From Lara Croft to Jean Grey: My transformation as a researcher

Recently I completed a six month postdoctoral publication scholarship. The competitive post gave me the opportunity to publish from my PhD thesis. I also began too extrapolate and extend the findings by returning to the literature and reading them through new lenses. This blog post is a reflection on my journey into the academy thus far. Rather than focus on what I have done, I want to shift to what the PhD and postdoctoral process has made me become.

When I began my PhD, I saw myself as an explorer. I was off to discover something brand new and I was going to revolutionise the world!

I bought brand new shiny equipment (laptop, hipster note book, sticky notes, highlighters and pens) but had an old school approach to analysis (blue tac, scissors and a blank wall). I was ready to face whatever the PhD threw at me. It was hard and lonely work. I had a supportive team but they could only take me so far. Eventually I needed to go it alone.

I got there in the end. It was a hard slog with many barriers to jump. I was wounded and tired. I spent a hell of a long time justifying, justifying, justifying why my techniques were appropriate. I emerged from my PhD armed with an arsenal to defend myself but afraid of having to use it.

After my PhD I spent a long time avoiding talking about my work. I was weakened. My spark was gone. I sat in meetings listening to academics talk about their work and thought about how important it was. Why the hell was I even allowed in this room? They are all award winners and rock-ademics. I down-played my role for fear I would get caught as an intruder and banished forever to the wasteland.

I had fallen apart and I was sore and timid.


By This image is a comic book cover owned by Marvel Comics. The artist is Dave Cockrum., Fair use,

Eventually, I began to piece together my research. Read more. Thought about tangential content. Nurtured the research of tenured academics.

But in the reconstruction of my shattered pieces I could not be put back together the same way. Some extra bits got mixed in. My parts were exposed to new elemental forces.

No one could tell the difference between me and the research. I was fully embedded, immersed, mangled into my research. It has become a part of me.

My phoenix moment was winning the postdoctoral scholarship which was topped off with winning an early career researcher women in research leadership fellowship. I began to feel stronger. My mutations were beginning to feel easier. What I could do was becoming clearer.

I still don’t feel like I belong. I still feel like a fringe dweller and misunderstood. But now I see my differences as an advantage. My grandfather’s advice rings true in my ear: “Why would you want to be like everyone else?”

Maybe I don’t fit the mould enough to slip seamlessly into academic life. Maybe academic life is not my calling. I’m not sure yet but I’m going to keep putting one mutated foot in front of the other.

Picture2.pngMaybe I will die on the beach like so many mutants before me. But maybe…just maybe…I’ll make it.



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