#SciComm: Featuring Laura from @techingonscience

Posted by Applied Biological Materials (abm) on May 27, 2022

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!


Meet Laura, from @techingonscience! Laura is a medical laboratory assistant working at the National Health Service (NHS), who advocates for diversity in STEM and shares honest advice on overcoming setbacks in a career in science. Her account is filled with amazing pictures of stained tissues, and bite-sized snapshots of her daily life in the lab.

Take a glimpse into her journey to finding her passion for laboratory science with us, as we discuss the importance of inclusivity, mental health, and of course, some cool things about working in a histopathology lab!

@techingonscience Portrait

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA)? What inspired you to start @techingonscience?

Being a MLA was something that I really fell into; during the pandemic, my contract was ending for the job that I was in and I didn’t know what to go into, but knew I wanted to stay in science. My undergraduate degree was in Biomedical Sciences so I thought that I would see what route to take to become a Biomedical Scientist. I applied for MLA jobs in areas that my partner and I wanted to live in, accepted the role I’m in now and started in September 2020.

I started @techingonscience in February 2020 when I was a Life Sciences technician intern at the University of Lincoln, as I took a lot of photos and wanted to share them 📸! During my internship I also had to make a website portfolio, and once this part of the internship finished in March 2020, I turned it into a blog to make longer posts about my experience in science 👩‍💻.

Can you share with us a little bit about your Master's project and what you enjoyed learning about the most? What are some things you wish you knew before you started graduate school?

In my masters I studied cancer cell metastasis and the use of a biomarker for disease progression. I really enjoyed learning about cell culture and the other techniques that I used, as well as how it related to the real life situation of breast cancer.

I wish that I knew before starting that a lot of time will be spent learning the techniques, so to not feel worried about not getting loads of data because it is meant to be a learning curve. 📈

On your channel, you mention that you've had many different roles before becoming a MLA, which is super cool to see! From working as a lab technician, to being a Master's student, to participating in research - how do they differ from your current job at the National Health Service (NHS)? What would you say were/are the best and most difficult parts about them?

They all differ in the way that my current role is more based on teamwork 🤝 rather than the opportunity to work alone, and I don’t do research as a MLA, I follow protocols. There is also the aspect of pressure, as I’m working on patient samples and results, which definitely comes with working in public health ⚕️. The lab tech role was different - I had a lot of interactions with students which I really enjoyed, as I was able to tell them things that I wish I had been told about when I was a student. With research, I feel like there were more gaps in time for admin work and other little things like writing, etc. whilst waiting for experiments to run, whereas you don’t get that in the NHS, it’s solid from start to finish.

I feel a lot more pressure working in the NHS compared to my other roles, especially throughout the pandemic. It was also disheartening to see how little the public knew about lab staff in the NHS and how rarely we were recognised during the pandemic.

You often mention that there isn't a "right" path to a career in science - how did you realize that for yourself? What advice would you give to people who are facing rejection in the "typical" routes of science such as medicine? Similarly, a lot of people view "real" and "accomplished" scientists as those who have multiple publications, presentations, awards and degrees under their belt. Do you agree? What defines a "scientist" to you?

I first became aware of this when my path completely diverted on a few occasions. Speaking to other people also made me realise that the route you decide to take doesn’t make a difference.

Everyone is different, we're all doing different things and just because your path has changed doesn’t make you a “worse” scientist at all.

I liked science and helping people at school so the only career presented to me was medicine. I applied to medicine for university and wasn’t able to get in on results day, so instead, I got into Biomedical Sciences at the University of Lincoln through Clearing. This was the best thing that happened to me as I absolutely fell in love with lab work ❤️🥼🧪 and know now I would have hated medicine. Later on, I also applied for PhD programs for 2 years and was rejected every time, and only got 1 interview despite having experience. I rang supervisors and asked to have my applications checked, all of which really got me down at the time, but now my mindset has changed and I’m not sure if I want to do a PhD in the future.

