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Leaping outside of your comfort zone…

If you have the opportunity to do something you want to, but it scares you, do it – especially if it scares you.

This is the kind of advice you frequently find on the internet (and increasingly from annoying Facebook posts/links…). In general I think it’s probably right.

Get out of the house, do something different, try a new sport/activity/food whatever. It’ll be good for you.

It can be some bloody scary magic…

But how does it feel actually doing it?

Fucking terrifying.

As you may know if you’ve been here before, a few months back I officially finished (resigned) working at Mega Corp., and decided to live off of the “fat” I’d managed to accumulate in my time there, and began trying to ‘get a foot in the door’ as some kind of freelance science writer. I knew this was never going to be easy – there’s too many good writers already out there for a start.

I didn’t get right into finding stories, writing and pitching after I finished work, largely as there was another fairly life changing event around the same time.

I’ll not go into details too much here, but let’s just say it involves – like all good stories – having met a girl I find amazing (and who seems similarly keen on me: presumably indicative of some kind of hidden mental instability*). One problem though: she’s just moved back home to Canada to start her PhD.


So, I spent nearly a month over there with her, and will be going back again soon for a month or two. In and of itself, this shouldn’t be detrimental to getting some writing done and some articles pitched.

I have managed to get a lead on a few interesting stories, and have made one pitch, which was very graciously knocked back, with a “we liked the idea, though it’s not really for us, but do please keep them coming.”

Don’t worry. I will. And better.

I also got my website/blog built, finalised and live for the actual science writing, once written, which you can find here. – geddit? Not too much there right now, a couple of bits from my uni MSc and one newer one from the other day.

What else have I been up to?

Well, helping to try and organise some kind of science writing course with a group of folks from Oxford Uni and – anxiously – looking at how I can get over to Canada more permanently, which has taken up a fair bit of my time. Time I will gladly spend trying to make it work. But it does eat into some of that “fat” I had ready to keep me fed, housed and clothed, shortening how long it will be there.  It’s worth it though.

The good news is that under the current immigration system I score enough points (just) to be admitted. The bad news is they stopped receiving applications in July, pending a revised system. Something tells me this will probably work against me. Fucksocks again.

This shift in priorities worries me. Moving to Canada is a priority, and I wouldn’t have it any other way; but it does conflict with my previous plans if I can’t get ‘permanent residence’ status.

The fact I don’t have a regular desk/lab bench job anymore is awesome as it gives me the flexibility to be able to shoot off Canada for a few months at a time (where I can at least still find stories and write), but, at the same time, I’m not bringing in any money myself yet. And I don’t know when, or how much I will be able to.

This puts an increasing pressure on me to somehow make money from this enterprise of being a science writer. This was never going to be easy, nor offer short-term to financial stability. I am finding this kinda stressful at the moment; when no one even knows my name right now, and with little written material ‘out there’.

So, immediate plans are thus:

  • Keep an eye out for new/proposed Canadian immigration rules (game changer)
  • Write, write, and write
  • Read, read and read
  • Find as many places to pitch to as possible
  • Pitch!
  • Get clippings wherever and whenever I can to show to editors

And that is what’s going on right now. If you have any advice, please let me have it, otherwise, just cross your fingers for me…

*Sorry if you’re reading this. I have the utmost confidence you are sane. 😀

Communication Woes: Every young couple in love… on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The other day a friend asked me what my favourite picture was.

I had to think for a few minutes. Hmm.

I have beef with some art. Sometimes I just don’t get it.

I once stood in the national portrait gallery looking at something abstract. I was trying to see the merit of it, to see if I could “get it”. I really was trying. But I found myself saying out loud, “Well, this is bollocks”.

I was more surprised when an older aristocratic looking lady standing nearby me, wearing a wide brimmed hat and matching dress, suddenly said “Yes. Yes, I think you’re right.” and walked off.

Aaanyway, that’s not really my point.

What I actually answered with was: The pale blue dot.

Now, if you’re a (big?) popular science fan, you probably already know what the pale blue dot is. But if you don’t “The pale blue dot” is a picture taken by Voyager-1 in 1990, when it was almost 4 billion miles from Earth. That’s it, just there on the right.

See that little bluish-white speck about half way up the brownish stripe?

That’s us. Everyone.

I’m thinking this picture is my test. But before I say more about that, let me quote the late Carl Sagan, who convinced NASA to take the picture. His words describe what this means far better than mine ever would. Continue reading

A Crisis of identity: Am I a scientist?

When meeting people for the first time, friends of friends, and that kind of thing, one of the questions most people ask, including myself is: and what do you do?



This very question has precipitated in me a sense of dread of late.

I’m no longer a working scientist. So, can I still call myself a scientist? I’ve yet to be published anywhere in print (it will happen I tell you!). Soooo, what am I? Can I call myself a science writer yet? I’m not sure. Do I have to be paid to do something before I can be called that? Where’s the rule book?

Continue reading

The Infinite Monkey

Physics professors having comedic breakdowns trying to say a name, anxious producers, engineers of the tiny and general mirth.

That pretty much describes my Monday at the recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage.

Aside from the usual hosts of Brian Cox and Robin Ince (who it was generally agreed wasn’t angry enough… but was still very funny) we were joined by engineer and materials scientist Mark Miodownik, and the engineer Eleanor Stride. The third guest was an excellent bonus, in the form of the screen writer, director and comedian Andy Hamilton.

A moment of anxiety was enjoyed by all when I realised my blasé attitude – having been once before – meant that the queue I didn’t think was forming was indeed forming, but just round the corner …

Continue reading

Being Ben Goldacre’d…


Retweeted by Ben Goldacre. Destroyer of bandwidth and blogs.

This little blog, which I originally wasn’t going to advertise especially, suddenly went from trundling along at about 20 views/day to a spike of 2.5k…

Do you know what that does to my visitor stats? Do you? It makes my normal stats imperceptible noise.

Continue reading

Midnight visitor

Last night, while I was having a good old sleep, no doubt dreaming of some fascinating science I’d read about (‘cus that’s all I should be dreaming about now, right?), I dreamily began to suspect that someone was in my room.

There was. A Burglar.

Except mine didn’t get to take anything….

Though that’s not what I thought of initially. At first, I thought maybe it was a housemate, somehow taking a wrong turn as they’d come down the stairs.

Slowly, through the warm fuzzy blanket of sleep I began to realise I was actually awake and not dreaming this.

My brain did it’s quick preflight check:

  • Number of arms: 2 – “check”
  • Number of legs: 2 – “check”
  • Head – present, booting up – “check”
  • Existential dread: 11 – hmm, lower than normal, but, “Check”
  • Expected number of people in room:1
  • Sense of disappointment at expected number of people in room: “Check”
  • Actual number of people in room: 2

And so, I sat bolt upright. I probably said something like: “Wha’ya Ergler cnut!”

What I actually said is lost in the mists of time now, and was probably less coherent anyway.

What I saw was the sodium lamp lit silhouette of a fairly slender man jumping off my windowsill and on to the drive. Where he proceeded to “cheese it” down the road. Continue reading