The Perks of Being a Scientist

Chocolate, cuckoo clocks and mountains. Oh yes, and also the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping and a focus talk at the World Health Organization (at their headquaters at the original UN). Geneva is hosting the OHBM conference for 2016. As a responsible neuroscientist the first thing I did was squeal. Next I bought a dress to present in. Then I realised that serious work was involved.

Firstly, the abstract for submission. It must be a succinct overview of your work. Enough information to show that your work is scientifically valid, your prose is magnificent, your pictures are beautiful and your tables well presented. Well, your supervisors will all want you to put as much info as possible in, as it pertains to their interest in your study. With authors from neuroanatomy, physics, biomedical engineering, psychology and statistics you are going to spend less time writing the abstract and more time playing politician, believe me. Christmas Eve was spent very nicely informing my co-authors that this was an abstract and that, yes, the information is crucial, but it will have to go in the paper (right now my paper is more likely to be a book unless I get my politician on, but, hey, that's Future Stevie's problem). Merry Christmas though!


Once the abstract was submitted there is the obligatory waiting time. During this time you will panic about whether or not your work will be good enough, whether or not you will receive confirmation in time to apply for funding and whether or not you choose the correct font, etc. This will get so extreme that you will end up worrying that your research mortally offended the person reading it. Are they are liberal or conservative; a cat or dog person? Yes, you are at your most creative at this stage.


Yay!!! I'm going, I'm going. You dance, sing, spam relatives, friends and social media with your good news. Your abstract is accepted. You are off to exotic locations because of how smart you are (smug smug). Then you realise that you are a scientist, not an investment banker. Funding here we come. 

I am an avoidant person by nature. So, naturally, I left funding to the last minute, being terrified that they would reject my application and the dream would die. Worse, I would have to tell EVERYONE, yes everyone, I know that I had failed. I was smart, but poor. I would be staying at home and explaining at every coffee date for the next year why I was going to Geneva and then wasn't.

Then one day I put on my big girl panties, got a cup of Rooibos and wrote. I wrote about the glorious findings, the expensive tastes of Geneva and the networking possibilities. So much networking and oh the glory for South Africa that I would achieve. Ok, I think it was a bit more subtle, but academia really teaches you two things. One, like Jon Snow, you know nothing. Two, you are able to make anything sound like together, you and your research, are going to change to world. Hey, eventually you may even start believing it. It may even be true, but point one and two will vie for power until you completely understand where the mad scientist idea comes from.

So, again, you wait. You wait for the alleged date that the potential funders promise to get back to you. You wait for them to reply to emails. You wait for them on phone calls until you can play a concerto of the waiting music - even if you have never picked up a musical instrument. Then you wait outside their office. Then you wait for them to finish team-building (not even joking here). Then you get a call that makes your heart stop in that moment that the person takes a breath before telling you your funding application has been successful or not.

Well, I got funding. I'm writing this from a airport lounge. I'm ruining the adult-ness of writing my blog in an international airport lounge by eating speckled eggs (my choice item from the whole buffet). The joys of poster creation and trip planning may be the subject of a new post, but for now the wounds are too fresh and it is too soon.

Paris is calling (it was cheaper to go there first, even if I used the money I saved on airfare to stay there a few days). Then a train ride through the Alps and Geneva. How glamorous. Can scientists be glamorous? In my new dress, standing next to my poster with hot pink accents, I will do my best to make Marilyn, Audrey and Einstein proud.

See my poster here.