At the UK Blog Awards 2018 Soph not only won the Individual Educator award but the Content Creator Of The Year award too. Amazing recognition for a woman on a mission to make science less stereotypically ‘old man in a white lab coat’ and much more fun, exciting and understandable for everyone. After following Soph online since the awards, I had the pleasure of meeting her at an event recently. She is just as lovely in person, a wonderful soul that seems to just take everything in her stride, finding her confidence through her passions. In this interview Soph shares how she deals with being an introvert, how she tackles loneliness in the lab and how she is about to marry her best friend.
Hi Soph, I love your blog Soph Talks Science, when did you start it and have you always been passionate about all things science?
Hello! And thank you for having me. I’m honoured to be involved. I’ve been blogging for just over two years although eagle-eyed viewers on my blog will see that there are posts from earlier than 2016. I tried to start blogging earlier but wasn’t fully committed to creating and writing so it took me a while to discover the passion and potential of blogging. Science has always been a fascination of mine. I was never one of those kids who had a telescope growing up or spent weeks in nature during the summer holidays to discover wildlife, but it was the subject I loved most at school. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Wales so I didn’t even know a ‘real life’ scientist. So, the only career I thought I could do with a love for science, particularly the human body, was medicine. But the further I progressed in education, the more I became fascinated by the cells of our body and how all the genes and proteins in our cells coordinated to allow us to do everyday things like walk and talk and think. So, I started a science blog to share my passion for science with more people and to introduce more real-life scientists to children that might be growing up in a similar situation to me.
Where do you blog ideas come from and what is the driving force behind your blog mission?
Without sounding completely cliche, literally everywhere! Science and technology surround us everywhere we go, so I absolutely love being inspired by anywhere I go and the people around me. I love being able to get really creative and share scientific studies with the public that perhaps they never would have heard of on awareness days. For example, I recently shared some research about cancer and memory in elephants for World Elephant Day. Or share some of the science behind the hottest beauty trends, the best science gifts for your Christmas lists or cover the latest science festivals and events and what I learnt. I have obviously shared insights into my own life as a scientist too so it allows me to try and infuse a curiosity and intrigue for science in so many different ways for so many different audiences. It is that that drives my blog mission. I want to share what a career as a scientist is really like and break stereotypes and encourage everyone to embrace their inner scientist by questioning the world around them.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Has this always been the case?
I’m a complete and utter introvert. That’s possibly the easiest question I’ve ever answered, maybe apart from ‘what’s your name?’ Haha. I have always been shy and lacking confidence especially when it comes to meeting new people. I’ve always been probably too conscious of what everyone thinks of me so I always like to take a back seat when meeting new people and try and suss people out before starting conversations with them. I try to work out what they might find funny or what they may get offended by including their likes and dislikes so I can try and make the situation easier for myself. I don’t really think I get much better as relationships develop though. I think I would rather let others enjoy their conversations without having me butting in. I’ve always been the quiet one and blend into the background but never really had the confidence to get more involved almost definitely for fear of annoying people or offending someone somehow and not thinking I have anything valuable to contribute.
Do you ever experience feelings of loneliness and how do you avoid/overcome them?
Definitely. Especially having spent 4 years working on my PhD in a lab. Although you are a member of a bigger lab group, you all have your own projects to be getting on within the lab. So there could be some days for weeks on end where you are spending your 10 hours plus in work without really muttering a word to anyone else because people are concentrating on different things and experiments that all have different timings. Then at the start of my PhD I was also living by myself too so there would definitely be days that I probably wouldn’t have spoken a single word! I really struggled then to supplement this with socialising because as you can probably tell I wasn’t very good at it, but I also didn’t have the money to afford to join in with all the things my new PhD friends were doing around me, let alone the funds to do things with my uni friends or friends from home and visit them. Loneliness is a feeling that I experience quite often especially since I’ve finished uni and started my PhD. I have been my own worst enemy in trying to overcome it in all honesty. I didn’t want to help myself and just kept feeling sorry for myself. It’s exacerbated by shyness and also anxiety about meeting new people so I’ve got progressively worse rather than better and I still don’t really know how I can become better at this. I’ve been forcing myself into situations where I can meet new people like blogger events but I still can’t bring myself to approach people and I wait for people to come to me. But Whatsapp has been a huge help in letting me be in constant chatter with my different friend groups but it’s also my worst nightmare when they are all meeting up and attending different things and I can’t be there. So, in short, I’m still trying to figure out how I can help myself.
Tell me about your current friend circle and how have your friendships formed and changed throughout your life?
I’m one of those people that is part of a few different circles, but they are all circles of friends that I don’t see very often. I’ve got my friends from school that live either at home or around the country, the girls that I used to play cricket with back at home and then my uni friends who are dotted across the globe. I’ve always been a sporty person and a team player so I always developed friendships through playing sport but that stopped at university and as my confidence declined further I haven’t been able to rekindle that. But besides that I’ve always managed to maintain my friendships throughout my life. The issue is that I am in a completely different place in the world to all the people I love spending time with.
Have you been through a friend breakup and why did it happen?
Not a friend break up really. I’m probably the person in the group that is always messaging the others just for a catch up. If there has been a friendship in my life that hasn’t stood the test of time so to speak it has probably been because we were never that close to begin with.
When was the last time you made a new friend and how?
Being a science communicator and science blogger has allowed me to join an incredibly supportive and inspiring community of fellow scientists through social media and particularly Instagram. Sharing my PhD experiences and talking about my research and other science topics has allowed me to engage, support and connect with PhD students in the UK and across the world that have gone through similar experiences to me. We have bonded through supporting each other through this grad school journey and I am honoured that some of them have become really close friends. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to meet the majority of them in person so far but hopefully that will change in the not too distant future. But I’ve been amazed at the friendships that I’ve gained in this amazing community without having met them either. People that I would never have met before, but people that are helping me get through my PhD, teaching me about what a career in science really means (spoiler alert! Its not all about the lab coat!) and opening more and more doors and opportunities for me.
Tell a friendship story…
So, one of my best and closest friends I met on day 1 at our university. We just connected. We shared a love of sport, a love of Harry Potter and a love of stand up comedy spending hours watching them all. Our friendship grew and grew and we started exploring the world together. Not as often as I would like to satisfy my wanderlust but occasionally when money allowed us. They also booked a surprise trip to Prague for my birthday nearly three years ago. But we continue to bond over learning new things and sport, Potter and comedy and on our latest trip to Barbados, the sharing new experiences together continued. Our first-time scuba diving where we left the beach as best friends and came back to the surface each with a fiance after he popped the question to me on the seabed. My best friend is the guy I’m going to marry next year. But the best thing about this whole story is that my now fiance realised he wanted to marry me after watching the film ‘Valentines Day’ with his mum. In particular, the scene where Ashton Kutcher’s character asked his friend about the secret of his relationship to which his friend replied ‘Easy! I married my best friend!’.
Neither really, but if I had to choose… tea!
Girly night in/ Girly night out?
Girly night in all day long!
Fave thing to do with friends?
Ooooh probably down our local back at home when there is
live music one that starts a sing along.
I’m not sure exactly but it must be about 22 years
Favourite gift from a friend?
Getting me tickets to watch Michael Buble live from the 10th row for my birthday.
Best thing a friend has done for you?
I love all my friends for embracing my obsession of taking hundreds of photos at every occasion and letting me do that and getting involved
Thank you Soph for being so honest and letting us know more about you and your friendships. Your friendship story is the cutest story ever! Now, where can we find you online?