What Would Scientists Say to Their Younger Selves?

What Would Scientists Say to Their Younger Selves?
5 months ago

What Would Scientists Say to Their Younger Selves?

When you look back on your science career so far, what do you wish you’d known sooner? What key piece of advice would have helped you in the earlier stages of your STEM career? If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self just starting out on your career journey?

This is the question we asked attendees at the British Neuroscience Association’s BNA2023 conference in Brighton - and they came up with some inspiring answers!

From tips on confidence and resilience, to advice on mentoring and networking, these experienced life scientists and neuroscience professionals shared some valuable words of wisdom to help new scientists working their way up the STEM career ladder!


The confidence you need to succeed

When you’re just starting out in your career, your confidence can easily be knocked by setbacks or rejections. Self-belief and bravery are invaluable assets for a successful career in life science. Ningyuan Sun (left) of the University of Manchester and Zhi Yao (right) of LifeArc remind younger scientists to “be bold and confident” while Laura from IFLScience (centre) says to “trust your gut” and be ready to “take a risk!


No plan? No problem!

If you don’t have your entire life science career planned out just yet, don’t worry! Mark from Brainbox Ltd took a moment to remind his younger self that having a career path marked out for yourself early isn’t essential - “don’t worry if you don’t have a plan.” Being flexible, open-minded and prepared to change direction may actually be more beneficial and could open up more opportunities for you.


Be resilient - and don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back

Imposter syndrome is an incredibly common problem that affects most life scientists at some point in their careers. Feelings of inadequacy can hit at any time, especially in a competitive working environment, but as Emily from the University of Sussex told us “imposter syndrome is normal!”. Remind yourself that you deserve to be where you are, and as Mint from the University of Edinburgh says - “you aren’t an imposter.

Building resilience in science is essential as you will face numerous setbacks and rejections along the way. Learning to bounce back from rejection is key, and we loved this piece of advice from Derek McKay (centre) of Mercyhurst University, USA - “every setback is just a set-up for a comeback!

For more advice on dealing with imposter syndrome, take a look at this great guest article by Brittany Berdy, and this article on building resilience in academia by Dr Enitome Bafor.


Have courage and keep things simple

Fear can hold us back in many aspects of our lives, but facing your fears head on (no matter how scary!) might just be the start of something beautiful. Emma of UCL shared some inspiring words on this topic - “if you’re a little bit afraid of doing something, do it anyway - it could be the start of a whole new experience.” It can be hard to find that confidence sometimes, but Jackie (right) from Kings College London reminded the younger Jackie how important it is to “be yourself”, while Haady Hajar (left) of the University of Manchester reminds us to “keep it nice and simple” (unless it’s cognitive neuroscience!).


Finding your place in science

A science career can take many forms, and it might take you a while to find out exactly where your skills will ‘fit’ in the world of STEM. It’s important to take your time and be open-minded to new ideas and topics of research. You may end up pursuing a path you’d never dreamed of at the beginning, and having patience along with determination is key to finding what will work for you.

Thomas of Mercyhurst University, USA, gave some great advice - “you will find your place, stick with it and you will find a passion - not everyone sees what you see!”


Build strong networks and take advice from seniors

Networking is one of the most important things you can do to advance your career in life science. No matter how many hours you dedicate to lab work, that one chance meeting with a key researcher at a conference or networking event could be what takes your research to the next level. Fiona from UCL reminded her younger self that “it’s more about who you know, not necessarily what you know” while Anna (centre) of UCL reinforced the importance of surrounding yourself with the right colleagues - “find a supportive mentor and community of like-minded people.

Don’t be afraid to lean on your senior colleagues and mentors for support when you need it, and never stop asking questions! A good PI will be happy to answer your queries and clarify their expectations of you, as Lucy from the University of Edinburgh told us - “talk to more senior people explicitly about what is expected of you. Guessing is stressing!”


Follow your dreams and have no regrets

Pursuing a career in science is a huge challenge, but if you’re passionate about what you do you should never be afraid to follow your dreams! These final pieces of advice are applicable to all areas of life, and we loved these words from Carole of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons who reminded her younger self how important it was to “follow your dreams, don’t be put off, and take advice when offered!”

Hannah (right) of Script Assist shared the importance of having no regrets and learning from your mistakes when they happen. She said “there’s no such thing as regrets - everything is a learning curve and will lead to better things!”


What advice would YOU give?

Tell us what advice you would give if you could talk to your younger self! Share your inspiring words in the comments below, or join the Twitter conversation at @hello_bio!


If you enjoyed this article, why not check out the other resources available on our blog. We are passionate about supporting life scientists including early career life scientists and PhD students - with really low-priced reagents and biochemicals, early career scientist grants, and resources to help with both personal and professional development. We know how tough it is - so we hope you find these helpful!

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