Science Consultant (self employed)
And - Founder, MicrobiomeDigest.com and ScienceIntegrityDigest.com
Grab opportunities if you see them, and do not plan ahead too much. Your career might take unexpected turns. Embrace the things you love doing, and become very good in them.
What do you do?
I have just quit my paid job to work as a science consultant and volunteer in the fields of microbiology and science integrity. I am currently scanning scientific papers for science integrity issues, such as duplicated or manipulated images, false affiliations, extra-ordinary claims, undisclosed conflict of interest, and predatory journals. I also get requests from journalists or whistleblowers to scan papers from certain research groups. If I find issues with a paper, I will post on a website called PubPeer.com and write to the journal editors and research integrity officers of the institutions. In addition, I founded two science blogs, MicrobiomeDigest.com (now run by a team of volunteers) and ScienceIntegrityDigest.com, and I have a Twitter account (@MicrobiomDigest (sic)) that I use to talk about microbiome research and science misconduct.
Why did you choose this field?
I switched careers several times. I did microbiome research at an academic institution (Stanford University, where I worked for 15 years). Although I loved working in a lab, I also realized I enjoyed science writing and editorial work, so I switched to industry where I worked as a Scientific and Editorial Director for 2 years.
A couple of months ago, I decided to focus more on my volunteer work in science integrity, which I had been doing for 5 years as a somewhat nerdy hobby. It is unpaid work that does not get a lot of appreciation. But I am good at finding duplicated images, and have some experience in reporting scientific papers with concerns, so I decided to take at least a year off from paid work, and do more volunteering work in this field. I am especially motivated by the retracted paper by Andrew Wakefield in the Lancet. In that paper, he claimed that young children were getting autism and gut inflammation after having received the MMR vaccine. This had let to the widespread belief that vaccines cause autism. However, it turned out that the data in that paper was largely falsified or fabricated. The paper has now been retracted, but many people still believe it is true. It is hard to see how fake data nowadays can led people to believe the wrong things.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
To have a biology career outside of academia. There are many other career possibilities, such as science reporting, industry jobs, grant writing, public health research, and editorial positions at scientific journals.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love to do research - I have always been curious and fascinated with all forms of life. But I also love spreadsheets and keeping track of numbers, and to communicate science with others.
Best advice for next generation?
Believe in yourself, and stay unique. Grab opportunities if you see them, and do not plan ahead too much. Your career might take unexpected turns. Embrace the things you love doing, and become very good in them. Avoid people who suck out your energy, and try to surround yourself with people who give you energy. Ask for help if you feel lost, and give back to others when you can.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
I love "science Twitter", and follow mainly scientists, reporters, and people working in healthcare. I try to avoid the politics and trolls as much as possible. Twitter has allowed me to have a voice in microbiology and research integrity, and to build up a network of friends all over the world.