My Best Writing Tips

I’ve done my fair share of reading, writing, and editing. Last year I started writing articles for the chemistry chapter newspaper at KTH, this year I’m the editor-in-chief. In addition I also write for the student union newspaper Osqledaren. From these experiences I’ve gained some insight into what makes a text sparkle, giving it that extra flavor. I am by no means an expert in this area, but I have some tips to share!

  1. The secret to a great text is amazing editing. Be critical and ”kill your darlings”. Re-reading a text is not the most exciting thing in the world but it makes a huge difference in the end. A warning here is due, to all the perfectionists, don’t go overboard. If you tend to go overboard I would suggest asking someone else for feedback, revise and then releasing your creation into the wild.
  2. Let the text rest and return to it. Writing is like baking bread, it needs time. In this case it’s not about fermentation, it’s about letting your brain process and make novel connections by giving it space. This should be done several times if the text is important to you, iterate – iterate – iterate.
  3. One of the most common errors I see when editing texts is a mediocre finish. Be clear about the implications, main points, and further questions for investigation. In the case of a longer text, build up to it by summarising what you have written so far. What’s the takeaway?
  4. Make your life easier by checking your spelling and grammar with some kind of app or extension. Of course, you could do this yourself, but why not simplify your life if you can? This step saves you effort that can be put into the finishing touches.
  5. Make sure that you collect lots of inspiration every time you come across it. Write down anything that surprises you and store it in some sort of system, personally I prefer a variant of Zettlekasten (if you want more info on this I would suggest reading How To Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens). This will make sure both that a) you always have something to write about, and b) that you can make insightful connections.
  6. Get out of your own head. Talking to someone else about the topic you are writing about can serve the same function as in tip #5, making insightful connections. In addition, it can help reveal blind spots in your thinking, as well as challenge your thoughts. This should not be underestimated.
  7. Write about topics you care about. This is not only a question about what you want to write about, most people would be much more inclined to read a text written by a person who is invested in the subject.
  8. If it’s a long non-fiction text I would outline it. This makes it easier to get an overview in the beginning. This is only a rule of thumb, but gaining structure is seldom a bad thing – especially for writing. Even if you are writing fiction it can be good, but there are different schools of thought in this matter.
  9. Aim for smooth transitions. Writing is a bit like driving in this respect, you don’t want to be jerked between information. Guide the reader gently, make it a journey of exploration!
  10. One thing I’ve started with recently is reading it aloud, I use the built-in speech synthesizer (you can have fun selecting different voices). This makes you engage with the ideas from a different angle. I find it easier to be critical and process the text by doing this once or twice for longer articles.

In the future I’ll look into Style Guides, storytelling, copywriting, and maybe some online courses to develop my skills. If you want to continue reading about this topic I would suggest this article on the same subject.

Carrer Paths in Life Science

Ever since I started studying at KTH I’ve been thinking about what I want to do for work, after I’ve finished my master’s in medical biotechnology. When I started my bachelor’s all career paths sounded abstract and far away, but gradually they have become more distinct and easier to grasp. I would like to find something that requires continuous learning, in an area that feels stimulating. I want work to be a puzzle piece for improving something, perhaps a pressing problem of our time. A few years ago I was certain that I wanted to pursue a doctorate but nowadays I’m questioning that. Being a scientist and researcher has always sounded like the most amazing job to me, for as long as I can remember, the joy of discovery and exploration is alluring. What made me doubt pursuing a doctorate? Currently, I want to work in different areas of life science first, to explore what is out there. I’ve also heard very mixed things from different people about the whole experience. Pursuing a P.hD. is still an appealing thought though.

As I mentioned in a previous post I reached out to people working in the Life Science sector as a course assignment, to discuss work experiences and culture clashes. This was helpful to get a clearer picture of what a career path can look like. In total I had meetings with three different people; one who’s pursuing a P.hD., one who works as a consultant, and one who mainly works with innovation. For privacy reasons, I will not disclose specific information. Now over to the interesting part, what did I learn from them

Let’s start with the person who’s pursuing a doctorate. She described it as a stimulating environment with a lot of freedom to structure the work. The main challenges were described as a lot of personal responsibility to do the work, finding a balance between work and spare time, and a big emphasis on continual personal development within the field of research. According to her one of the best parts is attending conferences, both meeting people who are enthusiastic about the same field and the travel. Other aspects that motivated her were finding the work meaningful and learning new things. When weighing the options of pursuing a doctorate or not, she said that working in the Life Science industry with a master’s didn’t feel that stimulating in Sweden currently, in her experience.

