Medic, researcher and blogger – Dr. Farah

Medic, researcher and blogger – Dr. Farah

It’s time for another Scientist Showcase and I’d like to welcome you to the wonderful Dr Farah! Farah is a medical doctor specialising in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology whilst also doing an academic research component investigating the effect of antibiotics on the gut microbiome and human breath. I love learning more about what she gets up to in the clinic and in the lab over on her Instagram! Farah is a self-taught belly dancer (incredible!) and a lover of tea, travelling and reading! Over to you Farah…

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Tell us more about the scientific research!

We’re doing a pilot study looking at how the route we administer antibiotics (through a drip or via tablets) impacts on the community of organisms/bugs (microbiome) that live naturally in the human gut. This is a big topic in research at the moment as we’re learning that while we live in harmony most of the time with this microbiome, it can affect our health, our brains and even how we think! Importantly, changes in this gut microbiome can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. If we can reduce effects on the microbiome, then we can potentially reduce antibiotic resistance. A lady in the US recently died because the infection she had was resistant to all our antibiotics. This should be one of our biggest fears- the antibiotic apocalypse!!

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What inspired you to go into medicine? And what inspired you to add research into the mix?

In all honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do in life (is anyone?!). I’ve been lucky in that I’ve managed to end up doing something I really love but that was honestly touch-and-go for a while. I wasn’t doing brilliantly in my AS levels and aiming for medicine helped me to achieve my grades. When I got into medical school, I found that I enjoyed the subject and I got better and better at it over time. I’m also a people person and enjoy the mix of skills, teamwork and the general variety within medicine. I was introduced to research during my undergrad- I did an extra degree for a year in International Health and conducted research in Ethiopia. I decided I wanted to be able to spend a bit of concentrated time on research, so here I am!

“I’m just proud of what I’m doing and have done, and happy with where I am in life.”

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How do you find balancing being a doctor and doing research? That’s a big job!

The NIHR-funded Academic Clinical Fellowship is great in that it allows for dedicated time to focus on research that is protected from clinical time. However, it is really tough pursuing both simultaneously and so I am having to balance that mix a little. I do it by trying to plan ahead, by listening to my body when it’s tired and by cutting myself slack when I’m not “achieving” the way I want to be. I find giving myself deadlines that I tell other people is also a big help. Also, I LOVE my Filofax. Writing things down physically and giving myself tick lists is the only way I focus my mind. I review and rewrite it every Sunday and during the week I work through it. I make that list short though. No more than 3 or 4 things to do. Never set yourself up for a fall!

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What advice would you give to those considering/currently combining medicine and research?

Do not say yes to everything. You have to learn to say no sometimes.

BUT be brave enough to say yes to open up opportunities for yourself!

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I learn so much from your science IG! What led to the decision to document your medical/science journey on social media and blog?

I’m not 100% sure how it happened. I think it started as a way of cementing my own learning. I’m a very visual learner so Instagram was an ideal platform. The blog came about because I had more things to say than I realised! Also, in thinking about doing a PhD, I noticed that funders like you to share your research and science, so I realised it wouldn’t just be seen as ‘time-wasting’ either. Scicomm is a skill (and a very difficult one to master) so every little helps. I became increasingly enthusiastic and I found the community a fun and supportive one too.

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Why is science communication important to you?

Lots of reasons, I think. It’s about showing the world why you’re passionate about your job and inspiring people to consider your career too. The thing with science communication is it breaks these ridiculous myths that science isn’t cool or that you have to be completely boring to do it. I want kids to be excited by schooling. I work with a charity called Students for Kids International Projects (SKIP) and when I was at uni we went to Zambia. The kids we worked with LOVED going to school- they saw it as fun, as an opportunity. I think finding learning fun is actually very natural for humans but it’s not always taught in the most engaging way. That’s because it’s difficult to do! Taking part in scicomm activities is challenging for me but it’s important in enthusing younger generations and showing them different possibilities for themselves.

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Finally, how do you balance work/scicomm and personal life?

I’ve been a bit poor at this for the last year or so, I’ve enjoyed my job so much and the balance hasn’t been great. Outside of work I used to go to Lindy Hop classes and my husband and I danced at our wedding in Lindy style! At the moment I mostly try to keep up with friends, relax in the evening to keep my sleep hygiene in tact and do exercise. Exercise used to be belly dancing around my room but now consists of BBG, walking and running. I also like reading and that for me is the best way to keep up with my Spanish language learning, in fact I’m reading Harry Potter in Spanish!

