Working from home

How do you get any work done at home?

I understand that some people might find it difficult, but for me it has been a good fit. I am much more productive at home than I ever was working in an office or a lab. As an introvert, I can concentrate much better when I’m on my own. In fact, I find it quite calming to be at home.

Saying that, working from home is still ‘work’. As much as everyone likes to tease me, I do not sit around watching Ellen and baking cupcakes everyday. While I admit at the start it was tempting to watch movies on the couch all day, I would not find that very fulfilling in the long-term.

“Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.” -Anne Frank

There is a hilarious oatmeal comic on “why working from home is both horrible and awesome” (you can read it here).


From my own perspective of this working lifestyle, I’ve noticed the following:

  • More flexibility: I can work from anywhere in the world (as long as I have an internet connection and a laptop). This means if my partner is traveling for work for a month or so, I can join him. I can also work with my slippers on and wearing my tracky-daks and no one will ever know (well now you guys know, but only because I told you!).
  • Reduced stress: I can fit my freelance work around my household chores. Being able to multitask saves me time and means my overall stress levels are reduced. For example, I can put a load of washing on, and then do an hours editing work before hanging it out to dry (and giving me a break from the computer screen). I can do my shopping when it isn’t so crowded (I hate grocery shopping on a Saturday!). And I have been able to do more exercise. It is much easier to squeeze in a quick run when you are working from home, which again is better for my mental health and reducing stress.
  • Improved motivation: Some people have said to me: “Oh I wouldn’t be motivated enough to work from home”. grumpycat-nomotivationBut I find it more motivating to work for myself rather than working for someone else. The work I put into my business benefits me. Yes, I still have my days where I would rather watch a movie, doesn’t everyone? But with deadlines to meet and clients to keep happy, I can’t do that.

On the downside, working from home often means:

  • Longer working hours: As my clients come from all around the world, my job is no longer 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. I may have to work nights and weekends to meet deadlines and clients will expect me to be in regular email contact even on the weekend. Because of this, the line between ‘work time’, and ‘personal time’ can get blurred, especially as I can no longer leave my work at the office.
  • Social isolation: This is a tough one. I definitely miss the social interactions and support you get in a workplace. I try to get around this by scheduling time to catch up with friends for a coffee or breakfast, or making sure I meet with people for dinner during the week. Also, communication via email and social media can help me feel connected to the outside world.

Note: It is important to mention that I do not have children at home. I can honestly say it would be extremely difficult to get work done at home if you had children demanding your attention as well. However, I have read some great blog posts from parents that offer tips on how you can manage this (check out the wikiHow page and the wonderful blog post by Sarah Dobbins).


How to make your science paper easier to read

Do you ever wonder how many people are actually going to read your science paper? I mean, not even my mum has read my papers, and with good reason…

There is no form of prose more difficult to understand and more tedious to read than the average scientific paper.

– Francis Crick The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1995), xiii.

It’s not surprising that research papers are difficult to understand; they are usually written for a very specific audience. That audience is typically fellow scientists within a niche field. This means the paper is often full of technical information and jargon.

But wouldn’t it be nice if your paper could be read by scientists outside your field? Or by medical professionals that may implement some of your findings in their treatment plans? Or by science journalists who could then inform the wider public of the exciting work you are doing? (Read more about the “Science of Spin” here).

The key to making science papers less ‘tedious to read’ is to keep your audience’s attention. And the best way to retain your reader’s interest is to follow the three c’s of good writing: be clear, be concise and be correct.

How do the three c’s apply to science writing?

1. Be clear

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.

– Ernest Hemingway

Just like Hemingway, you should write your article in the ‘simplest way’. Try not to overcomplicate things; the science is usually complicated enough. When possible, use words that are familiar to reader, for example, “burgeoning” becomes “increasing” and “etiology” becomes “cause”. Don’t try to impress your reader with complicated phrases. Another mistake is to use really long sentences, which can leave the reader confused. These lengthy sentences can be spotted easily if you read your paper aloud. Break them down into shorter sentences. Another good tip is to get a colleague or friend to read your draft and then ask them what they thought were the main points. This will tell you whether your writing is clear.

2. Be concise

For the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

– Dr. Seuss

Stick to the point. Figure what your main message is and stick to that topic. Remember that you don’t need to tell the reader everything you know about an entire field in one paper. You may have spent years learning about a particular protein or scientific technique, but it might not be relevant to the topic at hand. Ask yourself whether that sentence or paragraph helps the reader to interpret your findings. Also, check that you haven’t duplicated sentences or entire paragraphs in your introduction and discussion.

You should also remove all unnecessary words. For example: “it is evident” becomes “evidently”; “is a reflection of ” becomes “reflects”; “we performed a detailed analysis of” becomes “we analysed”; “the question as to whether” becomes “whether”; and “a large majority” becomes “most”. Cutting out these words will improve the overall readability. For more examples on how to simplify sentences, watch this short youtube video by the American Chemical Society.

3. Be correct

The third c refers to both correct grammar and correct content. The correct use of punctuation and grammar will improve the readability of your paper. Consider the following sentence:

Inclusion criteria for the study were aged between 10 to 15 years intravenous administration of antibiotics diagnosed with sepsis and no respiratory complications.

This sentence makes no sense. But with the correct punctuation, it becomes much easier to read:

Inclusion criteria for the study were: (i) aged between 10 to 15 years; (ii) intravenous administration of antibiotics; (iii) diagnosed with sepsis; and (iv) no respiratory complications.

The content (i.e., the science) also has to be correct. Be specific. For example, “we analysed 115 patients with type I diabetes treated with an insulin pump” is not the same as “we analysed 115 diabetic patients treated with insulin”. Being ‘concise’ at the expense of being ‘correct’ is not acceptable when reporting a scientific method or its results.

So, the next time you sit down to write a paper, remember the simple ‘three c’s of good writing’. By following these few tips, your paper will become much easier to read.

Some other resources to improve your writing:

  1. The Nature website has a great article on writing scientific papers in its section on English communication for scientists. Read more here.
  1. Read an article on how to structure your science paper, inspired by the ‘Guide to Authors’ for Elsevier journals here.
  1. Richard Threfall wrote a series of articles on the Chemistry Views website. He takes you through each section of your paper and gives practical tips on how to improve it. Check it out here.
  1. Another good tip for correctly structuring your science paper is to use the three c’s of effective paragraphs: context, content and conclusion. Read a blog post on this topic by Precise Edit here.
  1. Finally, for basic grammar queries, check our sites like Grammar Girl.