When asked about cultural clashes in a research-driven environment the conclusion was that the scientific community has its own culture. For instance, publications are very standardized. She added that it’s always important to look up customs when traveling to new countries. Her experience was that one of the few differences was regarding presenting at conferences, the attribution of who did what and the credits of that work. When asked about what to consider at the start of my career she said that it’s important to ”strategically position yourself”. She elaborated on that by saying; choose your master thesis work with careful consideration, create relevant contacts during your studies, and try to become an intern for a research group. In the end, we also discussed the future of biotechnology, her closing remark was that the future of Life Science is data-driven – that’s where both the big problems and solutions will be. 

The second person I talked to works as a consultant and recruiter at a large company. His work was centered around managing a trainee program. He gave some good advice to people at the start of their careers; showing interest in a workplace by showing up and asking for five minutes to speak with a relevant person there about the company, and then talking about what you want to bring to the company with humility. He emphasized the importance of trying different things at the start of your career. Another point he made was reflecting on career choices, such as whether you want to become a generalist or specialist. 

We also talked about the importance of mentorship, his philosophy in this area was asking for a few minutes of the potential mentor’s time – clearly stating why and then asking for more minutes the next time if it goes well. An example of how to ask would be ”You seem to know a lot about [insert topic] do you have ten minutes to chat about it with me sometime?”. One of the great insights he had, was, when asked about good leadership, he said that he had heard about 10 000 different answers to this question, and that there is no simple answer – but that you should choose your boss with great care. Another interesting thing he mentioned was the importance of interaction between different bubbles – technology, science, soft skills, entrepreneurship, et cetera. This ties in nicely with an additional point he made; the weight of letting people develop a broad range in their skills to make these bubbles overlap more. 

The third person I spoke to started by doing a P.hD. and worked with Pharma research for a long time. After doing Pharma she began working with innovation in the Life Science industry. Her vision for the industry is to make pharmaceuticals affordable for all, globally. When asked about the biggest challenge she answered communicating clearly. The example she made was that saying one thing can be interpreted as something completely different depending on the other person’s perception. I also asked her about what she would have done differently if she would have started over. She answered that she should not have stayed for more than three to five years at a single company at the beginning of her career. With this she highlighted the importance of trying different things.

One particularly interesting thing she said, was that the best advice she had gotten from mentors during her career was talking about what questions they discussed one level above. In her current role, she’s working with both academia and the industry, she described the biggest difference between them as working by exploring to understand, versus working towards a distinct goal. When working with innovation she describes it as two phases; the exploration of solutions and development. Her biggest insight for working with innovation is having close contact with the client. 

In conclusion, Life Science is a big field and there is plenty of options. I conclude that if you want to become a generalist then a P.hD. might not be the right path, if you, however, want to do specialize and do research, a P.hD. can be a great advantage. The one thing they all highlighted was the importance of inclusion in the workplace and trying out different roles at the beginning of your career. Another parallel is the importance of strategically placing yourself in a favourable position. In the coming year I will try to implement as much of the advice I received as possible. Stay tuned!

Networking: Not as Difficult as It Seems

I’m currently in a course that focuses on soft skills and cultural competence, last week’s assignment was reaching out to a person and chatting about work experiences and culture clashes over zoom. To be honest, networking in this context was a little bit outside of my comfort zone since I had never done something similar before. It seemed daunting. The aim was to practice mentorship and gain relevant information about topics of your own choice. The topics I wanted to know more about were; what it’s like doing a Ph.D., what it’s like working as a consultant, and working with innovation. In addition, I wanted to know about different career trajectories in Life Science, as well as advice for people who are at the start of their career.