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Thank you Farah for being a guest on the blog! To learn more about her journey as a clinician and a researcher you can find Farah on Instagram and Twitter. Also, go and check out her blog!

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Science, scicomm and vlogging – Martijn Peters

Science, scicomm and vlogging – Martijn Peters

I’m very excited about the first Scientist Showcase of 2018! I’d like to welcome you to Martijn Peters, a scientist and very talented science communicator living in the land of beer, chocolate and French fries – Belgium! Over to you Martijn…

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So, why science?!

The origin of my spark for science can be traced back all the way to my early childhood. My grandfather took me on many hiking trips and explained everything he knew about nature. As a consequence, I developed an intrinsic need for wanting to understand everything that occurred around me. This eventually resulted in me studying the awesome science field that is Biomedical Sciences at university, I then specialized in Bioelectronics & Nanotechnology for my Master’s degree, and recently completed my PhD.  

“The human body is one of the most amazing accomplishments of nature and I really wanted to learn how it works and interacts with its environment.”

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Congratulations on getting your PhD just before Christmas! Tell us about your research!

Thank you! My PhD research revolves around a specific aspect of our brain. Our brain is one of our most precious treasures, one that requires protection at all costs. Therefore, nature safeguards it behind an impenetrable wall, called the blood-brain-barrier. This fortress keeps foreign invaders, like diseases, out but also makes it very hard for us researchers to investigate the brain when something goes wrong. As a results, to this day the working mechanisms of many brain diseases are still shrouded in mystery.

During my PhD I designed novel visualization probes that enable us to study the brain and diseases that wreak havoc upon it. These visualization probes are nanoparticles, small spheres one million time smaller than the width of a human hair, that consist of semiconducting polymers. Most people know these polymers from applications like solar panels or OLEDs that reside inside your smartphones and TVs, but they are also fluorescent and non-toxic. I covered the nanoparticles with special structures, which ensure that they will target specific cells, like a guided missile system. On top of that, they are small enough to cross the daunting blood-brain-barrier! This type of novel visualization probe will help us shine a new light on brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

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For other current/soon-to-be PhD students, what are your dos and don’ts?!

Persistence is the key! If you’re persist you will get there.

However, don’t lose yourself in the process and don’t focus too much on the accomplishments of others. It can be quite stressful working in an environment that consists of nothing but top students. You often wonder if you are good enough. But rest assured, you are. You are also one of those students. You can do it! So work hard for your passion but also don’t forget to take a break now and then. You need and deserve them!

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Why is science communication important to you?

To me, science communication is important because it is all about building bridges. We often forget that we are the expert in our own research topic, and everyone else (even fellow scientists) are a lay audience.

“Learning how to communicate will not only help society but also science. A good scientist is a good communicator.”

Throughout my PhD I discovered that I could combine my creative side with my technical side through science communication, which has been an eye-opening experience for me. I am rather proud of my science communication achievements (especially since I managed to achieve them without losing any quality in my science work) and it has become a passion for me.

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So you’re an award-winning science communicator? Tell us about OMGitsScience!

OMGitsScience is a project that I started to show the human side of science. Too often we just shower people with nothing but facts. Yet we do not provide them with insights into who we are or how science works. Because these aspects are missing, people have a hard time making a connection of trust with scientists and distinguishing between “science facts” and “fake facts”. To counter this movement, I started communicating science on Twitter and a YouTube channel called OMGitsScience on which I show the life of a scientist through vlogging. I’ve also embarked on an Instagram journey recently (I really love editing pics and combining them with a story).

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Check out this fun vlog which showcases a day in the life of Martijn! Enjoy!

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Finally, how do you balance work and personal life?

I think a healthy work-life balance differs for everyone. Some weeks were really hectic during my PhD with zero free time during the day, and some weeks were rather “chill” with lots of time to do things not revolving around my PhD. You have to listen to you own body and discover what works best for you. I have used most of my free time for science communication projects (from speaking assignments to competitions to organizing a TEDx conference to starting a YouTube channel). I love being creative and it gives me an outlet to combine science with creativity. I also really enjoy reading, watching series/movies and running.

