Category Archives: Europe

The birthplace of Western culture in particular ancient Greece, Europe is the second-smallest continent by surface area. It borders the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Europe is the third most populous continent after Asia and Africa.

Five Questions With HealthTech Futurist Nataša Lazarevic

Name: Nataša Lazarevic
Job: eHealth PhD Fellow, STEM Advocate, and Illustrator
Country: Germany, Serbia, Botswana, UAE, Australia
Age: 25

Nataša Lazarevic is completing a PhD in the fields of digital health, machine learning, and anatomy at the University of Sydney, where she previously obtained an Honours degree in Immunology and Infectious Diseases. She is a co-founder of Visibility STEM Africa, which promotes the visibility of Africans in STEM and provides them with opportunities to flourish. Nataša loves interdisciplinary projects, and thoroughly enjoys teaching anatomy and histology to undergraduate and medical students, sometimes creating funny memes about science and technology. She is passionate about promoting underrepresented groups in STEM, coordinating public health outreach projects, and science communication. Connect with Nataša on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Nataša’s explains her research in emojis. She uses machine learning to improve healthcare.

On her diverse background and experience:

“Hello, I am Nataša (pronounced Natasha). I have been fortunate enough to live in five different countries, but that also means that I find the concepts of nationality, identity, and sense of belonging a bit tricky. According to my passports, I am both Australian (as of recently!) and Serbian. But I was born in Germany, then lived in Serbia, grew up in Botswana for most of my childhood, the United Arab Emirates for my teenage years, and now I live in Australia. A sense of culture and identity is so much more than what our passports reveal. 

I am a PhD student at the University of Sydney, and I work on an interdisciplinary project that combines the fields of digital health, machine learning, and anatomy. The project is about applying new technologies and our understanding of the human body to create technological solutions for monitoring our bodies and health remotely. I also enjoy teaching anatomy and histology to medical and undergraduate students. Everything about the body and how it works fascinates me.

I am passionate about promoting the equality of underrepresented groups in STEM, so I co-founded Visibility STEM Africa (VSA) with my dear friend Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa. To learn more, follow VSA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn!”

A science artist and illustrator, Nataša drew the background of this photo.


On how society can make technology more inclusive:

“When I was younger, I used to pretend and behave as though I did not understand how to use technology. I believed that a girl behaved in this way, and the more I played dumb, the more attention I received from boys I liked. I found myself fitting into the stereotype, and I decided that I did not want to be that person. What helped me get past this was to believe in myself and be courageous enough to challenge stereotypes.

I realized that I often stopped challenging myself because I felt like an imposter. I’ve sometimes struggled with ‘imposter syndrome’ – the feeling that you are not good enough or that you do not belong. Opening my mind to the idea that I can overcome my fear of failure through hard work has been helpful. Also, changing or re-framing my mindset has helped tremendously.

We are overloaded with amounts of information. To cope, our brain filters much of this information or creates short-cuts (known as heuristics) to make the world easier to understand. Forms of heuristics, particularly involving the use of emotions to assess situations, are sometimes referred to as having a ‘gut feeling.’ Heuristic learning can often be the basis for forming stereotypes. Stereotyping can, at times, be positive where the person being stereotyped is glad to be regarded in that light. For instance, older adults are wise and loving. However, I think the stereotype that older populations are incapable of using and understanding technology is widespread and can prevent older adults from trying to learn or have confidence in the things they have learned. While it is true that as we age, some people lose dexterity and cognitive flexibility, we must not blindly reinforce this stereotype. Sometimes these stereotypes prevent people from even trying.

Hear from Nataša about utilizing medical data to reshape Africa’s health sector.

Efforts should be made to promote the engagement of the older adults with technology and the use of mobile devices. Efforts should also be made to make use of technology more accessible and user-friendly. Features that could make technology or apps more user-friendly to older adults and other populations include

  • simplistic design navigation
  • use of voice activation to navigate the app
  • use of larger images and texts for easier readability
  • use of larger touchable buttons to assist with dexterity issues
  • terms and conditions related to privacy and security of user data being explained in lay terms.

The majority of these features would be helpful to the general population, and at no point should these further exclude the older community. I think what would contribute positively is to create spaces where older people can openly learn about, use, and discuss technology. After all, today’s young adults are tomorrow’s older adults.”

Nataša designed this worksheet for her first Skype a Scientist session with children aged 6 to 7 years.

