#SciComm: Featuring Stina @stina.biologista

Posted by Applied Biological Materials (abm) on Dec 7, 2020

We recognize science can seem difficult to young scientists, and we hope to raise awareness about people who make it fun and accessible to broader audiences through social media, #SciComm!


Welcome Stina from @Stina.Biologista! Stina is a #firstgen PhD student in Sweden studying neuroscience. Navigating the challenges of working, studying, and scientific research in multiple languages, Stina shares her passion for the neuroscience behind affective eating disorders and more.


Thank you for joining our #SciComm Interview Series, Stina! You mention that you are a #firstgen student which is so great! 👏 And you did your graduate studies in a language other than your native tongue, which is quite a challenge. Tell us a little about your story and journey into the field of neuroscience! What motivated you to enter this field? What helped you persist through all the challenges?

I grew up in a village and was always very interested in investigating the science of the world around us. My interest in neuroscience sparked quite early actually. It was in elementary school when we had to give a talk about the different organs of the body. My topic was the brain 🧠. Though I didn't understand too much about the wobbly thing in our head that controls our whole body back then, it fascinated me a lot. The fact, that my neighbor provided me with a human brain model that I could bring with me to school, made me very proud. That memory kinda stuck to me throughout my whole education.

However, because I had a lot of interest in other aspects of science, too, I decided to start with a biology bachelor's first. As a firstgen student, going to university was a huge thing for me. There was no university close to the town where I went to highschool, so I actually didn't have much contact to anyone studying before. It felt a little bit like going into the big unknown, and at the beginning of my bachelor's I didn't really know where I would end up. I wasn't even sure if I was good enough to obtain a bachelor's degree. It was also particularily challenging because I have been working throughout my whole studies to financiate my living. I even think I was a bit lost in the first two terms of my studies 😵, but I grew with the task! Eventually I chose to focus on neurobiology and also write my bachelor's thesis in this area. During that time, when I conducted my first 'own' little research project with a great supervisor, producing pretty immunohistochemically stained brain sections, I figured out that I want to do neuroscience research and applied for a master's in neuroscience 🤓.

Successfully defending my bachelor's thesis as the first one in our family showed me that I can do it if I want to and gave me a motivation boost.

Another reason why I was incredibly motivated to study neurosciences and I still am, is that I highly empathize with people suffering from affective and eating disorders. I want to contribute to the research that might be able to bring up new treatment options, but also to help end the stigma when it comes to mental health. Often enough people still don't see affective disorders as real illnesses that can have an underlying pathological condition. Last but not least, my friends and study groups were a great support to bite through some of the toughest exams and the thesis writing period!

And yes, you are right. Compared to my bachelor's program that was completely in german, my master's was in english. It took some time to adjust to that, especially to learn the specific scientific terms. But after a few weeks one got adjusted to that! Since most of the published articles are in english, it made it actually easier to not switch back and forth between languages all the time. My PhD program in sweden now is also in English.

Tell us a little bit about your current project(s)! What’s a typical day in the lab for you look like?

I generally work on the neuroscience of obesity and feeding behavior, as well as comorbidites like anxiety. Due to the current pandemic, my projects are not progressing as much as they should right now. I have been mostly doing online courses and writing on a review from home.

However, in general, I love how versatile my job is. There is literally no 'typical' day.

Depending of the stage of the project, I could be performing surgeries, doing behavioral experiments, sectioning brains, do immunohistochemistry, microscopic imaging, gene expression analysis, ELISA, statistics, reading, writing, and many more things! :) But one thing that's never missing (and that I only started to have regularily when I started working in sweden) is regular coffee breaks with colleagues ☕️! They break up the day and can lead to a lot of great inspiration and problem solving. I will soon start with some behavior again!

Being a neuroscientist, what is one fascinating thing you learned about the brain recently?

Not so recently, but I am fascinated that gut-brain signalling and especially microbiota-gut-brain signalling can (besides other things) have a big impact on the overall health and development of neurological disorders! So in some sense, we might be what we eat. 😋


On your blog, https://biologista.org/, you recently wrote a really helpful post with practical tips on how to tackle graduate studies!✍️ A lot of soon-to-be graduate students are excited but also nervous about what’s in store. Before you started your Master’s program, what did you worry about most? Did it turn out as bad as you thought? Now that you’ve started your PhD, what do you hope to see in yourself in terms of personal growth as you tackle this new chapter?

Thank you! I mostly worried about my english skills, that I would not understand enough in the lectures or would not be able to deliver oral talks. Also, I was wondering if I learned enough (theoretical and practical) basics in my biology bachelor's to understand the more advanced topics and not embarass myself in the lab practices of the master's program. I had a lot of respect for the upcoming classes in programming and computational neuroscience. Those were both indeed tricky, but the profs were very helpful, always there to patiently answer questions, and eventually it worked out. In the end, it was not as bad as I expected it to be! Actually, I even got more interested and will probably need to put my MATLAB skills to use at some point during my PhD!

