, you worked in veterinary and science communications. I’m assuming this is where you learnt about science zines? Care to tell us more?
Maria: Science zines are a friendly, informal and bullshit-free (pardon my French!) medium to educate young and old audiences on different topics using lay language. They are also a great way to meet new people and collaborate with scientists and non-scientists alike. There are many great people making science zines, but I feel like it’s still a very unexplored scicomm medium, especially in the UK.
Other than making zines, what else do you like to get up to in your spare time?
Maria: If I told you all my interests and hobbies we would be here for a really long time! Gladly, I go through phases, or like my mom calls them; obsessions! Currently I’m quite into Kdrama and Kpop. I’d like to start seriously learning Korean once I’m done with my thesis too!
So, has your science journey been what you expected?
Maria: In some ways yes, but in many ways no! There have been a lot of personal and professional obstactles that I have had to overcome during my PhD that have been a source of hurt and frustration, but also have made me into a stronger person. I have also has access to a lot of opportunities that made this experience so much greater and I owe that to my supervisors.
And finally, where should I go on my next holiday?
Maria: Portugal, obviously! It’s a beautifully small country, but you can literally find anything in it: nature, history, adventure, shopping, modern architecture, cultural experiences, beaches and, of course, science!
Funnily enough my next holiday is actually to Portugal so I might have to get some tips from you and a previous Scientist in the Spotlight Catia before I go! I want to say a big thank to Maria for sharing your science story with us and showing that the scientists you see in a lab might not just be scientists or students, they could also be doctors or vets doing important research too! I also wish you all the luck with your zine project as I’m excited to see where it goes! You can keep up to date on Maria’s science zine project We Are Microbes on Instagram or you can follow Maria’s life as a veterinary surgeon on Instagram too!
So S P O T L I G H T S E P T E M B E R has officially begun! Make sure to check back in every Monday and Friday this month for a new scientists story. PLUS I will be sprinkling these blog posts with a few #waybackwednesday and #throwbackthursday posts on my social media pages (see links below) to show you what my previous Scientist in the Spotlight scientists are getting up to now! AND at the end of the month I have another announcement to make! So there is LOTS going on across Soph talks science in September. Make sure you don’t miss out and subscribe to my mailing list at the top right of this page or follow me over on social media! Thank you all for your continued support. I am absolutely loving my science communication side hustle at the moment – especially as this week and last month have been the most successful EVER on my blog and I have so many new exciting collaborations and projects coming up! Not sure I’ve got time for this PhD malarky 😛