Biology, SciComm, Spectacular Scientists

Spectacular Scientists: Soph Arthur!

As part of my series featuring female scientists both past and future, I have been lucky enough to be able to interview Soph Arthur, a science communicator and now the proud owner of a PhD! You may know her as @soph.talks.science on her blog and Instagram!

Soph has been an amazing mentor in encouraging me to start my blog, and was one of the first science accounts I followed on Instagram! She has a PhD in biology, and is now a science communicator at Imperial College London! How cool is that!?

Soph holding a card with a picture of her blog logo and handwritten "Congratulations Dr Soph"
Dr Soph

J: You have just recently completed your PhD! Congratulations! It is such an amazing achievement! Can you tell me what the main purpose of your research was, and what are you doing now?

S: Thank you! So my PhD was looking at stem cell metabolism, specifically how the way the stem cells got their energy helped them to stay as a stem cell. For those who don’t know, stem cells are cells that can turn into any cell type that you find in the body with the right signals, so working out how they become stem cells in the first place can help us to use them to make different cell types for medicine. So now I am a science communications officer. In simple terms, I am a science storyteller: I get to tell the world about the awesome research going on where I work and help researchers to communicate their research with others amongst many other things.


What are Stem Cells?

Most cells in your body are specialised, meaning they have specific qualities that make them really good at their job! Stem Cells are undifferentiated, so they are not specialised! This means that they are able to become many different cells to replace dying ones or simply more so you can grow! Embryonic Stem Cells are particularly special, as they can are pluripotent, and can turn into any type of cell. These are what create the embryo that develops into a baby! Adult Stem Cells are found in the bone marrow, and are multipotent, meaning that they can only turn into certain types of cell. What cell they change into depends on lots of conditions, and many scientists around the world are currently researching into it, as they have the potential to become life saving medicines.


J: Even though you aren’t actively researching anymore, you are still very much part of the scientific community! What is your favourite thing about working in science?

S:  Ooo tough question. In the lab, I loved piecing together all my results to figure out what was going on in my cells. But now I’m out of the lab, I love learning about such diverse research rather than just my own but also that I get to be creative. Something that you don’t always link to a career in science!

J: Have you always been interested in Biology or Science in general?

S: Yes. Science, along with French, were my best subjects in school. But I was always fascinated by biology and I have always wanted to learn more about all of science including engineering, maths and space to name something.

J: That’s awesome! Do you feel that studying a language in school has helped you later in your life?

S: I’ve always had a passion for languages and always wanted to learn a little bit of the lingo when I visit new places. So learning at school has helped me be able to pick that up more quickly. Admittedly my language skills aren’t as good as they used to be, but you don’t always know the right words to say even in your native tongue so I guess it has helped me figure out different ways to say the same thing which helps with my scicomm. Plus it has helped me communicate my research with a few more people. I just wish I was fluent enough to do it on a permanent basis!

Screenshot of a blog post (click to read) about sign language in scicomm

J: Thinking back to was probably your first taste of science, who were your inspirations when you were in Secondary School (High School)?

S: I always have such a dull answer to these sorts of questions. I never really had any science inspirations growing up. I was just fascinated by how all these teeny tiny molecules coordinated to allow us to walk or talk, or breathe and think. So I guess my inspiration was just science. I always wanted to know more.

J: That’s such an amazing thing to have been inspired by! It really shows that to be a scientist, all you have to be is curious! Who inspires you now?

S: As for now, I am inspired by so many amazing scientists that I have met on social media. Although most of them I have never met, they inspire me every day to be better.

J: After school, what did you decide to study at University?

S: For my undergrad degree I studied Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Bath. It was a four-year degree where my 3rd year was an industrial placement which was hugely valuable as it gave me 12 months of actual real-life lab life experience. I did that at Public Health England and developed a multiplex assay to test antibody levels in human blood samples.

J: How did you end up doing a PhD?

At the end of my undergrad, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I loved the idea of being a science writer but had no experience but also had a passion for research that I wanted to pursue. So I headed to FindaPhD.com and just kept applying to all the projects I was interested in before finally getting accepted into a program at the University of Southampton.

