So… you wanna be a scientist?

“Shake off your mistakes, be bold, and keep going!”  – Karen Lambley, Virgin Media UK

Yesterday I attended the Accenture Tech UK / STEMettes Girls in STEM event in Edinburgh. It was brilliant! We had about 140 11-15 year old girls come along to the National Museum of Scotland, where they had the opportunity to ask questions of a fantastic panel of women working in STEM, to hear about Scotland’s unsung female STEM heroes from Angela Constance MSP, and to learn a bit of coding in Java as they battled it out in the ‘Hackitzu’ game. I was invited along as the closing plenary speaker – not only to sum up the day, but to inspire and encourage the girls to meet the challenge of STEM head on.

It’s quite a topic to speak about, and I was honoured to be asked to take part, alongside some incredible women with amazing careers in STEM. To get some inspiration, I polled my colleagues working in marine science, as well as the women taking part in the Homeward Bound Project about how they got into science, and what they love best about their jobs. I thought I’d share what some of them wrote here, as it makes a wonderfully inspiring read!

What women in science love about their jobs:


“What I love about science is that I get to continuously learn about new things. Especially how the beautiful natural world works, and how I can use this knowledge to help look after the world – including people!”

“You get to discover and explore the world in ways few others can.”

“You get to be like a detective, exploring things potentially no one else has looked into – each finding fueling your curiosity to find out more and making you realise how little you still know – and contributing to solving some of the world’s pressing problems.”

“My work in particular means I get to see incredible phenomena from space, pretty much every day, and that never gets boring. Other than the work itself, getting to meet fascinating people and travel to many different places is a huge perk!”

“I love the freedom to pursue an idea that rings true to me, and being able to inspire others to join me on the journey.”

“Working in science offers you the chance to learn everyday, cultivate your knowledge and acquire experience in very diverse areas as statistics, presenting your work at conferences, team management, writing effectively, interacting with the public, motivating young audiences… it is very enriching!”

“Science is like one big voyage of discovery where we don’t yet know how much we don’t know – it’s an adventure.”

“You get to make things better and better. It’s science that allows you to figure out what is working best and what is helping or obstructing you to get to your goal. Whether that’s getting a farm to have better soils or to grow plants on the roof of a skyscraper. It’s not just a new idea but the process of monitoring and improving.”

“Science is about discovery; You will learn new things all your life, with science you can discover what these new things are and what they are made of; Science is about being able to ask all the crazy questions you have always wanted to ask, deep down we are all scientists.”

“Systems thinking applied to world I care about, creating opportunities to help people, nature, our planet.”

“I love that every single day is different, and every single day I’m learning something new. Every day is what you make it and you can never be bored as a scientist.”

“I love science because its fascinating and every new piece of the puzzle we uncover leads us to understanding just a little bit more about the world we live in. I love it because it doesn’t yield its mysteries with the press of a button and we have to think, really hard and long (years not hours), to earn this reward. If you are prepared to commit to the challenge, you will be repaid in ways beyond your dreams.”

Advice for those wanting to take up careers in STEM subjects:


“My main piece of advice during their studies was to talk to their lecturers and demonstrators about how they got where they are and not to be afraid to ask for help or work experience. Most people want to help you succeed so grab opportunities with both hands!

“The one key thing that got me where I am, is the support of inspirational people – school teachers, university supervisors, mentors I meet at events like the one you’re doing. These are the people that have given and continue to give me the confidence I need to be a scientist. I can also say that being a mentor is something people love (I know I do – just signed up to be a STEM ambassador), so the girls you’re speaking to should never be afraid to chat to people in science about their interests.”

“When I was that age, I was bonkers for animals (well, I still am, actually), but the only career path I knew about was becoming a veterinarian – and at that time, the math and science scared me off. I desperately wanted to be like Jane Goodall or be a dolphin trainer, but nobody could tell me how I could do either of those things. What I didn’t understand at that age was that science was the route to those careers. (In my mind, science was old white men in lab coats.) So, I often ask kids if they want to work with animals, or if they’d like to work in a zoo or aquarium, or if they dream of helping to save a species from extinction, (or if they want to build robots, or cure diseases, etc.) I then tell them that they’ll need to do well in their science classes, and pursue a degree in science if they hope to have any of those careers.”

“Always keep your sense of wonder and never stop asking questions! Also thought that the girls could start e.g. from being citizen scientists in their area (see for instance and test if they like it.”

On interacting with the media

“I would like to see us say over and over again until the point has been made – that the newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we have heard about in the past 24 hours – distorted, despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias, by the very process of compression that makes it possible to lift it from the doorstep and read it in about an hour.”

-David Broder – US Political Reporter (from Fiona Fox’s blog at the Science Media Centre, Aug 20th 2015)

Food for thought. Very realistic food for thought about the swiftness and urgency of the media cycle – though perhaps a bit more pessimistic than necessary, in my experience.

