Some notes on the transcription…

I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.

I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.    

You can find the full interview here: https://thephdliferaft.libsyn.com/

Emma  

Hello Wafaa Hello. I am so excited about this discussion. Because it’s kind of it’s a whole, it’s a whole new world to me. And when you, like constantly said what you were doing, I was like, Oh, this is interesting. Tell me tell me more about this. Tell me more. So in a minute, we’re going to be getting into that and substack and the way that you’re negotiating that and using that on your research journey, but before that, I’m going to ask us ask everybody to tell us a little bit about your journey into the PhD and and where you are now.

Um, well, thank you for having me. And yes, I would love to tell you a little bit about how I found myself in a PhD program. I was to be honest, kinda, I did not know what what I wanted. Early in my career. I was just going with the flow. And and when I did my pharmacy school, that was my undergrad, I didn’t want to be a pharmacist. I didn’t like it. So yeah, I didn’t I did not I didn’t really like like working with the patient and be like, one on one with patient every day. I guess I’m kind of sometimes an introvert and like to be in the background, right. So so I was like, Okay, what am I gonna do? I spent five years doing it. I went to pharmacy school so someone said, Oh, why don’t you do research you enjoyed lab and I did I really enjoyed the time in pharmacy school when I was in the lab and do a research. So I did my masters. Still I was a bit like i My heart wasn’t really in it. But then I stuck it through and I went to my PhD and the first year of my PhD, the first year where I was really treated like a scientist where I had control over my project control over the hypothesis that is when I fell in love with what I do. Oh, yeah. And sometimes people are like, Oh my gosh, so you mean you went through five years of pharmacy school, two years of masters, and then you found the love for your work? And I’m like, yeah, sometimes you have to see things through and I know it is yeah, so me but sometimes people are not as lucky as I am but you know, I’m thankful I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I really love what I do. And I really love my PhD program and and I’m thankful for the support that I got. Amazing.

Emma  

Well this is always good to hear people in love the project because I hopefully the PhD is a big love story. It can have all the ups and downs that I love story has but hopefully is fundamental love story and I love that that happened for you. And I think also really important in your story. You find out what you don’t like because that can be really helpful as it was for you to to kind of orientate yourself. So So you’re in love your loved art for your work. Yeah. So did tell us a bit about what it is you’re doing now then with substack Well, first of all, let’s rewind a little bit because I’m rushing on but first of all, then tell us a bit about substack how you discovered that what it is and what goes on there and then how you’re using it in your research. Yeah.

So substack is kind of a platform for writers to write blogs, a newsletter and share it with an audience subscribers. So people can either go to substack and check out your blog or they can subscribe to it. And you send it to their email directly. How I found about how I found out about substack is that I wanted to write I wanted to reach a broader audience. And I guess other social media does not give you that liberty to write a really long post or sometimes even that really long but sometimes you want to put more than one picture. You want to even add a link to a bad cast. But uh, yeah, you know, it’s more long form. Yeah, but that other social media does not really accommodate that too. So I started talking with other creators and writers and they were like, Why don’t you try substack and I went there and I first for the first three months I was actually using it as a consumer. I was following a lot of good news letters and I felt so much of the added value of substack i i was very well I got during those three months I got very well informed about pharma and other writers in that write about for the pharmaceutical industry and I wanted to contribute and I wanted to write and I started my newsletter and yeah, I started back in August last August last year. So it’s still using Yeah. And

Emma  

so in a minute, I want to talk to you a bit more about that and kind of how you construct that and what you do with that and how you communicate your research with that. But first of all, let’s just sit for a minute with this, this using substack as a consumer because I think it can be a brilliant resource for PhD researchers. I think it’s lovely. Because I’ve now signed up for a couple of substack things. What I love is that you get this email, email coming direct to your inbox full of things that you’re really really interested in. This is brilliant. There’s too much stuff comes to us that we’re not interested in. But this is this is great. And so I suppose if you’re going onto stuff, sub stick, sub stack platform, how did you start to find out where the good stuff was? Well, sometimes

you just have to write the keyword. For example, in search, I just write pharma or sometimes I write the name of the company that I want to see if anybody’s talking about it. It’s kinda like you use it like you use what’s the other platform discord or how you use I forgot the name of that other platform.

Emma  

It’s like a search engine I suppose. Is it you’re using? Yeah,

exactly. And and then when you and then you will find a lot of newsletters, blog blog posts, and and you get and that’s how you get introduced to writers that you really like how they write and you follow and you subscribe to their work. Or like, for example, companies that they arrive on substack I would use it it’s very simple to use. It’s just like a search engine.

Emma  

And so and then I suppose there’s an inevitable silence thing. So you’re not really that interested in that you can just unsubscribe. Just experiment.