Soph looking down a microscope in an Instagram post

J: Seeing your research has really encouraged me to keep up my interest in science, but your social media also highlights the harder bits of doing a PhD: Has there ever been moments when you become discouraged in your studies or work? How did you overcome it?

S: Oh yes. So many times at all stages of my scientific journey. I’m always doubting myself and questioning my decisions. But it’s a normal part of a science career. There will always be lows and issues that aren’t necessarily your fault. Each time I nearly threw in the towel I dealt with it differently. But my advice would be to take a step back, clear your mind, think about how far you’ve come and then come back with a fresh mind ready to turn the frustration into motivation. It’s a challenge but becoming resilient is part of training to become a researcher.

J: Your blog and Instagram inspired me to start my own: What inspired you to start using social media for science communication?

S:  I initially started my blog as a way to try and get experience in science writing while I pursued my PhD. But it didn’t last very long at first. At this point, I didn’t even realise science communication was a thing. It wasn’t until I competed in a 3 Minute Thesis competition during my PhD that I realised you could get creative with communicating science with stories or videos or blogs. But I’ve always been a bit of a social media addict so coming across the incredible sci-comm community on Instagram was what inspired me to mix my love of science with my love of social media. Special shout out to @science.sam, @scigirlsash and @sciencebeaut for being the first three accounts I discovered and inspired me. And I guess the rest is history!

A screenshot of Soph's blog, showing her logo, main menu and featured post ("17 women who everyone should learn about in school textbooks")
The Soph Talks Science Blog

J: It was recently #WomenInSTEM Day, and one of the main topics discussed was the lack of women in STEM-related jobs. Have you ever felt the effects of this disparity?

S: Honestly no. My undergrad degree cohort was pretty much a 50:50 split of males and females. My PhD program was definitely more girls than boys and I worked in an all-female lab with a female PhD supervisor. Now in my new job, I’m in an all-female team once again. But just because I haven’t experienced anything doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I actually recently wrote a piece about this and my views for the Imperial College Medicine blog which you can check out here

J: What scientist would you say really paved the way for your own research?

S: Ooo good question. My final year project supervisor Tony Perry probably helped me realise that the field of stem cells, molecular biology, development and embryology. Was what I was fascinated by. But I don’t think that there was one specific area that I was fascinated by hence why the PhD projects I applied for were quite broad really.

J: If you had to choose, who would your favourite female scientist in your field of research be?

S: That’s a tough one. Unfortunately, I’ve never really had any female scientific role models growing up. The closest would probably be Rosalind Franklin. But there are so many incredible female scientists that I encounter every day in my job and through social media from all fields that inspire me and challenge the way I see things. And I really can’t choose one because they all bring something unique and empowering to the plate!

J: What are your top tips for aspiring scientists?

S: Top tips would be:

  1. Don’t give up. It will push you to your limits but you will come through stronger.
  2. Don’t let anyone tell you no because anyone can be a scientist and the more diverse voices, the more diverse ideas and the faster we can progress.
  3. Take all the opportunities you can. Being a scientist isn’t one thing so explore the options in and out of the lab. You will be glad you tried something and didn’t like it rather than regretting not giving it a go at all and
  4. Remember that failure is just another opportunity to learn. Failure in many forms is part and parcel of being a scientist. But we are also scientists because we want to learn new things. So make sure you turn every failure in and out of the lab into a new opportunity to learn something new and get better each time 🙂

J: Thank you so much! It has been really interesting to find out more about you and your science!

If you want to see more of what Soph is doing, you can follow her on Instagram (@soph.talks.science) or read her blog!

Who else would you like to see me interview? Are you a woman in STEM who would like to be featured? Do you have a favourite role model or woman in science? Are you interested in finding out more about stem cells or science outreach? Let me know in the comments!

☆☆☆

If you can’t trust an atom… trust in science!

☆it’s like magic, but it’s true whether you believe in it or not!☆

See you next time!

☆☆☆


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