Celebrating the PhD journey with Lisa (In a Science World)

Hi all! For this month's interview, I knew I wanted to interview someone who recently finished the PhD. And I couldn't help thinking about one of the most prominent and inspiring names in Science Communication on Instagram and Twitter that I know. Once I saw Lisa passed her PhD viva, I knew I had to interview her. She always comes across with honest posts and motivational tips. For me, she is known for her PhD SOS tips (a successful section on her blog) and also for being a crossfit fan. When seeing her posts, I even thought about trying it 🙂 So, let's get to know her journey better, that was filled with ups and downs that inspired her to create the blog and social media presence.

1. Tell us about your research field and academic background

It all started off for me by studying Physiology in my undergrad, which then led to my masters degree in Maternal and Fetal Health. That’s what inspired me to apply for my PhD project! My research is all to do with the “Developmental Origins of Health and Disease” (DOHaD) hypothesis. We know that conditions the baby experiences in utero during pregnancy can impact the baby’s health in adulthood. It’s a really interesting field! My PhD specifically focused on how suboptimal diets (high-fat and vitamin D deficient) during pregnancy can alter the baby’s muscle development, structure and function throughout it’s lifecourse. After 4.5 years of PhD hard-graft, I’ve written the thesis, viva is complete and I’ll graduate in the summer!

2. What were the most relevant moments of your academic career pre-PhD viva? Tell us about it, and also how it felt like to become Dr. Jones!

  1. Finishing in the lab – there was a time I didn’t think I could continue with my PhD and getting back in the mindset to complete another year of laboratory work was a challenge.
  2. Finding the most amazing mentor – she supported me until the end. Seeking help from her was the best thing I did for myself. Thank you Jude.
  3. Using my PhD to kick-start my science blog and journey into science communication.
  4. Completing that 270 page beast of a thesis! All the hard work written up into one wonderful book.

Having passed my viva and hearing the words “Dr Lisa Jones” was incredible and very overwhelming. A massive weight was lifted off my shoulders. I am so happy and proud of myself for achieving my PhD, it’s no easy task!

3. For how long have you have your blog? What inspired you to share the moments of your PhD journey with others?

I’ve had my blog for over a year now! I originally started it for two reasons. 1) I had a major ‘PhD slump’ halfway through my PhD journey (you can read my blog post all about it) and I reached out for support. It was then that I realised very few PhD students shared their trials and tribulations in the public domain so I decided I would. It’s been important to me that I share my experiences and advice from what I’ve learnt through tough situations so others don’t experience the same. Secondly, around this time I realised I didn’t want to stay in academia but I loved the science and educating others… so hello science blog and the beginning of my scicomm pursuits.

4. How did you manage to find time to blog, do scicomm and even a science comedy stint, keep up with your amazing crossfit practice, and ace your PhD? I assume it’s a tricky balance.

Yes, it can be tricky when you’re deep in the PhD ‘bubble’. Basically my number one tip is to keep a diary and plan your days/weeks with small goals. It keeps you accountable and encourages a more proactive and productive lifestyle! I slot in time to write my blog posts, to work on other scicomm projects when I have them, and I have certain evenings I like to Crossfit. That then enabled me to plan what PhD work was being done when! Sometimes trying to manage everything can feel overwhelming but that’s when you have to scale things back and prioritise in order to get that energy back!

5. You regularly post crossfit pictures in your IG, so I assume it is a source of stress relief. Tell us how it helped you, and what other activities do you do to unwind?

Crossfit has been amazing for me. It gives me another focus outside of work (I like to have fitness goals) and there’s nothing like lifting a heavy barbell to distress! Focusing on a workout shuts my brain off from work stress and all those feel-good endorphins totally help to stay positive! I find that spending time in nature is very therapeutic to unwind as well, it’s nice to get away from the intensity of the city sometimes. Spending time with friends is also incredibly important to me. It’s all about the work/life balance!

6. Did you get to travel during your PhD, for either work or leisure? If yes, what were your favorite locations?

During my PhD I was selected to do an oral presentation at an international conference in Boston called “Experimental Biology” during my first year. It was great to have time to explore Boston and I tagged on a week in New York afterwards (us poor students have to take advantage of free flights!). Such an incredible city! I’ve also managed to explore Dublin (first time in Ireland) and Cambridge for conferences. In terms of travel for leisure whilst PhDing I’ve been to Bruges Christmas Markets, Iceland to celebrate handing in my transfer/upgrade thesis, Amsterdam and Fuerteventura. If there are any super stressed PhD students (or anyone for that matter) out there Fuerteventura will seriously chill you out. I swear it’s a magical island which forces you to switch off!

7. I already interviewed Sophie from Soph Talks Science and she told us about Southampton a bit, but I am looking for your tips on the city as well! And you did your BSc in Manchester, do you have any travel must sees in Manchester to tell us about as well?

Admittedly, Southampton itself isn’t the most exciting place but there are so many wonderful surrounding areas to visit! The New Forest is great for cycle rides and nice long weekend walks with cute coffee shops (cake is a priority of mine). Oh talking of cake, Tenth Hole in Southsea is my fav! Seriously epic cakes. The south coast (Bournemouth/Dorset) is also beautiful. Manchester is a big city, a lot going on! There’s the quirky ‘Northern Quarter’ area with alternative bars, shops and cafes. I recommend going to Cloud 23, it’s a bar on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Hotel – great for afternoon tea or cocktails in the evening. Can you tell I have a major sweet tooth?!

8. I love your PhD SOS tips, it’s something we all need. If you could sum up your tips in one word, what would it be and why?

Reassuring – the PhD journey is full of highs and lows. We all face the struggles whether that’s linked to supervisor issues, a lack of motivation or a poor work-life balance as some examples. I hope that my tips reassure others by highlighting that they are not alone in any struggles they may have, but that there are solutions which can help improve the situation.

9. How did you celebrate your viva? Why do you think it’s important to celebrate properly such a huge achievement?

I drank a lot of champagne, ate loads of cake and danced a lot! I was able to catch up with my family (they were over from Brussels, where they now live), and caught up with all sorts of friends… and worked out a lot too! I have of course been planning my post-PhD travels to Thailand and Bali which is my well-deserved treat to myself! When this gets published I’ll be in Thailand, so hello from SE Asia! It is SO important to celebrate our successes. We work hard and we deserve to do something for us. Too often we don’t look after ourselves. Allowing ourselves treats when we achieve something huge gives us the opportunity to take in that achievement and to really reflect on how awesome we are. We also have to of course celebrate the small wins too to help maintain productivity, motivation and focus!

10. Thank you for your time, I’m so excited to see your journey post-PhD and your career development! How can we follow your journey and blog on social media?

It was incredible to learn more about your story Lisa! And I wish you a great vacation to Southeast Asia, which is a place that, despite my major travel bug, I still have yet to feel intense curiosity about. And I see we both like cake and wine, and actually celebrations of that type would be perfect for me in about one year, when I plan to have my defense too =)

With this last post of the month, my next post will be the review of the March goals for my Happiness Project 2018. We were all about celebration! Next month, April, will be all about productivity, a thing I need a lot of with some important PhD milestones coming soon! Cheer for me 😉



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