Scientist in the Spotlight. Martijn P.

A career in science is not what it seems. It is not all lab coats and research. In fact, there are sooo many other exciting opportunities that help share that research with the world. And there is not just one route to becoming a scientist. There are many paths that can lead to where you want to be. I for one am still discovering new paths that could take me to a whole new science career destination. The options are endless and you can find something that suits your strengths. This is why I love sharing the stories of as many different scientists as I can because no two science journeys are the same!

Time for me to introduce you to my next Scientist in the Spotlight; a 27 year old Belgian fellow who has always been fascinated by science. Growing up he didn’t want to be a soccer player or fireman but a palaeontologist after spending hours reading books and watching documentaries about dinosaurs. On top of that, his grandfather always took him on long walks in the forest teaching our Spotlight Scientist everything he knew about nature along the way. So low and behold our Scientist in the Spotlight Martijn P ended up as a scientist. Not a palaeontologist though….. Let’s get to know Martijn a little bit better and his tiny lightbulbs that help study a sick brain

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Hello Martijn and welcome to Soph talks science. So you teased us that you were became a scientist but not the palaeontologist we might have expected. Tell us then about your science journey.

Martijn: I really got fascinated by the workings of our human body during high school, especially neurology, which prompted me to go down the path of a biomedical researcher. I studied Biomedical Sciences at Hasselt University (UHasselt), a field that is located on the intersection of chemistry, biology, physics and medicine. Within this educational program I got the opportunity to learn about all levels of life, from the level of molecules, genes and cells to living organisms and entire populations. For my MSc degree I studied bioelectronics and nanotechnology – basically everything with a size in the order of 1 million time smaller than the width of a human hair – a unique programme that unites the world of nanotechnology and materials physics/chemistry with biomedical sciences.

After completing my MSc degree I got an exclusive scholarship of our university, and later the government, to start a PhD. The main goal of my research was to design a tiny nanosized fluorescent imaging probe – something that can send out light of a specific color when you excite it – to study brain diseases with, like Multiple Sclerosis. The reason for doing this is that our brain is extremely well protected from the outside world by the blood-brain-barrier – it’s like our brain resides in a fortress – making it hard to investigate what is going on inside there when something goes wrong. My imaging probes are small and stealthy enough to get in there, giving researchers a fighting chance against these diseases. I managed to successfully defend my thesis last year in December 2017 and now I am a free man – imagine the feeling of a house-elf getting socks! πŸ™‚

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After defending your thesis, you left the lab bench behind for a job in science communication. Can you tell us some more about your job as a scicomm officier?

Martijn: Since March I turned my passion into my job and started working at UHasselt as a science communication officer. I am now in charge of everything with regards to communicating science – in charge might be a big word though. This involves everything from organising scicomm events and workshops for coaching students and researchers to producing science content and content platforms. It is a super exciting thing to do as I finally got the chance to burst out of my PhD bubble and learn about all the awesome things that we are researching at our university. And I get to meet a lot of new people!

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When did you know you wanted to swap your lab coat for a career in scicomm?

Martijn: I quickly knew that the golden academia road to professorship wasn’t for me – as well as the bulk of PhD students and science graduates. At first I thought to do something in consulting but then I discovered scicomm in the second year of my PhD. I tried to participate in a competition called FameLab and β€˜surprise surprise’ did not win. I was by far the youngest participant there and the only PhD student between professors and postdocs. BUT I enjoyed it so much that I started to follow workshops and participate in an endless stream of events. And then I went full berserk in scicomm and here we are.

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Do you have any advice for others that want to choose the same career path?

Martijn: Try to combine what you love with science (for example: photography, poetry, writing, blogging, vlogging, drawing, …) or try out as many things as you can as this will strengthen your profile, and then settle on what you enjoy the most! Also don’t listen too much to others. Everyone will always have something to say about your scicomm efforts – haters gonna hate! You should do what you want to do and in the end they will come around – trust me on this one!

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What are your top three favourite ways to do scicomm and why?

Martijn: Presentations, Instagram and event organising.
I love to get on stage and entertain people – although I am a rather introverted person. It is how I fell in love with scicomm.
Instagram is amazing for scicomm as it gives you the ability to combine pictures, videos and writing! On top of that the community is AWESOME and really supportive – #thescicommunity 4 life!
I also always enjoyed to organise events and let other people shine. For example I was the lead organiser of a TEDx event at our university (TEDxUHasselt 2016).

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Do you use any gadgets or apps for your scicomm work?

Martijn: I mainly focus my social media on twitter and Instagram. For the latter, I use apps to modify pics like Adobe Lightroom and Snapseed. For my InstaStories I use the app Filmic pro as it gives you the possibility to film flat/log files and adopt settings easily and edit my videos on Final Cut Pro X. We also have a DJI OSMO mobile 2 stabiliser and professional camera at our office which I sometimes use. Currently we are looking to buy a professional video camera.

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Talking of your InstaStories, I love them and how engaging they are. What are your top tips for a good InstaStory?

Martijn: Take your time! Think of a story, a narrative to tell. Be unique. DARE TO BE YOURSELF! And finally if you have the time, try to edit your stories and then post them to get a nicer looking video.

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What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt so far?

Martijn: Do what you like and what you need. Far too often I missed out on something because in the back of my head I heard the voices of the people who said what I was doing was a waste of time. Far too often I pushed my body/mental health to the edge because I was expected to neglect my own needs and work day and night. Far too often I did what I thought that needed to be done rather than what I actually needed. Don’t do this. Treat yourself. Listen to your own voice. All that matters is what matters for you.

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What do you like to do in your spare time?

Martijn: I really love reading. I used to read tons of books, but that kind of faded away during my PhD due to a lack of time. Now I am slowly rekindling my love for the written word. There is nothing better than letting your mind drift away in a story. Besides that I also like to run while listening to music/podcasts … occasionally.

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Where do you see in yourself in 10 years?

Martijn: No idea! I try to live in the moment as much as I can. And it doesn’t matter as not knowing is part of the fun of discovery. As long as I am happy!

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And finally, where in the world should I visit or travel to next?

Martijn: I am not much of a traveller so I get kind of get intimidated by all the β€œyou need to see the world or you miss out on everything stuff”. HOWEVER, if I would have to pick one to send you off to it would be New Zealand. Looks like one gorgeous country to travel through.

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Huge thank you to Martijn for taking some time out of sharing science with the world to answer some questions for my blog. You can follow him on Twitter and also make sure to take the time to check out his awesome InstaStories here.

Science love.

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