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Thank you to Martijn for being part of my blog! I absolutely love to hear about the lives of others. He’s a brilliant science communicator so please go and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and of course him awesome YouTube channel!

 

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Science, scicomm and supporting women in STEM – Sasha Weiditch

Science, scicomm and supporting women in STEM – Sasha Weiditch

For November’s Scientist Showcase please welcome the fabulous Sasha. Sasha is a PhD student over in Toronto, Canada. Her passion for science, engaging the public with research, and mission to empower women in STEM is so inspiring, passions I can really relate too! Sasha shares her science life over on Instagram as @scigirlsash which you have to check out! Over to you Sasha…

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What are you researching?

My PhD is in biochemistry, specializing in protein chemistry. Protein chemistry is a big field, because proteins are arguably the ‘do-ers’ in an organism. Your DNA holds all the information that makes you, well, you (aka your genes). Genes are encoded into proteins that float about in the cell and get all the molecular processes going. I’m looking at a specific organism, the bacteriophage, and how it’s molecular workings cause it to perform its function, which is to kill bacteria. Scientists are now looking for alternative sources to fight bacteria in our bodies, food or anywhere really because of the rise of antibiotic resistance amongst bacteria. This makes the study of bacteriophage an exciting prospect for the future.

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“I loved doodling the Krebs cycle in high school biology and thinking about all the elements in the periodic table in chemistry. Putting it all together and understanding that these beautiful and intricate processes drive us and our world forward, it’s really something wonderful to investigate”.

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You started #PhDenomenalPhDemale – tell us more!

It’s pronounced phenomenal female, and the hashtag was inspired by the well, ‘phenomenal’ women I am fortunate to have met throughout my graduate career. These are women who are choosing science, pursuing challenging PhD programs and following their passion to use science to create a better tomorrow. I thought – ‘I already know about these inspiring women, why don’t more people, and especially more young women?’. Throughout my academic career I had experienced the plaguing uncertainty, the challenging competition with peers, the long hours of studying, the feeling of ‘why am I even doing this?’ and yet, above it all, I made it through. While I am now accustomed to those feelings being a natural part of the PhD process, I am aware of how debilitating those thoughts are as a high school or university student. Thus, PhDenomenalPhDemale is a way to give real life examples that with the right amount of perseverance, hard work and belief in yourself, your dreams are attainable.

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Let’s talk scicomm! Your Instagram is just beautiful.

I enjoy using Instagram for science communication as it’s a fast and fun way to be part of a community of scientists and bloggers. I love sharing cool science, or, everyday science that’s cool. Using IG to learn from other scientists and followers who comment and ask questions is one of my favourite ways to share information! I love that anyone can tap into their device and ask a scientist a question, or see what day-to-day research life is like. I’m hopeful that this type of interaction will shed a positive light on scientists and break stereotypes for women in science.

I’m also very aware of the negative aspects of an app that is on a device that is with you literally all. the. time. In one minute, harmful societal notions of how your body is supposed to look, what you’re supposed to say, eat and dress like are reaffirmed by these falsely idolized figures. So basically, I was sick of it. I wanted to be part of a space that promoted real women doing inspiring things in their lives and in science.

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I recently took part in Soapbox Science, which I found out about through IG! I was honoured to be part of this event as it aligns with my goals as an ‘instagrammer’, which is to promote women in STEM. Standing on my Soapbox in the busiest intersection in downtown Toronto wearing my lab coat, I got asked many questions on my topic, the bacteriophage, by young and old, men and women. And – it was a lot of fun!

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How do you balance work, scicomm and personal life?

A valuable piece of advice given to me that sticks into my mind all the time: not every day has to be balanced to achieve ‘work-life balance’. Sometime days are longer, some days are shorter. Some weeks are longer, some weeks are shorter. Being a PhD student, this resonated with me because I often (like I think many millennials are) am trying to fit it ‘all’ in and succeed in my professional goals. I try my best to make time for things like fitness, spending time with family and friends and of course, keeping up with blogging and social media. Still my PhD work is primary, so keeping this advice in mind, I remember not to stress when the ‘balance’ isn’t met and make up for it in the future.

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For other current/soon-to-be PhD students, what are your dos and don’ts?!

Do NOT think that you are alone in experiencing the roller coaster of success and failures in your research or graduate school life. Great discoveries are spawn of the curiosity to try something that may not succeed (or better, you learn from that negative results as well!).

