The Last Two Years!

Wow! So the last time I blogged was over two years ago! I am rather shocked. I have kept the publication and media pages up to date but outside of that I did fall off the blog bandwagon. It wasn’t intentional, but as I was fighting to find science jobs and get more relevant experience I lost heart a little bit!

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Broadhaven Bay, Ireland. ©Leila Fouda

Between February 2016 and September 2017 I worked in a variety of positions. I was a research assistant at Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, University College Cork where I assisted in surveying marine mammals from a land based station in Broadhaven Bay following the installation of a gas pipeline. I was an aerial survey observer and research assistant at The Ocean Cleanup Foundation. I flew on surveys over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to enable the quantification of large plastic debris. Most recently I joined Dr. Helen Bailey’s lab at the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science (UMCES) at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL). At CBL I explored the effect of

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Ocean Force One – The Ocean Cleanup. ©Leila Fouda

background noise levels on dolphin acoustics and as part of the ChesapeakeDolphinWatch team to further our understanding of when, where, and why bottlenose dolphins visit the Chesapeake Bay through citizen science, acoustic monitoring, and aerial surveys.

It wasn’t all fun and science though. I also worked as a waitress for several months, which was great for boosting my bank balance and building my small talk and communications skills. I was also very briefly one of the best up-sellers in the company “Yes, you do want cheese and avocado on that!”. However, I desperately missed working in my passion.

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A C-Pod used to detect dolphin echolocating in the Chesapeake Bay. ©Leila Fouda

I continued to network and apply for different PhD opportunities, but the marine sciences and in particular those that focus on marine megafauna are fraught with intense competition for limited funds! In late 2016 I came across the London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership. A unique and highly regarded PhD programme funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) that was accepting applicants for its fourth year starting 2017. I nervously applied and was granted an interview. I will never be swayed from the opinion that it was the worst interview I have ever given in my life, but thankfully my research experience, application, and the jumble of words that tumbled out of mouth spoke for themselves as I was offered a place!

This programme has six months of training and project development which I have just completed and am now starting my PhD entitled: “Linking Feeding Ecology and Population Dynamics in Sea Turtles: From Genes to Ecosystems” with Dr. Christophe Eizaguirre and Dr. Gail Schofield at Queen Mary University of London. I will delve into the details at a later date but for now, I am back and ready to science.

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Ready for this exciting new chapter (Soda Lake, Amboy). ©Leila Fouda


You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. I post interesting articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look! I also have Twitter come and join the conversation you can find me as @Leila_Lula

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Learning The Full Monty

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The Monty Python* that is and by Python I mean the programming language.

Coding was never something that I use to think would be a part of my life! How naive I was! I learnt to use R for statistics during my Masters course which I *surprise surprise* found quite fun (especially when it worked how I expected it to) then during my last year in Australia having a working knowledge of programming became very quickly and clearly a skill I knew I would require to be a successful and competent scientist in the future of marine and conservation science. Initially, I became familiar with MATLAB as it was the main programming language used by my department. However several conversations with a very talented coder and friend led me to Python; it is free, it has wide applicability, and it is growing in popularity as the go to language.

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Python is also meant to be an “easy” programming language to learn! Image: XKCD

So now I’m home in London and I decided that the one big skill I wanted to improve and become more confident in this year was my coding abilities. I knew I would like a structured course and not just self-led learning for code and luckily I came across Udemy having a sale on this course: Complete Python Bootcamp as well as a second course: Learning Python for Data Analysis and Visualization both heavily discounted (~£7 each) and decided to take the plunge. I mean a course for less than the price of two take-out coffees what’s not to like! They also both has good reviews!

I am 40% into the first course, doing one or two lectures a day during the week, and really enjoying it. I feel like I’m understanding concepts that before were both daunting and confusing as well as learning how to write neat annotated code. The first few sections were a good refresher of concepts that I already understood from mathematics or other programming languages I had come across, and now we are starting to get into the more meaty topics with writing your own Functions and soon creating Methods!!

I believe that at the end I will be a better prepared scientist and be able to contribute more to research in the future. Being able to code myself without the reliance on others will be both liberating and dare I say it exciting! I already feel an innate sense of pride at understanding concepts and applying learnt skills to different coding problems.

As I have been learning I was quite interested to come across this article on the BBC saying that in a blind test code written by women was preferred! Which is an interesting turn of events especially as traditionally it as been a rather male dominated domain (note: the study is awaiting peer-review). *FIST PUMP*. I recently came across PyLadies an “international mentorship group with a focus on helping more women become active participants and leaders in the Python open-source community” which I am very excited to explore and then was thrilled to see they have a London Meetup group which, I hope I can join for an event in the not too distant future!

