How curiosity links my career and my hobbies

Anyone who knows me will know that I often spend my spare time trawling through websites looking at the best flight deals, or spending hours watching travel blogs, or simply just daydreaming about where I am going to be exploring next. Recently, we booked our next trip which is to Brussels in Belgium and in traditional Soph style I started planning out the things I wanted to do and see, and got incredibly excited about this that I don’t think I got to sleep very early that night. And it made me realise that actually there were a lot of similarities between my day job and my passion for travel. But what was linking them? The answer. Curiosity.

In this post, I have collaborated with Merck as part of their #alwayscurious initiative to explore more about their State of Curiosity Report 2018 and how that relates to me and my life. Merck believes ‘that curiosity is the driving force behind human progress and development. And while the future poses many challenges and uncertainties, they’re convinced that curiosity can help mankind navigate its unchartered terrain with confidence and optimism’.

Curiosity is a very complex thing to try and describe in detail, let alone measure. But Merck have devised these four pillars of curiosity, which are openness to people’s ideas, stress tolerance, deprivation sensitivity & joyous exploration. In this blog post, we will introduce these Curiosity Elements to you in a bit more detail and explore how they apply to my scicomm and my wanderlust.

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Openness to people’s ideas

So, the first curiosity element I want to explore with you is ‘openness to people’s ideas’. This is defined as “our appreciation of diverse perspectives and approaches from the people that surround us”.

Being open to the perspectives of others is crucial to my career in scicomm now. There are many projects I work on where I am portraying someone else’s latest research that has taken them perhaps years to collect. Or many other projects where I need the comments, feedback and critique from others in my team, but also outside my team, to be able to make things better and stronger. Let’s take a recent video that I made for one of my colleagues:

Clearly, my colleague Filipe is the expert when it comes to this field. But when it comes to being able to share his research in an accessible way, it is me that has the skills. I need to be able to do that, but also need to be able to take on board comments and edit in any way he deems necessary to fully reflect the impact and details of his research. Take a look at the video and let me know if you think I did a good job for my first ever video attempt.

Another part of my role now is helping to plan public engagement events, particularly with local communities, and the success of those relies on us listening to the thoughts and perspectives of those groups so we can make our research more accessible, but also in the future help to mould what research questions we are asking.

So,I might have convinced you that this curiosity element is crucial to my role in scicomm, but how does it link to my passion for travel?

Another interpretation of ‘openness to people’s ideas’ is that “helps us to be compassionate and tolerant toward one another and to embrace our diversity” – something that is crucial to exploring a new place and a new culture. I’ll be honest – there haven’t really been any countries that I have had the pleasure of travelling to where the culture has been drastically different to the one I am used to. But just like when I am planning events at work, when you plan trips to different countries, you need to plan to be a part of their culture and respect traditions and embrace their attitudes towards certain things. I think the closest I have come to this so far was during my trip to Rome or Florence when I had to make sure I had dressed appropriately, or had a shawl to hand so I could cover my shoulders, to enter the different churches.

Merck have created a short and fun exercise that allows you to explore this curiosity element more and experience it for yourself. Check it out here.

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Stress tolerance

The second curiosity element is stress tolerance which “refers to the willingness to embrace the doubt, confusion, anxiety, and other forms of distress that arise from exploring new and uncertain terrains”.

I think my minor travel addiction links itself immediately to this one. As we explore new places, to really get a feel for the place we want to lose the maps and just immerse ourselves in the experience. Our curiosity just wants us to wander the streets and se what hidden gems we can find. But this can also lead to stressful situations if you do happen to get lost and you have to piece back together your existing knowledge with new information to head back to where you should be. But knowing how to deal with this can lead you to some pretty spectacular finds. For me, when we were in Barbados and exploring the capital Bridgetown, we spent the afternoon wandering, and eventually spotted an alley that led down to a beach. Once we had reached the sand and started making our way in one direction, we soon realised that it was the beach – well more specifically the bay – where we had gone scuba diving and my now husband had asked me to marry him.

So, how does stress tolerance link to my scicomm career? If I was still in the lab, this would be an easy answer. Experiments often fail for no real reason other than to just test your patience and you frequently get challenged by others who see interpret your data differently either at presentations or during the review process.

But as part of my scicomm role, I act sometimes as a makeshift press officer tasked with sharing the latest research from the institute with the world and sometimes to very short deadlines for the biggest impact. But the biggest thing for me here is the fact that this time last year, I was curious to explore these potential roles in scicomm after spending years ‘training to become an academic researcher’. It is safe to say that I was excited about starting this job, but also very anxious about whether it was the right decision. Exploring this new field and gaining new skill after new skill with new contacts and perspectives on things has really helped me to become resilient in this field already.

Check out the exercise to explore stress tolerance here which involves three images for three seconds – it is as quick and easy as that and you get to learn something new.