Never forget that the profs are there to teach you! So make use of that time and ask as many questions as you can while you still have that opportunity! If you don't want to ask in class, send an email 😊

Now that I have started my PhD, I hope can grow more into an independent, confident researcher. We have to get a certain amount of credits in PhD courses, so I definitely want to make use of that to broaden my set of skills (both in the lab, but also regarding presenting and writing). I really enjoy writing, so I am looking forward to be able to produce some publications at some point. I am also very much looking forward to share my research on conferences! Unfortunately, my first opportunity to do so got cancelled due to the current pandemic. But I am sure there will be other opportunities! Additionally, I would like to get involved in teaching. 👩‍🏫

Being in graduate school, you have to do a lot of presentations and public speaking. New graduate students might feel nervous about honestly sharing their ideas during academic discussions for fear they will make a mistake or sound “stupid” (think imposter syndrome!) 😣. Did you ever feel this way yourself? How did you manage these anxieties?

I felt like that for a long time, too. I think I started to overcome this at the end of my bachelor's / beginning of my master's. Actually, I would say, I still experience that feeling before I ask a question at a seminar or labmeeting. However, I managed to 'ignore' this inner imposter syndrome voice and speak up anyways.

Asking questions is actually a wonderful way of showing that you actively followed the presentation/conversation and that you are engaging with the content of it.

No one expects you to be a 'know-it-all' in grad school. It is totally normal to get lost in a presentation sometimes. However, then it is even more important to ask to make sure that you got it. Also, never think of your question as a stupid question. There is no such thing. The speaker will probably even be happy to answer an easier question 😊 With regard to giving talks yourself: practice is key! I really like story telling, preparing nice slides, and giving talks. I'm still nervous every time I'm delivering them though. But I think it gets better with time, so I try to challenge myself and engage as much as possible with public speaking opportunities 💪. A good way to get some training within a group of people you know are Journalclubs. Our PI doesn't participate in ours, so it is usually a comfortable setting with my labmates and some fika (swedish coffeebreak / coffee and cinnamonrolls) 🍩. Make it a nice experience, that way you can condition yourself to be more relaxed!


With the growing rate of misinformation circulating, especially around COVID-19, what role do you think science communicators have in fighting this infodemic?

I think science communicators are a very important link between the current science of SARS-Cov-2 and the public.

It never happened before that people have seen the science unravel in front of their eyes in real time as much as they do during this pandemic.

Usually the public is exposed to an article here and there, but not witnessing the development of a whole new field, including case reports, preprints, and non-peer-reviewed articles. The publication of new articles disproving others can lead to a lot of confusion 😵, as not everyone is familiar with the way science works. Additionally, it is very easy for the public to get lost in the enormous forest of clickbait headlines newspapers release. A lot of people even tend to only read headlines, which can create a lot of misinformation. During a pandemic, people are understandably susceptible to panic and to distribute this wrong info.

Therefore, I think it is important for science communicators to speak about COVID-19 itself, bust fake news, and educate about the way science works.

On your instagram blog, @stina.biologista, you sometimes share some cute illustrations 🎨 that you made – for example the adorable electron transport chain that you illustrated in the Christmas theme! How long does it typically take for you to finish an illustration? Do you have any upcoming illustrations you’re working on?

Thanks! I really enjoyed the christmas-themed ETC! Right now I'm a bit on a drawing break (because I have to do some scientific illustrations that I cannot share yet), but I have a couple of ideas written down already that I want to implement. Usually they can take anything between 2-10 hours. I also like to include small drawings on the photos of my science posts, they take 20-45 minutes.

Do you have any last words of advice to share with young scientists entering graduate studies for the first time?

Don't be shy to speak up to your supervisors or mentors if you have questions or need help. No one expects you to be a pro from the beginning, you are there to learn. Asking questions just shows that you are engaging with your work!

If you are still at the stage to decide for a PhD program: choose one where you like both supervisor AND project. You will need to spend a lot of time with both! And built a strong support network of friends and fellow students around you! ❤️


You know you’re a neuroscientist when…

... you start to see neurons everywhere around you! Trees 🌲 are a good example!

Your channel is full of photos of your travels! With self-isolation in place, many of us are living vicariously through old photos of past travels. What's your favourite travel destination so far? ✈️

Actually, I haven't been travelling too much up until last year due to lack of money and time during my bachelor's and master's studies. I would say my favorite trip so far was the trip to the polar circle last year! ❄️ As it was a trip for students, it was quite cheap. The downside was that we had to spend around 24h travelling in bus and train to get there. I totally underestimated how big sweden is! But it was definitely worth it. I experienced northern lights ✨ for the first time in my life, it was truly magical. Also we did a lot of fun activities, including cross-country skiing, husky sledding, sauna (and cooling down in a frozen lake!), visiting the indigenous 'Sami', and more!

Also, now that you're based in Gothenburg, Sweden, what's a little known local hangout around Gothenburg that you enjoy?

I love to watch sea-sunsets from Aspholmen!

Latest assay you had to learn for your project?

Ohh I had to try to get a fairly new ELISA to run with which even the company said that it probably doesn't work. Safe to say, it didn't work for me, too! But we found an alternative 😊

Favorite #SciComm channels?

English: @science.sam, @soph.talks.science, @neuroscience.ness, @science.bae;

German: @maithink, @breakinglab, @doktorwissenschaft, @echonautscience, @chemistrylovervienna, @doktorwhatson

Favorite “weapon” of choice in the lab?

Hard to decide! I would say multipipette, syringes, microscope, and cryostat!

Most number of drafts written before you reached the “final” version?

I guess it was around 20 after the first complete version of the text?

Thank you, Stina, for sharing your passion for science communication and giving us a little window into the graduate student experience! Visit Stina's instagram @Stina.Biologista.

Stain.Biologista Illustration

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