Oh, yeah, yes. And sometimes you don’t even have to subscribe. You just need sometimes to add it that you you like that. For example, you like that, that topic? And then you would you would just you can go into the app and see it. You don’t need to have it in your

Emma  

mailbox. Yeah. So it is so it’s an app as well. Oh,

yes, it is an app as well. You can have on your phone. I have it on my phone and sometimes I do some reading when I’m in the line, getting my coffee.

Emma  

There you go. There you go. So it’s so that’s us as consumers as you put it in gorgeously in terms of us. Being able to go and access all this material and smart people talking about things that they know an awful lot about and you can kind of access that wisdom. But then in terms of you producing your own content and disseminating your research material. Tell us a bit about that process.

So it’s really good because I feel like it’s all in one platform. You can write but words you can also customize how the display of the newsletter. You can add links you can add podcast. Also you can create your own bulk broadcast on substack and have it and have it there. I didn’t try that feature. But but it’s all in one platform, which is really good. It’s also very simple to use. I’ve never I’ve never been I’ve never had a blog before. I’ve never had a newsletter before. So it’s very simple to use. And it’s very simple to publish. It’s like few clicks. So that interface as a creator is very simple and very straightforward.

Emma  

And how did you go about in terms of kind of curating the material that you were going to disseminate? Well,

to be honest, at first I thought about what would the reader want to wanted and I am the reader. I think I am consumer number one. I like I read other people blogs and I feel like okay, there is a gap. I wish somebody would talk a little bit about this. Then I do my research and then I put my newsletter together and send it out. So that is that is how I came up with my content is just and I believe that this is how I build this is how you come up with your content as well as just you see where is the gap and whereas or whereas you’re interested in anyone to know about and you go after that you do your research and then you you know summarize it and put it out outdoor does that how you make your content.

Emma  

How’s it how do I make it?

Yeah, yeah, how

Emma  

do I make you well, I have gorgeously I have people who offer to come and talk about what they’re doing as you did was really gorgeous. And I also have exactly as you say things that come up that I think actually we need to talk more about this and I think What’s lovely about what you were saying in terms of we talk about the PhD being entering into a conversation, a conversation that started a long time before you entered into the academy and will continue after you have done your work and so I think this is an active engagement with the idea of being in conversation and thinking about what you’re contributing to the conversation or what you’re absolutely

yeah, I agree. Absolutely. Also, being on substack To be honest, it helped me write it helped me sharpen my writing skills. Also my research skills, I would say because you need to go out there and get that information, which is something similar to Bhd you need to go out there and get that information and bring it back and be in an reconstruct it to be presentable. So that that was very helpful. Also, you need for me because it’s related to what I do for my PhD. I’m, I’m a PhD candidate from political sciences. And my newsletter is about Pharma. It’s a it’s like what’s important in pharma this week, so it’s very related. So it helped me to stay informed and helped me to stay on top of the industry to read to know the companies. What are they doing and what company is coming up and in doing that type of research? So it was very helpful for me.

Emma  

Yes, and I think some people find this really route, as you say, really motivational. Specially if you’re focused, you know, if you are externally focused and you know that you need to get that produced for someone else. It needs to go out there, you kind of you’ve got an audience you need to get out there. You will get the writing done, you will get the research done and it will keep moving you forward. So it can be really, really useful. I suppose the other thing is though, do you ever find that it gets in your way that you’re working on the blog on the sub stack, rather than actually working on your research? Is there a tension there? Yes.

Okay. Like, I don’t think Bhd is a full time job. I think Bhd is life, right sometimes sometimes you have to structure structure everything else around Europe. Bhd added and this is my experience. But I guess it’s just this is also doing this newsletter is a commitment for myself to it’s a commitment to see if I can do something else. Other than my PhD if that makes sense. And Bhd you are still in the confinement of academia, you have a mentor that expects you to produce this by this time. By having something on your own like a newsletter. There’s you don’t have a boss you just have nothing than the commitment you have for yourself and for your readers. So I really wanted to do that. And yes, it does sometimes. Sometimes it get overwhelming, but I believe that we have control over our time and we make time to what we think is important and my newsletter is important to me so I make time for it. I’m still working on finding that habit, or I would say that schedule, and I and I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. As I said we’re still new I started the newsletter in August. But so far I don’t I don’t have any a lot of issues. But it is it is in addition to my PhD work it is indeed. But yeah, it’s a new challenge and I enjoy it.