Stay focused on your research goals but also make time to find out what else excites you outside the lab or in other research groups. There’s a whole world waiting to collaborate in many cool ways.

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And finally, a day in the life of Sasha!

 

A huge thank you to Sasha for sharing her life as a scientist, science communicator and promoter of women in STEM. To see more of what she gets up to head over to her Instagram and give her a follow, or you can find her on Twitter!

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Conscious about conservation – Krissy Middleton

Conscious about conservation – Krissy Middleton

It’s the first blog post of the month which means it’s time for another Scientist Showcase. For October please welcome the inspirational Krissy (@conservationistkrissy).

Krissy is a 27 year-old postgrad studying Conservation and Biodiversity and writes her super amazing blog “Conservationist Krissy”, which you just have to check out! I love following what she does via Instagram, I learn a lot from her. I’m therefore so excited to introduce you to her, over to you Krissy!

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Tell us a little bit about you

People always ask questions like “what made you want to..?” or “do you remember the moment you decided to..?’, but to be honest I never had that ‘life changing moment’ people speak of.  My affinity for wildlife and the natural world is something that has resonated in me since before I can recall!  It may sound cliché, however, I could not imagine doing anything else with my life; I feel a genuine responsibility to protect our planet and the creatures we share it with.

After finishing school, I travelled to Madagascar for conservation, studied sports science for a year, worked in client servicing (finance), researched wildlife in South Africa, backpacked around Indo and Australia, and then decided to return to school and follow my dream.  Earlier this year I finally achieved my first class degree in Animal Conservation, and am beyond excited to be a part of the latest Conservation student cohort at University of Exeter. 

I’m passionate about community engagement and science communication, I want to facilitate plastic pollution mitigation efforts, I want to travel and work in the field, and I’m really interested in solutions to human-wildlife conflict. So, who knows where I’ll end up!

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What inspired you to start your blog?

University has opened my eyes to so many conservation issues and cutting-edge wildlife research, and has allowed me to develop my writing skills.  So, a little over a year ago I realised I wanted to communicate what I was learning, to influence and educate other people, and to simply have an outlet for everything I was thinking and feeling about conservation.  So enter ‘Conservationist Krissy’!

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So you’re transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle? Tell us more!

Being a conservation student can have its drawbacks; learning about all the issues our planet is facing can be infuriating and overwhelming.  BUT, that doesn’t dissuade me.  I have seen the power humans can have when they come together; the change that one person can make, no matter how small.

I am working towards eliminating plastic from my life and reducing the waste that we produce.  Marine plastic pollution is a devastating issue and one that does need to be taken seriously.  I want everybody reading to understand that myself and other zero-waste bloggers are not preaching, we are simply passionate about protecting the environment and honestly believe that a zero-waste lifestyle is do-able.

Hopefully, when people understand the impact it has on the creatures we love (turtles, whales, and even your dog!) they will feel compelled to make a change.

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Any beginner tips to lead a more environmentally sustainable way of living?

Buy the following items: a re-usable coffee mug and a re-usable water bottle.  Single-use plastic bottles are one of the worst offenders and if we could all commit to refusing them we would start to significantly reduce plastic waste.

The best advice I can give is to organise yourself if you are committed to making a change – do your research, decide where and when you can do your shopping, and take everything you need! If you’re going to make the change sustainable (longevity), it’s best to make changes gradually – it’s like dieting, you won’t stick to it if you wake up one day and try and do it all at once.

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How do you balance work and personal life?

It’s something I’ve always struggled with because I am so desperate to do well.  Having said that, I am learning.  I do my best to fit in the things that I enjoy; Crossfit, hiking/walking, reading, and relaxing with my two boys.  It sounds ludicrously obvious, but when I make time for these things I perform better, and I enjoy my work more.

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I am going into this year with a slightly different attitude.  I am organised, I schedule, and I adhere to deadlines.  But I will not turn down the things that matter; I am going to make sure I take time for me, and for my relationship.

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Thank you so much for asking me to be part of your showcase feature. Keep doing you Lisa! x

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And finally, a day in the life of Krissy!

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A massive thank you to Krissy for sharing her story and tips in helping us lead a more environmentally sustainable life! She really is so inspirational so please check out her blog and follow her and her journey on Instagram.