Since the start of 2016, I’ve been on an exciting media journey around my involvement with the Homeward Bound Project, as the press-release for my meeting with Angela Constance MSP was released and picked up in several outlets, including the National, the Times, and BBC Scotland radio. And it keeps going. I go to a sewing group on Thursday evenings, mostly with a group of women who are a good deal older than me, and I was (embarrassingly!) the celebrity of the night, as they’d seen me in the Oban Times.

It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind, starting with liaising with the fantastic people in the Scottish Government’s media team (thank you!), all the way through to speaking to journalists, and giving the bigger picture as people begin to pick up on the story. The press release went out between Christmas and New Year – a good time for stories like mine, as the news cycle tends to be a bit quiet, and it’s all happened from there.

While my story wasn’t specifically ‘science’ (e.g. not related to a new discovery or finding), I am a scientist, and while I would say I’m quite a personable scientist, it’s still sometimes quite painful to see your words in print or hear yourself on the radio. And when the facts aren’t quite 100% accurate, it makes the perfectionist geek that is the scientist inside me a wee bit agitated. But it’s been a really positive experience overall, and I’d encourage more scientists to get out there and share their stories, if for no other reason to inspire more people with the wonder and awe that is science.

So I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned over the past few weeks, in the hope that it might help more people get their science out there.

  1. The right angle can make a huge difference!
    This was a real biggie for me. When I was first given a place on the Homeward Bound project, I wanted to get out there and tell everyone, through any and all media outlets. If it was the Oban Times first, then so be it! But my colleague Euan in the SAMS communication department encouraged me to be patient, and a bit more strategic… with the right angle, this could be a really big story, and I’d get much more uptake, with much greater impact. Pretty soon, the angle came from a Scottish Government news item: Push to increase women in science. Bingo. Euan had some contacts in the Scot Gov media team, and we went from there. After a few weeks, I’d got an opportunity to meet Angela Constance MSP, and there would be a press release issued by Scot Gov (NOT SAMS!) about it. It helped that I was the only scientist based in Scotland selected – another ‘hook’ from the media perspective. We knew that the Times’ Scottish version would pick it up when the press release went out, but I had no idea that so many other outlets would also pick up the story. In fact, when a friend posted the article from the Scotsman on Facebook, it was the first I’d heard of it! Since then, there’s also been coverage in the National, Modern Scot, ComputeScotland, the Oban Times, Kingdom FM, For Argyll, and BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands. I also spoke to a journalist from Research Fortnight yesterday, so I’ll add that to the list soon! As ever, the angle was important in getting people interested.
  2. Plan plan and plan your interview!
    To get the story out there, I started with a brief video-recorded interview with the Scot Gov media team. I prepared, and on Euan’s advice, came up with three key messages to get across, both for the media release and in conversation with Angela Constance. I was ready and had it all covered… or so I thought! When they asked “so Raeanne, would you mind telling us a little bit about what you do at SAMS”, I was totally thrown off guard. It’s the simplest thing, but I stuttered and stammered, and eventually garbled an answer, to the point that I felt the need to email them afterwards and get across what I really do for a day job. Ouch. Looking back through my notes from the NERC Media Skills course I attended last spring, one of the key points was have a quick (<1 minute!) overview of what you do. It became incredibly obvious to me how important this was. Decide on a 1-minute job description, and stick with it! Since then, for each interview I’ve done I’ve made a mind map of what I wanted to say, and had it in front of me while I spoke to each journalist. This really helped me get my own message straight in my head, and allowed me to communicate it well – apparently this was particularly good on my BBC Scotland Highlands & Islands interview, which I was told needed almost no editing.
  3. Make sure the details are right
    This is a small, but obvious one. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve had to explain that I am not Glaswegian, nor was I born and bred in Glasgow over the past few weeks. I’m not sure quite where that came from, but if you do get the opportunity to read over a press release, read it, and then read it again before it goes out. It will save you a lot of explaining later on.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff
    But  with that said, don’t sweat the small stuff! Seriously! Does it really matter if people read that I’m from Glasgow? So long as the message gets across about my project and about our goals and aims… not really. In the same vein, the title of the Times article makes me cringe every time I see it: “Female scientists overlooked, says explorer”. I don’t think I quite said it like that to the journalist, but the reality is that the journalists don’t write the headlines, and the headlines are written to catch the audience’s attention. And if it caught more people’s attention? Then again, it’s helped get my message across, as the rest of the article was really quite good.
  5. Print and radio – the differences
    Print and radio are different. With a print article, your quotes are put in context by what the journalist chooses to write, which often you might have less control over, particularly if the article is based on an interview, instead of a press release. All the more reason to prepare well and not mince your words… see #2 above! With radio, you will be recorded, and it’s your voice which will be transmitting your message. If the interview isn’t live (mine weren’t!), then there is an opportunity to re-answer a question and/or rephrase things if you mix up your words. Broadcasters aren’t out to get you, and want to make sure they get the best snippets from you for their broadcast. But at the same time, what you say is what you get – so prepare… again, see #2!
  6. A nice article can open new doors This is a key message. Since my story has been in the press, some fantastic opportunities have opened up. First of all, I’ve been able to talk about this project to a huge amount of people who’ve seen the article in the papers, or heard it on the radio, which is fantastic. I’ve seen a huge surge in Twitter followers (nearly up to 500!), and I’ve also been invited to be a ‘science hero’ for a primary school in Somerset, via my partner’s mother. Probably the most exciting is being invited to take part in a STEMETTES event, hosted by Accenture (read about it here) on the 28th of January. This is a real honour, and I feel really privileged to get to speak at such an inspiring event!