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Deprivation sensitivity

The next curiosity element I want to introduce you to is deprivation sensitivity and “reflects the unpleasant state of uncertainty that persists until a gap between what we know and what we want to know is closed or resolved”. It drives us to google the answer to a question on our smartphone, while we’re still engaged in a conversation, or to pick up a thought, days – sometimes even weeks – after we’ve first encountered it.

I am very privileged in my current role that it is so varied and I have acquired many new skills already in the short time that I have been there, but also learn about so many different areas of research too as I write about them. As soon as I stumble across something I don’t understand, I want to find out what that is, and my first reaction is to open Google and type it in. More often than not, I get lost down an internet rabbit hole and have uncovered much more than simply what the original thing is. I also have the flexibility to be able to find ways to acquire the skills I need to be able to deliver my desired project. For example, I am heading on a science film making course so I can make better videos than the one I shared earlier in this post. I’m terrible for always wanting to know the answer to anything I have been asked, or be able to create something that someone wants of me, and if I can’t I will find a solution.

Planning my next trip is along the same lines. I, like everyone else I’m sure, want to make the most of any trip I make. I always feel uneasy that I won’t achieve that through spontaneity. I need to do my research and find out what there is to do from the obvious landmarks to the more local experiences wherever we visit. Once I know the things I want to see and experience, my curiosity is satisfied… until I get there at least. This was something I particularly experienced when I got whisked away to Prague for my birthday a few years ago and I didn’t have my normal research stage. But it did allow me to learn how to experience a city more in the moment.

Here you can find the exercise from Merck to discover more about this curiosity element by asking the simple question ‘what if?’. Try it out today!

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Joyous exploration

The fourth and final curiosity element is my favourite one. It is joyous exploration which is “the pleasure of seeking out new information and engaging in novel experiences, and the subsequent joy of learning and growing”.

I shared this post on Instagram recently about this curiosity element but this one is also the most straight forward given my desire for education and love for learning.

View this post on Instagram

ARE YOU DONE WITH EDUCATION YET? . This is a question I got asked so, so, SO many times as I was coming to the end of my PhD journey. I even got told a few times after passing my viva “Oh, so now you can stop being a student and actually do a proper job”. While I may have finished my time as a ‘student’ for now (I would never rule out wanting to learn something new later down the line!), I am so NOT done with education. . I love learning!💕💕 It is what drove me during my PhD as I wanted to find the solution to that problem, or find that next little discovery that no-one had done before. It is what I love in my current role learning so many new skills and about so many varying areas of research. It’s also one thing I love about doing scicomm is it allows me to experiment and learn new things also. I love to learn languages and about cities I travel to, and basically anything that is going to help in that next pub quiz! . I have always love learning, and I always will! So, I loved being able to further explore Merck’s Curiosity Elements in cooperation with Merck and the four exercises they sent me – which you can try out for yourself via the #linkinbio. But it was the ‘Joyous Exploration’ one that I wanted to do over and over again. It allowed me to learn more and more information and make new connections between things I did and didn’t know. I learnt things about nanorobots, the Loebner Prize and the Human Brain Project, and my curiosity meant I just had to go and google some more about them all. . But talking about brains, what goes on in our brains when we learn something new? One particular study reported that when we are learning a new skill over time, there is increasing activity in a region called the default network, which is normally ‘switched off’ when doing something highly demanding. As you become more competent with this new info, these signals that are associated with “task ease” get more and more prominent. There is clearly a lot more we can learn here, but we will have to save that for another time. . Are you a “life-long learner” like me? What new skills or info are you learning about right now? . 💕

A post shared by 🔬Dr Soph Arthur 🌻 (@soph.talks.science) on

Joyous exploration at work lets me learn about the latest biomedical research and then get creative in communicating that whether it is writing, or videos, or events, or something completely different. I also get to learn about new skills that could take my career in so many different directions again.

Joyous exploration in travel lets me learn about different cities and the people who live there, the different languages they speak, the different food they like to eat and the different traditions that they celebrate. The lists are endless of things that I can learn about when travelling and doing science communication. I am always curious to know more and am driven to always find out more and learn something new. It is that curiosity that inspires my want to travel to as many countries in the world as possible. And it is that curiosity that motivates my professional development. It is curiosity that links my passion and my career.

Here is the fourth and final exercise from Merck. It was maybe predictably my favourite one that I wanted to do over and over again as I got to learn so many different things. You can do the same here.

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So, I have one final question to ask you?

From my last Curiosity focused post last year, you will know that I am a firm believer that we are all born curious and we need to keep exercising that throughout our lives. Be curious at work and be curious outside of work because it drives you in all areas of your life!

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Disclaimer: This post has been produced in cooperation with Merck after asking me to join their Curiosity Initiative consisting of science and technology-based opinion leaders. There really is some interesting stuff in their curiosity report which will make you…well…curious, so go and take a look. Merck is known as Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in the United States & Canada. Thanks to Merck for making this article possible. I remained in full control of the idea and concept of this piece.

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What makes you curious? What big or little questions are out there that you want the answers to? And are you doing anything about it? Has curiosity shaped anything in your life? Do you want to know more about what curiosity is exactly? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

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