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Making it Mindful: Dr. Chrissy Jones

Making it Mindful: Dr. Chrissy Jones

Since starting my blog I’ve interacted with so many other inspiring scientists, and I want to share their amazing journeys in STEM with you guys. I’m therefore thrilled to introduce my new feature – Scientist Showcase!

For the very first feature we have the beautiful Chrissy behind the Making it Mindful blog. I absolutely love what she writes about, in fact she was one of my nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award, so naturally I’m super excited to introduce you to her!

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Chrissy is a lecturer in Pharmacy Practice and research associate at The University of Manchester. She studied Psychology for her undergrad and masters degree, and during this time was introduced to the world of pharmacy through training to be a pharmacy dispenser. This all lead to her PhD combining both Psychology and Pharmacy. She’s a massive lover of Britney Spears and speaks fluent Welsh, how cool is that?!

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Tell us a little more about your research

My research explores how and why procedures are bypassed or deviated from in community pharmacy. In my PhD I conducted 13 focus groups to understand what the prevailing safety culture looks like in pharmacies. I then interviewed pharmacy frontline staff to ask them about specific instances of where they had bypassed or deviated from procedures and their reasons for doing so. Finally, I created a questionnaire based on a novel psychological theory to further understand the behavioural drivers for bypassing or deviating from procedures on a larger scale. In 2016 I had a paper published which was a huge milestone for me.

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Day in the life of Chrissy

So why a blog on mindfulness?

I’m a psychologist by background, I was fascinated by how the human mind works. However, the reason I got into mindfulness was because I was suffering from health anxiety a few years ago, following an asthma diagnosis. The constant anxious thoughts of “what if I have an asthma attack?” were completely exhausting. In an effort to become less anxious I looked into meditation and was astounded by it! I had a few seconds of complete silence in my mind. It was such a relief after the constant chatter of anxious thoughts. Since then I’ve tried to bring mindfulness into my daily life as it helps me to stay present rather than worrying about a future event that might never happen. I therefore love writing about practical ways to use mindfulness. I also wrote a few posts about what it felt like to be at certain stages of my PhD. PhDs can be isolating, so to hear people say that they felt the same way too was really comforting.

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How can we be more mindful?

When you find your mind wandering come back to your senses. What can you hear right now? What can you see? This helps to ground us in the present and to experience life as it is happening. Often our daily tasks like having a shower and driving to work can be done on autopilot. Commit to noticing what it feels like to do these tasks. Appreciate the moment and find joy in the mundane everyday tasks. This small change can lead to a big difference, and help to stop the feeling that life is passing you by.

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Maintaining a work-life balance is vital. How do you balance the two?

I love spending time with my family and friends, and I always make sure that I have something to look forward to in my diary. It helps me to schedule my time and motivates me to complete tasks so that I can really enjoy my down time without worrying about work.

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Graduating from her PhD at The University of Manchester

I see you’re passionate about inspiring young girls?

My mum always told me that I could do anything that I put my mind to, and I am passionate about inspiring girls to live the life that they want rather than the life that they think they should have just because they’re a girl. In an effort to instil confidence in young people I have visited schools and presented to young women about believing in their potential. I have also been interviewed for Women in Science where I talk about how I felt during my career so far – the fears, the doubts, and the lows. With social media, things can look incredibly rosy from the outside. It’s important to show that we are all human and we all struggle sometimes.

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A big part of my blog is to dish out PhD SOS tips. What are your dos and don’ts?!

Don’t let feeling like a fraud stop you. I would bet that everyone doing a PhD feels like an imposter at some point (check out Hugh Kearns’ work on imposter syndrome). It’s something many PhD students experience, so talk about it and look for all of the evidence that exists to show that you are worthy of being exactly where you are.

Do a PhD in a topic that you are genuinely passionate about. The years spent studying for my PhD were three of my favourite years of my life so far! I have no doubt that this was because I believed in my project, I could see the potential that the project had for making a positive difference in practice, that was what motivated me during the hard times.

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Thank you so much to Chrissy for being my first feature and taking the time to be interviewed! Please check out her amazing blog at Making it Mindful. She also shares mindful and inspiring quotes and posts on her @makingitmindful Instagram and Twitter accounts, so be sure to give her a follow!

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Every month I’ll be showcasing another scientist so stay tuned to learn about more incredible people!

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