Heidi Gardner: PhD Researcher, University of Aberdeen

Age: 26

Tell us a bit about what you do.

I’m a PhD researcher at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. What that means day to day can vary hugely, but everything I do is centred around finding out more about the process of recruiting volunteers into clinical trials. My favourite part of my research is qualitative research – I have done a lot of interviews with people that work to recruit people into trials to find out how they go about structuring this process; how do you start a conversation with someone about a trial? How do you deal with someone who says ‘no’ or doesn’t understand anything about trials? What types of communication do these people use, and which are most successful in recruiting volunteers and ensuring that people understand what they’re signing up to?

Are there any common misconceptions about your field?  

Lots of people think that trials are only done with new drugs – so lots of people are fearful of trials because they are under the impression that they will need to take previously untested drugs that could harm them. In the unit where I work, we don’t do many drug trials at all – most of the trials we’re involved in are for surgical or lifestyle interventions (e.g. one type of surgery vs another technique, or ‘usual care’ vs a new diet or exercise regime). Trials aren’t just done with new interventions. The majority of trials that are going on around me are being done on interventions that are already being used in healthcare systems around the world, they’re licensed and acceptable – but we want to find out which intervention is ‘better’. Better could mean, cheaper, a quicker recovery time, a shorter stay in hospital, reduced side effects etc etc. the list goes on!

Have you encountered any hurdles that are related to being a woman in science? 

I feel like I’m in the minority, but no, I haven’t encountered any hurdles that are related to women in science – I say that, but as I type I’m thinking that maybe I have, and I’m so used to them that I haven’t actively noticed them. I’ve had comments from post-docs about the fact I wear makeup, someone once told me I ‘should be spending more time working and less time doing my eyeliner’. The comment about lack of work was totally unfounded, and I ended up winning an academic prize for my work on that project – proving that I could do the work and wear perfect eyeliner at the same time.

Who is your hero in science (or life)? 

That’s such a difficult question! I’m not sure I have a hero – I take inspiration from lots of different places, but I don’t think there’s any one person I look up to as a hero. People like Sarah Corbett (https://craftivist-collective.com/our-story/), have been inspiring me recently because I think we can make a lot of links between craftivism and science communication. I try to surround myself with hard-working people that are more intelligent than I am, and that I can have a laugh with, to me they’re sources of inspiration that show me how far my career can go in the future if I keep on working hard.

What would you tell your younger self? 

It’s ok to be a nerd. I was always decent at academic subjects at school, and when you hit a certain age it becomes uncool to be good at science and maths. When I left school and came to university I realised that I just needed to be happy with who I was.

Being a ‘nerd’ isn’t a bad thing, and being fascinated by science is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Are you involved in any science outreach/communication programs beyond your occupation/studies? 

Yes! Towards the end of last year I set up a little Etsy shop called ‘Science On A Postcard’.

I love being creative, and I love talking about science, so this is a combination of my passions.

I sell postcards, enamel pin badges, notebooks and tote bags that are aimed to inspire conversation about science. My shop is: https://www.etsy.com/shop/scienceonapostcard and it has its own Instagram page: @scienceonapostcard. I’ve had brilliant reactions from scientists and members of the public with it so far, and I hope to continue to grow the shop with new products that span across diverse fields of science. February the 11th is International Women and Girls in Science day – so I have some special products to celebrate that, with all profits going to organisations that support women in science.


You can follow Heidi on Twitter (@heidirgardner), Instagram (@heidirgardner) or read her blog here.

*This interview has been edited for clarity.

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