STEMinist Profile: Sonia Watson, Ph.D. Student in Physiology

Sonia Watson

Sonia Watson

Ph.D. Student in physiology/pharmacology/neuroscience
University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been curious about the world around me and always trying to figure out how things work. I remember going to the science centre here in Aberdeen as a small child and being totally fascinated. One of my favourite books to sit down with was this heavy, hard bound medical encyclopedia that had amazing colour pictures of the various systems of the body (nerves, blood vessels, etc.).

I hadn’t even really considered that the things that really interested me were all science related until it was pointed out to me by a high school teacher when I was choosing which subjects to study at standard grade level (GCSE/3rd year of high school). I chose to study all three sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) from that level on and I was hooked. Since then I’ve known that whatever it is I do, it’s science that gets me up in the morning.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I have worked on is my current Ph.D. research.

Most people are unaware that they have a 6th sense, which without you couldn’t drive, type or walk without looking at your feet. It’s called proprioception and it sends information from your limbs back to your brain giving you a sense of where those limbs are in relation to the rest of your body. My work focuses on the puzzling presence of a particular signaling system within sensory nerves that, at the cellular level, modulates this sense.

This project excites me because it is all about figuring out how the body works. Additionally it has medical consequences as it is now thought that the regulation of blood pressure also uses this signaling system.

Role models/heroes:
There are loads of amazing female academics at my university who I look up to and I think this is part of the reason I don’t really consider my gender as being a barrier to what I want to do. My heroes would have to include my parents who always encouraged me to do whatever it was that excited me (whether that was learning to play the violin only to give it up again once I got bored or buying me an electronics set so I could build my own lamp). They allowed me to figure out for myself what I enjoyed and never said no just because it wasn’t a “girly” thing to do.

During my time as a Ph.D. student I have met some great fellow students who have inspired me to get more involved in communicating how amazing science is to the public.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in the lab, essentially figuring out puzzles all day, but working in STEM has given me the opportunity to get involved in other fun projects. I’ve done a little “science busking” – demonstrating small experiments to children and adults of all ages and co-run Aberdeen’s Skeptics in the Pub.

People tend to think of scientists as locked away in a dark room all day but it can actually be a very social career. I love attending conferences where you get the chance to meet amazing people from all over the world and discuss your work (as well as life, the universe and everything!).

Advice for future STEMinists?
If STEM is what excites you, do it. STEM subjects can give you a great start wherever life may take you—it gives you a way of thinking that can be applied in all walks of life. Speak to people at different levels in your subject area and find out what it’s all about. Twitter can be a great way of doing this informally.

Favorite website or app:
Difficult question! There are so many! I use Noteshelf to collate notes and make to-do lists for my research and different non-uni projects I’m involved in. I am on Twitter far too much (I use TweetCaster on my iPad). FaceTime is great for talking to my Mum.

Twitter: @nonisa

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