So I’d say to anyone who has faced rejection in the “traditional” route, that tradition doesn’t mean a thing. You’re not a bad scientist or person for getting rejected; find what you enjoy and know that if some things don’t work out, they weren’t meant for you!

I also hate this idea of a “real” or an “accomplished” scientist. I really don’t care how many publications, awards, or conferences someone has, it doesn’t define you as a scientist at all.

For me, a scientist is simply someone who does science! This can be at home, investigating things in an afterschool club, carrying out protocols at work, doing sci-comm, anything, your title doesn’t matter but you do. ✨

@aliquotthesciencespot Portrait

A recent survey of 25,000 US STEM professionals that included over 1,000 who identified as LGBTQ found that LGBTQ scientists were 30% more likely to have experienced harassment at work, and 20% more likely to have experienced some kind of professional devaluation in the past year compared to non-LGBTQ scientists. As a bisexual woman in STEM, have you ever experienced discrimination while working as a scientist in your field? Moving forward, how can we build a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ folks in STEM 🏳️‍🌈💪?

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve not faced much discrimination as a bisexual woman, but I know that is because of privilege. I’m cisgendered and white, living in the UK, and in a relationship with a cisgendered man, so I don’t face the same challenges that other members of the LGBTQ+ community face. As someone who works in the National Health Service, I’m aware of the issues that the LGBTQ+ community can face in the NHS. At work, I’m part of the LGBTQ+ staff network, where we discuss how we can make our workplace safer and more approachable for staff and patients, which has been positive so far.

I’m also lucky that I can speak to my colleagues about LGBTQ+ issues and discuss it with them. To make a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ people in STEM, we need to make role models visible all the way up organisations, as the higher up you go the smaller the diversity is.

Making sure labs and buildings are accessible for transgender and non-binary people too will massively help, and it’s not something that a lot of places consider.

Educating yourself and your friends about LGBTQ+ issues, and not just expecting education to come from people in the community will also help and relieve some of the pressure felt on the community.

In some of your posts, you discuss the prevalence of imposter syndrome (along with things such as burnout and stress) in the STEM field. What advice would you give to someone who is facing this? What do you do personally to take care of your mental health?

For tackling imposter syndrome I’d definitely say to speak to people in the scientific community.

Instagram was really good for this, as you can meet so many people who are feeling the same way you are, and others who will hype you up when you’re not feeling great 😊.

Also, keep reassuring yourself that you deserve to be doing what you are doing.

To look after my mental health I go to counselling sessions. This has helped me a lot with finding tools to look after my mental wellbeing...

...as I feel it's important to make the differentiation between taking things to look after your mental health (like medication, sick leave and counselling), against ways to nurture your mental wellbeing (like yoga, fresh air, etc.). Counselling is something I’m happy to talk about openly, and I always encourage people to do what’s the best for them personally.


What is your favourite stain and tissue to stain?

MSB stain on placenta.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered about working in histopathology?

The variety of illnesses people can get and all the things that can go wrong with the human body! 😵

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

There really isn’t a typical day. I can scribe for sample dissection, pick up sections of tissues, put slides on for staining, put samples on for tissue processing, do health and safety checks, make up reagents, carry out machine maintenance..., and more.

You know you work in a histopathology lab when…

You come home from work covered in wax! (If you’re wondering where all the wax comes from, we asked - it’s from the paraplast used to embed tissues in the lab) 😂.

We saw on @techingonscience that you often share book recommendations, and even participated in a #ScienceAndFiction Instagram challenge. What is your favourite fictional book and go-to STEM-related book 📚?

My favourite STEM related book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and my favourite fiction book is One Day by David Nichols.

@techingonscience Illustration

Thank you for participating in this interview Laura! It was so interesting to hear about how you discovered your own path in science, and your thoughts on some less-spoken, yet prevalent issues in the scientific community. We’ll definitely take your advice to heart, and wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors! You can follow Laura on her instagram channel, @techingonscience!

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