Emma  

I love that and I think do people do people make contact with you do? Do you find that people are kind of feeding back and you’re entering into conversations and making connections with people? Oh,

yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Like for example, a few friends they would read it and they would tell me Oh, that was very insightful. That was very, I was hoping maybe if you can elaborate on that. And that’s how now I started to make those quick reels, like videos on Instagram or videos on Tiktok just because some of my friend thought that that was very interesting. I wish if you can elaborate a little bit on that. Or that would be great if it was like you can hear it and see it. So that so the I feel like right now because we’re just starting. The feedback loop is not really well constructed, but it’s starting starting. I’m still getting like a little bit of feedback from people close to me, my friends, a little bit of my call my colleagues. So yes, you always need to listen to feedback. You always need to have your ears open. And you always need to sometimes even sometimes force people to read and be like, give me some feedback. You

Emma  

should choose what to say I think I think feedback can be in short supply on the PhD. And so actually having another forum that you might get feedback from is really useful. And especially if it’s positive and encouraging, but even if it’s a critique that you can kind of go okay, yeah, maybe I could think about this but I think the other thing, from what you’re saying is this sense of being able to make contact with, you know, potential collaborators with people who are working in similar fields. This is a brilliant opportunity to do that too. Isn’t it? That kind of it, actually because you’re out there people might find you and they might start connections that you wouldn’t otherwise make.

Wafaa  

Absolutely. I agree. Yes, absolutely. I think it’s just also to showcase that you are in the field and you are aware and also you start to be treated as a source of information because you know, which companies do and what are for example, you you are updated on for example, that research, which is really good. It’s just putting you up front in it also give you a voice and the larger conversation and science because sometimes you get lost, especially in your early career and having a platform and doesn’t have need to be a substack it can be LinkedIn, it can be Instagram, it can be Twitter, I’ve seen a lot of good scientists to have really huge Twitter following. This just helps you get yourself out there. Make these connections of like minded people and contribute to the larger conversation.

Emma  

And as you say, finding a platform that you feel comfortable in, which is why I’m really excited to hear that you are on substract in terms of because this is it’s still fairly new substack and it’s been going for a while obviously but I think people are discovering it more now and and to have that as a platform that you feel really comfortable in and that is a good format for sharing your work and I do think it can be a great platform from what I’ve seen for writers, of which PhD researchers are all writers or sharing your work through it. And so yeah, this is this is potentially exciting. And people might want to if they haven’t come across it before or haven’t experimented with that before, might want to give that a go. And so if they are thinking about giving it a go, do you see how did that what top tips then would you have for for people? And

Wafaa  

well the first tip I would say is that at early stage when you’re just thinking about starting it’s it’s sometimes you don’t have access to the consumer or the readers or what they want. So what’s better to go back to the first reader and which is yourself and the first consumer and then ask what do I What would I be interested in? What would I like to see because that would be easier because some people sometimes get lost about oh, what would what would give me more clicks what would give me more views what would get me in that you can get really lost in that. So I would really recommend going back first yourself okay, what would I found to be a value and how can I provide that? So that’s tip number one and number tip number two which is related. to tip number one is that find a gap. First via can be a reader read or if you want to be on Instagram or Tiktok just check on what others are doing and see okay, where is if there is there a gap that I can fill? Is there something that nobody is providing that I feel like I can provide or even if someone else is providing can I provide it better or with a twist? So first, don’t get really lost? Just think about yourself and what can you provide? I would say this is the big tip. The second one is that just start writing. Don’t get hung up on Oh, am I a good writer or not? Because I do that because I’m not a native English speaker. And sometimes I feel like oh my god. I hope they cannot sense my accents through my writing. But just to start writing, and then at first you don’t have to you don’t have to be perfect. And nobody is and there will be a lot of mistakes because I got you know, I made a lot of mistakes. And I still do when I’m still learning. So just start that learning process started that journey. That’s good. Just yeah.

Emma  

Oh, sorry. Did you have more? I’ve taken all you’ve got to give it

Okay. One more is that it’s gonna be very slow to gain traction and attention. Especially if you are producing content. If it was very niche like what I do, Farmer Bhd related or whatever, it’s it’s gonna take a lot to get attraction or attention. Also, you will need to market yourself and your content, especially in the early stages. You need to be really out there marketing, marketing. So don’t be discouraged. Don’t be discouraged and just consider this as work that you do for yourself. You’re doing it for yourself. And just don’t be discouraged if you didn’t get the number of subscribers you wanted. And yeah, that is the my final advice.

Emma  

Oh, absolutely. And that that really is golden, isn’t it because and also the numbers can be absolute vanity numbers. Currently, we all know we’ve seen people with you know, 1000s and 1000s of followers and they get two likes on what they actually, as you say, I think really wisely. This is not this is for you. And and the potential benefits, as you’ve outlined for us that it could give you in terms of a commitment to writing a commitment to showing up a commitment to curating material that’s useful for your research, a commitment to making contact with people who actually you know, are interested in your area, that those are the benefits to go for. And chasing numbers can be you know, a never ending and soulless task.

I agree. I agree. And

Emma  

awesome. Thank you so much for taking us through that and offering us insights into that. I wish you every success with this we will have all your details in the show notes. So people can come and find you on substack

Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you. You’re

Emma  

so welcome. Thank you so much for your time. And thank you all for listening