Friendships in Science: Part 1

In February 2014 on February 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Sarah Kirsti 1

Sarah: How important are friendships in science?

Last week I caught up with friends old and new at a conference of the Australian Science Communicators. Meeting Kirsti was a total highlight – I’m laughing out loud remembering the scene we must have made as she spotted me, yelled out my name in a busy lecture theatre, and I pushed past other seated attendees to have a big hug.

It’s made me think about how important friendships can be in helping you survive a career in science, whether you’re a student, researcher, leader, communicator or teacher. The importance of friends who ‘get it’ and support you through thick and thin would appear to be particularly relevant in the current political and social climate, with grant budgets shrinking and a low value placed on science by some in public office. This is perhaps one reason why many scientists seem to find some solace in connecting through social media. (We touched on this in the November 2013 #onsci chat ‘Looking after each other: professional wellbeing in science’).

I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced some strong and lasting friendships in my science career. Way back in *gulp* 1995, one fabulous research assistant who – with her husband – saw my desperation at the 11th hour, and helped me stick images (yes, paste them onto paper with glue!) into the multiple copies of my honours thesis. She’s since visited me in hospital when babies arrived, drank champagne at my 40th and comes to my place for coffee and cake about once a year.

The most wonderful epidemiologist anyone could hope to meet was my friend in need and a friend indeed when working in infectious diseases research for the US Navy in Jakarta, Indonesia. She was a military chick, and yet somehow was everything the stereotypical recruit wasn’t – open, warm, caring and a fantastic sense of humour. She’d come up to my desk in the lab, and we’d chew the fat over missed families and life in a foreign land. I’d teach her strange Aussie uses of words, like ‘feral’ (to describe a person who needed a good shower and haircut) and ‘bulldog clip’ (for those black and silver document-securing items). With her equally wonderful husband, she had a baby; I would smuggle him away on weekends, and kiss his fat cheeks. We named our daughter after this friend.

My more recent science friendships have formed away from the laboratory. These friends – with whom I connect in real life and via social media – ‘get’ that I become obsessed with issues, that I love to read and share diverse media, that I stay up too late blogging and reading and thinking. In addition to sciencey and communications stuff, we chat about raising kids, and exercise. We laugh and cry and swear and post sub-tweets and laugh some more.

And now with Kirsti here, I have a mate to ScienceforLife.365 with. That rocks, just quietly.


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