The positive bit is that I’ve had some really wonderful feedback from each piece pupblished. Of course I haven’t read the comments sections on the online articles – and I’m not going to take any of those comments personally if I do. It’s been a busy time, and a little overwhelming (I’ve got a day job too!), but absolutely worthwhile. So get out there and share your story or your science – who knows where opportunities may take you!

In the News!

On December 14th I took the early morning train from Oban to Glasgow, and then across to Edinburgh to meet Angela Constance, MSP, at Our Dynamic Earth. Ms. Constance is the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education, and has recently been working to promote women in science. She is particularly keen to encourage a more diverse pool of candidates for top government science positions such as the Chief Scientific Advisor and the Scottish Science Advisory Council. She says:

“Having women in senior, visible roles helps to show girls and young women that choosing science can open up a range of career possibilities.”

You can find more details of Ms. Constance’s statement here .

This is quite inspiring! Since I’ll be taking part in the  Homeward Bound Project over the next year (see previous post!), it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make contact the Scottish Government. Homeward Bound‘s main aim is to support women, specifically with credible scientific qualifications, to significantly improve their clarity, confidence, shared vision and strategic capability. In doing so, the project will empower women in science to take up leadership roles globally, and to more proactively contribute to a sustainable world.

After a few weeks, the SAMS communications department managed to set up a meeting, and I found myself on my way to Edinburgh with Neville, my toy macaroni penguin by  my side. The trip was not without excitement – thanks to Neville, I met Richard Paterson on the train, better known as ‘the nose’ in the whisky industry, who told me the story of whisky left behind on Elephant Island by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his expedition team in 1909 – more about that in another post!


With Neville the Macaroni penguin, on the way to Edinburgh

Having already met one industry legend, I was full of energy walking to my meeting with Ms. Constance – was it nerves? Or was it just the coffee? Turned out I needn’t have been worried. Ms. Constance was lovely, and very chatty, as were all of the staff from Our Dynamic Earth and the Scottish Government communications team. We discussed the Homeward Bound Project, the expedition to Antarctica, and coping with cold weather (Ms. Constance has been to the Arctic, and I grew up in Canada). Most importantly, we discussed how to inspire more girls to take up science and other STEM subjects, as well as the need to reduce the attrition rate of women throughout their science careers.


Discussing inspiration, women in science, and cold weather with Ms. Constance

After about 10 minutes of discussion and a few photographs, we each did a short interview for the Scottish Government communications team, and then Ms. Constance had to head off to her next engagement. On my way home, I kept thinking… ‘I should have said this’… or ‘why didn’t I say that?’. It was my first meeting with a minister, and I’d prepared well. I’d picked my three points to get across, and I managed to mention at least two – not bad.


With Angela Constance, MSP, at Our Dynamic Earth

There is always room for improvement, but the Scottish Government communications team did a fantastic press release, which was picked up by three newspapers (two National!), two radio stations, and local online press. It’s always a little uncomfortable to see yourself pictured and quoted in print, but I’m proud of the coverage – in general I think the papers did a good job. Of course, not everything was exactly as I said/intended (see Times article title!), but I suppose that’s how it goes sometimes with the press. For anyone who has seen some of the articles, I’d like to confirm that I am not ‘born and bred’ in Glasgow, nor was I ‘brought up there’. I do have Glaswegian family though! I certainly learned a thing or two about talking to the media, and the difference between what goes out in print and in a radio interview. Certainly, I won’t be reading the comments sections under the articles! I’ll write more about my experience with the media in another post later.

BBC Radio Scotland will be possibly be broadcasting the story tomorrow (Tuesday January 5th) in their news bulletins at 6:30am, 7:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm and 5:30pm – so tune in!

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of the other coverage for anyone interested:

‘Scots marine scientist selected to join Antarctic expedition‘ in the Scotsman, 29th December, 2015

‘Female scientists overlooked, says explorer’ in the Times (Scottish News) 31st December, 2015. Not quite the title I’d imagined, but not a bad article overall – Homeward Bound is, indeed, a ‘ground breaking’ expedition!

‘Scots scientist Dr. Raeanne Miller is heading for the Antarctic to take part in a women-only expedition’ (the photo in this one isn’t great!)

‘Scot Heading to Antarctic’ on KingdomFM online and on the air, 3rd January 2016, includes a short interview.

And the original Scottish Government Press Release: ‘Scots scientist heading to Antarctic’

Finally, I am looking to pull together funding for the project, to a sum of about £9000. I’ve already contributed £1000 of my own savings, as I really believe in the good this project could do to empower women in science. I’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign at – check it out! I’m working with some fantastic artists already, and hope to be adding more to the ‘rewards’ page for those who donate soon!