Working Down Under

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve blogged – things have been rather busy since we arrived in New Zealand. I’ll post an update on general life stuff soon, but I thought you guys were especially overdue an update on all things work-related! As you might remember from this post, one of the things I’d hoped would happen in NZ was that I’d get a better work-life balance, and spend more time away from my (beloved) laptop.

This has not happened.

You’re shocked, right?! Didn’t think so. In terms of paid work, I have been busier here than I was in London! Timing has definitely had a lot to do with that – I’ve mostly been working on annual reports and news stories that are prioritised in the first quarter of the year – but also, I’m beginning to realise that my seemingly random skillset might actually be sought-after! Maybe I’m a bit more unusual here than I was in the UK?? Regardless of the reason, I’m very grateful for it. Even if it meant that we didn’t get to travel as much as we’d hoped in our first month here!

Wellington, a la Google Maps
Wellington, a la Google Maps

So, first off, we’re living in Petone – an area in Hutt City, a suburb of Wellington. We’re just a short stroll to Jackson Street, which has lots of shops and restaurants, etc, and a 5 min walk to the beach! Because of the shape of Wellington Harbour, we look straight over to the city, and the nearby train line runs along the coast, direct to the city in about 15 mins, so location-wise, it’s pretty sweet. Even more importantly (for my productivity) I have an office space ALL TO MYSELF. We moved over with very little furniture, so right at the top of my shopping list was a desk. A big one, that I could stretch my legs out. It was a stressful search – much more so than buying my very first car! I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted so in the end, I bought a dining table. Because why not? It was the closest thing to perfect I could find within my budget and so far, it’s been great.

The blanket on my chair was lovingly hand-knitted by my amazing niece Jenny . And I painted the chest-of-drawers myself several years ago, and spent a small fortune on unique handles for it. I regret nothing.
The blanket on my chair was lovingly hand-knitted by my amazing niece Jenny . And I painted the chest-of-drawers myself several years ago, and spent a small fortune on unique handles for it. I regret nothing.

My office is feeling really cozy now that I have my things around me, a fluffy rug underfoot and (thanks to my family-in-law) access to excellent coffee at all times – it is definitely my happy place. Long may that last! So, you may be wondering, what have I been doing at my shiny new desk, in my cozy new office, at the other side of the globe?

1. Writing for the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology
Named after Alan MacDiarmid, who was awarded one-third of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000, the Institute is a national network of NZ materials scientists. I contributed three stories to their 2015 Annual Report (pages 16-19, 22-23, 40-41), so I was delighted to be asked to write four for this year’s one! At the time of publishing this post, the 2016 report was still in production, but keep an eye on my Twitter account for a link! I spoke to some fascinating researchers this year – Prof Sally Brooker, Professor Thomas Nann, Dr Nicola Gaston, Dr Vladimir Golovko, Dr Andreas Markwitz, Dr Renee Goreham, Prof Simon Brown, Dr Ben Ruck, Prof Jadranka Travas-Sejdic, and Dr Justin Hodgkiss. All are doing world-class materials research, right here in NZ. I was in my element!

2. Writing for Brain Research NZ
BRNZ is a Centre of Research Excellence, co-hosted by both the University of Auckland and the University of Otago, Like MacDiarmid, it funds researchers working on many varied topics, but the common thread for BRNZ is the ageing brain. During February, I had the pleasure of interviewing TEN fantastic neuroscientists – Prof Tim Anderson, Assoc Prof Debbie Young, Dr Kathryn Jones, Prof Valery Feigin, Prof Tim David, Dr Grant Searchfield, Prof Ngaire Kerse, Assoc Prof Bronwen Connor, Dr Joanna Williams, and Prof Sir Richard Faull. I learned so much – it was an experience I won’t forget! The report has yet to be published, but it is coming soon – so as before, keep an eye on my Twitter. Teachers amongst you might be interested in some very cool primary school resources developed by Bronwen and her team. Called ‘Being Brainy’, they’ve just been given a home online: – having looked through them, and talked to teachers who have already used them, I can HIGHLY recommend. They’re totally free too – just register on the website to access them.

3. Writing for Forbes
I know, I know, I’ve been slacking on my regular Forbes summaries – I’ll get better eventually! Lately, I’ve been looking at lots of topics, from urban archaeology and beautiful maps, to hypothetical volcanic eruptions and London air, my feed has it all!

4. Other stuff
I’m just about to start on a small project for the Malaghan Institute too – a biomedical research institute who investigate cancer, asthma & allergies and gut health amongst other things. I’ll be writing some content for their quarterly newsletter – topic-wise, it’ll be a challenge for me, but I’m ready for it! I’ve been applying for ‘real’ jobs too – something a bit more consistent and reliable than freelance contracts. I’m also keen to explore the NZ science / tech / research / innovation / outreach space a bit more, so I have a couple of companies in my sights. And workplaces are always good for making new friends – helpful in a new country. Fingers crossed I can make something happen.

I’ve had a few book-promo things recently, including an interview on Newstalk (in Ireland) and one on Radio National (in Australia). A couple of articles have been published of late too – a huge feature on smart cities in How It Works (see pic), an excerpt from chapter #6 of SATC in London Reconnections and my first ever piece for Wired!

The first two pages of my six page feature!
The first two pages of my six page feature in HIW!

In other news, a video I made with Hyundai was published in Esquire (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say!), I’m off to Sydney in May to give an invited talk at the Committee for Sydney, and I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be talking trains at New Scientist Live in late September… so London, I’ll see you then 🙂 Alongside all of this stuff, I’ve been working on various proposals related to Science and the City – two TV things and a radio thing. I have zero expectation that any of it will come off, but it’s great experience for me, and flings me right out of my comfort zone. There’s one other thing on the boil too…. but I can’t say much about it as yet. Soon though, I promise.

5. Tweeting
Wednesday was International Women’s Day (and before you start, International Men’s Day is Nov 19th!) so this year, I decided to do something a little different. Over the course of ~20 hours (when you’re in a very different timezone to the UK, the day is LONG), I live-tweeted facts and stories about some of the women I’ve interviewed about their research in the past year or so. It included MacDiarmid and BRNZ people, as well as NPL scientists, Royal Society medallists, women featured in my Forbes column, and in my Let Toys Be Toys blog post, and finally, those quoted in my book. It was a mammoth task, and I forfeited a day of paid work to do it, but I’m so glad I did. The feedback was wonderful, and I had lovely interactions with people on and offline. To save you from scrolling, I Storify-d all of the tweets, so you’ll find them here:

Anyway, I think that’s all from me. As you can tell, I’ve been taking my 2017 mantra (#BeRelentless) very seriously indeed! I promise to write again soon with some of the personal ups-and-downs of moving to the other side of the world, and once I’m allowed to talk about other stuff, you guys will be the first to hear it. How’s 2017 been going for you? Tell me everything!

PS: The featured image for this story is of my feet and a cool piece of mosaic civil art – I love my walks along Petone Beach!