Why I Think You Should Say Yes to New Experiences (and my foray into life drawing)

The set up is this. I was asked by Agata at Life Drawing+ if I would be interested in posing for her life drawing class where they were drawing images of key workers. She was after a virologist but I thought I might do 🙂 (she was given my name by an SfAM committee member – the importance of networks!) I had to decide on a pose and a song that summed up the pandemic, and then login to a Zoom call where we would chat and the artists (of all abilities) who were in the class would have 15 minutes to sketch.

I’ts now 7:30 Sunday night and I need to log into the zoom. I’ve been working all weekend trying to answer enough emails in order to keep my head above water. So why in the words of my sage and constantly supportive husband are we setting up lights and computers when I’m too tired to eat in order to pose for a life drawing class?

Why do I continue to say yes when I could say no?

Now don’t get me wrong. When I’m feeling as tired as I am, I often also ask myself that question and so I want to take you through some of the reasons that I continue to say yes.

If the Past Few Years Have Shown Me Anything, It’s That I’ve Only Got One Shot

Some of you may know that in my family this generation we’ve had a number of us not make it to 40. If anything, the pandemic has crystallised for me that we never know what’s around the corner and no matter how much we plan the next steps, fundamentally a lot of things are outside of our control.

For me, this means that I want to be able to seize new experiences and the learning they bring, rather than assume that there will always be another opportunity around the corner.

A one off event where I said yes to a public engagement event led to me meeting Nicola Baldwin and gave birth to a partnership that is now in its third year, has won national awards, and involved thousands of patients and members of the public. Building networks is done one interaction at a time So without saying yes you will miss out on further opportunities you didn’t even imagine were possible.

I appreciate this sounds like FOMO (fear of missing out) and if you take it too far it could break you, and that’s not what I’m encouraging. Its about really evaluating each opportunity offered to you and reflecting on the uniqueness of the opportunity, the possible outcomes and the reasons for saying yes or no.

I Want to Do Things that Scare Me

This leads me onto item no.2. I want to do things that scare me. Not ‘horror movie’scares me, but stepping out of my comfort zone. I really do believe that the best learning occurs when we are comfortable, when we are in the zone just outside of comfortable, where we are pushing ourselves. I’m naturally a pretty lazy person. If I could live my life as a Jane Austin character, drinking tea and reading books all day, I would. I’m super aware of this so, I make active choices to try and push myself.

Although I’m mostly hoping to have finalised the period of formal education in life, I really do want to still develop as an individual and each time I do something new and challenging I learn a little bit more about myself, be that stand-up comedy or modelling for a life drawing. If I hadn’t taken part last week, I wouldn’t have reflected on the question why and I wouldn’t therefore be writing this blog.

I Want to Raise the Profile of My Profession

One of my constant reasons for saying yes is that I work in one of the best professions in the world, and no one seems to know that it exists! I am very aware that if we do not get out of our bubbles and talk to people then everyone will continue to believe that the NHS consists solely of doctors and nurses. We won’t inspire the wonderful future workforce to become Healthcare Scientists rather than taking the more traditional route of entering medicine. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

For me, one of the things that I get asked about most is swabbing, how to do it, what it means. It’s one of the things I’ve done most of, both myself and being part of strategic planning. So when it came to deciding on a pose I went with using lateral flow equipment and (the top half) of my scrubs.

I made a very deliberate decision not to pose in a white coat with a pipette as I wanted to encourage conversations that show that so many Healthcare Scientists don’t work in a laboratory and to talk about the amazing work my colleagues have done during the pandemic. We spoke about ventilator technicians and biomedical engineers, cardiac physiologists and lung function. As well as pathology and the importance of diagnostic stewardship.

I Want to Talk About Science with People Who I May Never Encounter Normally

You may have a really wide social circle normally, but no matter how wide our circles we still tend to be limited in the people we interact with. Most of my friends work in IT, law, finance, medicine or science. I have a few writer friends but my artistic creative circle is most limited to the lovely creatives I’ve met through working with Nicola Baldwin on projects like Nosocomial. Right now it doesn’t even really matter how wide your social circle normally is, if you’re like me it’s currently focussed on a few really key people in your life. Lockdown and exhaustion from work make it hard to have the energy to be truly social. I think we have to understand therefore that our understanding of the world and of the challenges are coloured by those interactions. Something really brought home to me by recent elections and the way that COVID-19 conspiracy theories spread. If we really want to have an impact and understand the barriers to undertaking science, and how science is perceived, we need to have conversations outside of our echo chambers. We need to engage in true dialogue that will often challenge us and sometimes scare us.

It is both invigorating and eye opening to see your profession through the lens of people that do not necessary have access to scientists. It makes you realise that some of the things you take for granted, for me children ending up in ITU due to SARS CoV2, is not something that is necessarily in the general circulating knowledge.The perception that children don’t get SARS CoV2 is strongly pushed both in the media and political statements, even if what they actually say is more nuanced. Being open and willing to truly discuss, answer questions and embark in creative thinking about topics both normalises science, and also benefits me by supporting me to see challenges in a new light.

Finally, look at all the amazing one of a kind mementoes I got out of it: items I would never have otherwise. So next time you get offered that unique opportunity remember to think yes, rather than automatically saying no.

All views on this blog are my own

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