I decided to reach out to several individuals since I wasn’t sure how many would respond. To my surprise, three out of four people responded that they would participate. When choosing whom to contact I thought about both the questions I wanted to ask but also what work-life experiences that could be relevant. I contacted one person I had met before, two through mutual contacts, and one I had met through a career fair. I used both email and LinkedIn. When writing the emails I put extra energy into being polite, clearly stating the purpose and, proofreading it several times to catch errors. I would also recommend linking to your LinkedIn in the email if you haven’t met the person before, and including one or two sentences about yourself at the start. To prepare for the digital meetings I wrote a bunch of questions tailored to the individual I was meeting with, here LinkedIn was very useful as well as the respective company websites. Interviewing over zoom was a very good option since it required less effort for the other person, but on the other hand, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.

What did I learn about networking? First of all, it wasn’t that difficult – it only required some planning. The planning can be broken down into three parts: reaching out, researching to prepare for the meeting, and contemplating questions to ask. At the start I was worried about ”what’s in it for them”, but I got the impression that they were all happy to help and share their knowledge. The meetings all followed a similar structure: thanking them for taking the time for a meeting, a short introduction of myself and the purpose of the meeting, then I asked the questions. I tried to not follow the questions too strictly, asking them to elaborate on certain interesting points. In retrospect I would suggest half an hour as an optimal time for a digital coffee break chat, it’s enough to get to know the other person without taking up too much of their time. If it turns into a mentorship in the future the meeting time allocated can gradually increase. Stay tuned for part two where I go into more detail about what I learned for these meetings!

Four Months of Yoga

At the start of 2021, I began doing yoga every day. At first, I only planned to do it for 30 days but during that initial period I expanded my quest. How did I manage to do this from home? As a beginner, I turned to yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Previously I had done yoga a few times. I even attempted 30 days at one point in 2019, but other stuff came in the way of completing that. In the beginning, it was more of a challenge and I had anticipated. I wasn’t the most flexible person four months ago, in fact that was my main goal with all of this, and to my surprise – it made a huge difference. For me every day didn’t have to be a certain time or intensity, as Adriene says – just showing up to the mat is enough. The goal is to continue this habit until the end of the year (and possibly even longer), I am excited to continue experiencing this journey.

So what results have I gotten so far? As previously mentioned I’m a lot more flexible, I also feel more at home in my body since it’s less rigid. Of course, there are different types of yoga that give slightly different results, but the mix of types I practice also made me stronger in terms of muscle definition. Becoming stronger also makes you move with more precision. There is also a mindfulness aspect to yoga, which is not to be underestimated. It’s difficult to measure or estimate how it impacts mood but let’s just say that there’s a slight positive difference. The only downside to this is that it can feel difficult to carve out half an hour to forty minutes every day. At one point I had a cold which made showing up to practice feel more difficult, but in the end, I showed up to the mat and did some very light yoga for that week. One of the best things about yoga is the versatility – it can be whatever you wanted to be; flexibility, strength, mindfulness, etc, or a combination. One thing I did not anticipate before starting, was how much my posture would improve. I believe this is a function of better core strength and being more mindful of posture in general.

I tried to implement this habit by taking inspiration from the book Atomic Habits, doing a little bit every day gives huge results in the long run. The improvement compounds. Going forward I’m combining yoga with running, the plan is to do yoga every day and go running a few times a week. I still feel like I have a lot to learn about yoga – it’s a very gradual process it takes time. If you want to start doing yoga every day I would recommend this: start with one of the 30 day challenges on YouTube, there are lots of great options, also think about sensation over how the shape looks and give it time. Be patient. Personally, I keep my mat rolled out on the floor most of the time since I practice every day, which also makes it an obvious reminder and easy to start. Consider what you want to achieve and why. Best of luck!

Rising From The Ashes

It’s been a while, once upon a time this was a blog. Now this is my little corner of the internet. A place for articles of some sort, yet to be decided. The art of writing is very relaxing in itself, almost meditative. I want to document the journey of learning bioinformatics and becoming better at computer science. Why document it? It’s my very own time capsule and it might help someone. In addition this website is going to act as a complement to LinkedIn, a flexible way to showcase who I am.