So now here I am learning a new language and doing tasks with computers that I never thought would be part of my life and boy am I glad that I am. The sense of accomplishment when you can code is up there with one of the best feelings! There are lots of free resources out there to try including: codecademy, Coursera, Udemy, Learn Python The Hard Way, the Python website tutorials and even Google has a free introductory Python course!

Do you code? Which language is your preferred one? Any tips for the fledgling coder? Let me know in the comments below!

*Python is named after Monty Python’s Flying Circus and not the reptile!

You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. I post interesting articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look! I also have Twitter come and join the conversation you can find me as @Leila_Lula!

The Syndrome

You’ve had it…I’ve had it…Look around you and I bet many people you look at have had it…What I hear you ask…?

Why Imposter Syndrome of course! That innate feeling that any moment now your colleagues and bosses are going to realise that you have no idea what you are doing and should not actually be there!!

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Sometimes it seems to flare up more than others especially when you have an important talk to give or are about to go into the field to carry out your own research for the first time after months of prep!

“I got this” you hear yourself say but then you wonder “Have I got this? Can I do everything I said I would? Will I pull it off?” Now you have put in all the work and you have done everything you can to prepare you have actually truly got it but that does not stop the sneaky imposter syndrome from rearing its ugly head to make you feel inadequate.

I think a lot of early career scientist suffer from it and maybe the late career ones do to or they have faked it for so long that they no longer feel like an imposter. The biggest issue is that can cause us a lot of problems is self doubt and comparing your self to others who seem to have it all together while you feel as if you a floundering around out there (they are probably better at faking it!). Comparing yourself to others is a double wammy as it just brings you down and brings in even more self doubt and stokes the fire under the imposter syndrome. So what to do?

I haven’t completely worked it out yet. I think believing in your self is important and if the self doubt stops that then maybe fake* it till you make it true, tell yourself that you can do it until you believe it (as you got this far). Also, surrounding yourself or be in contact with people who believe in you and can boost you up when you are feeling low. In regards to tangible things you can do, I read a post a little while ago about being accountable for your time so that you can “prove” to yourself that you are doing your job and all the things scientist do and doing it well this seems like a neat idea to have something to look back on when that doubt creeps in. One other sweet idea is to keep an encouragement and happiness folder. In this folder you will put emails or letters in which people have written encouraging and boosting things to you and whenever you feel down you can go to the folder and have a little read and bask in others peoples good opinions of you! I have started a folder but need to remember to go and look at it when it feeling in doubt of my abilities.

I haven’t fully worked out how to get rid of Imposter Syndrome yet so if you have any tips please share them below and help a girl out. Have you sussed it all out or do you still fake it?

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Always remember… (image via The Nectar Collective)

*there is a lot of tale about faking it here, I obviously don’t endorse faking who you are but if you fake believing in yourself till your truly do it can only lead to good things.

You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. I post interesting articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look! I also have Twitter come and join the conversation you can find me as @Leila_Lula!

Crying is allowed.

I cry when I’m happy and I cry when I angry, I cry with laughter and I cry with frustration but this does but make me a weaker person or less good and what I do! When a woman cries though people freak out… why o’ why are women all hysterical, is she trying to get attention, is she not getting her own way and manipulating you. I’m here to tell you that this is in fact not the case I am not a hysterical women if bring salty tears with my emotions.

I was reading a post on Dynamic Ecology by Meghan Duffy entitled “There is crying in science. That’s okay” and it really resonated with me. After an emotional week of; missing my family and boyfriend, having some disappointing news and, being insulted about my surfboard mounting technique (after a frustrating hour trying to learn in some sloppy waves), I had cried or welled up a fair few times. For a second I worried that this could be seen as weakness but, I don’t feel weak when I cry I feel all the emotions I mentioned above but never weak or that I can’t go on.

If we’re going to have more women in science – and I hope we will – we’re going to have more crying in science”. one of Meghan Duffy from Dynamic Ecology’s mentors.

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Megan links to an article that includes the unique case of Ben Barres who transitioned from female to male and noticed that with the transition and his increase in testosterone he lost the ability to cry easily. So I am innately built to cry more as a woman and due to my lower levels of testosterone I can’t control the tears that flow sometimes. Therefore, if I ever cry in your office or on your shoulder remember that I am releasing my emotions (good and bad) about the current situation and my life. I am not trying to manipulate your feelings. I also hope that in years to come I remember this simple thing if I am lucky enough to have student who come to me for advice or questions and get emotional. I hope that I don’t think that they are trying to manipulate my feelings and opinions of them and remember I am lucky they feel comfortable in my presence.

So let there be crying in science and in the world. Whether you are woman or a man who is crying it does not matter and it is okay. Let those emotions out, allow the release of your feelings and just cry. It makes you human it allows you to be who you are and it is not a sign of weakness. Remember…Crying Is Allowed.


You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. I post interesting articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look! I also have Twitter come and join the conversation you can find me as @Leila_Lula!