On why Africans in STEM lack visibility:

“A reduced number of Africans are pursuing higher degree education in STEM fields. This is partially due to a lack of opportunities (for example, scholarships, postgraduate programs, funding), focus on non-STEM disciplines, insufficient investment by governments toward STEM education, and workforce development. It has led to the global research output of merely 1.4 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and low levels of peer-reviewed citations.

The pandemic has illustrated the importance of having research facilities and skilled individuals in local African communities to respond, to be self-sufficient, and not as reliant on international support.

Africans in STEM both in industry and academia are doing brilliant work in both Africa and the diaspora, and these contributions to STEM fields should be promoted. There is a lack of mentorship by Africans in STEM to younger generations to inspire them and make them feel as though such a career is possible at all. There is power in having mentors that look like you and come from the same region.

The pervasive stereotypes of Africans only being poverty-stricken and malnourished in many western countries has in some cases, led to the lack of representation of African contributions in STEM. Africa is often viewed as being one country, but in reality, the continent consists of a melting pot of diverse cultures, languages, and people. We must start changing the narrative surrounding Africans in STEM and provide them with opportunities to share their stories. Visibility STEM Africa aims to promote the visibility of Africans in STEM and provide opportunities for them to flourish in their scientific fields and communities.”

On practicing self-care especially during COVID-19:

“I am getting better at practicing self-care, and the pandemic forced a lot of us to reflect upon our current situation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I regularly would put myself last. For instance, a deadline is more important than my sleep. During the pandemic, I have tried to focus on getting into a better sleeping routine and on my mental well-being by practicing mindfulness and regularly meditating. I still find it difficult, but the more you do, the easier it will be to form habits. I am passionate about exercise and its effect on mental health, so I regularly do Zoom exercise sessions with friends and family. I was able to get in touch with many friends I grew up with via video call. This was both helpful and nostalgic because I appreciated my social support network.”

During the pandemic, she taught anatomy and histology using Zoom, with her science illustrations in the background. Nataša also draws scientists, especially women in STEM

On getting older in today’s world:

“I sometimes feel that people tend to treat the older population unfairly and almost as though they are a separate group. This age divide has been evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have heard younger people make comments like, “But it only affects older people, so it is not that big of a deal.” I feel that to some degree, such responses stem from younger people being subconsciously fearful of becoming older themselves as they inevitably will. As a society, we do everything in our power to counter the aging process, and many industries greedily profiteer from this obsession. I sometimes feel that some people view aging as an internal cell decay time bomb.

At my current age, I do not fear aging nor the existential anxiety commonly associated with the awareness that death is inevitable. I feel that it is more prudent to stop being anxious about phenomena that we cannot control. But, ask me when I am 60 and perhaps my response will change because the onset of age-related health consequences will have occurred (Like menopause! I am not looking forward to that).”

I sometimes feel that people tend to treat the older population unfairly and almost as though they are a separate group.

Nataša Lazarevic, BSc (Hons)

Five Questions With Software Developer Ova

Name: Ova Ceren
Job: Programmer and Web Designer
Country: England and Turkey
Age: 38

Ova Ceren is a SharePoint specialist with 15 years of experience in development, technical documentation, configuration, migration, administration, support, and end-user workshop training for the SharePoint server. Previously, Ova worked as a Senior SharePoint Developer for Anglia Ruskin University, where she developed SharePoint websites, performed user interface development, and aided with best practices on configuration. She has a Master’s in Business Administration from Dokuz Eylul University and Bachelor’s in Computer Science from Ege University. Connect with Ova on her website, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

On herself, hobbies, and passions:

“I’m Ova, a software developer and a big reader. Lover of cats, the color yellow, traveling, music and art. I’m a summer child, I adore Harry Potter, I’ve been raised by a book lover, and I believe in a bit of magic. At work, I write mostly front end code, and create workflows and forms, on SharePoint. As a blogger, I love creating content on Instagram, and the response I get from people all around the world is so motivating.”

Ova loves different cuisines, finding beautiful scenery, and spending time with her family.

On practicing self-care during COVID-19: 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is hard on everyone, and it took us some time to realize that it’s okay not to be okay. I try to stay more relaxed by spending my days in activities that I enjoy, which is limited when you are stuck at home, but things like reading work for me. I used to cook almost every night, but I now feel that it’s fine to have cheese on toast for dinner! With a young child at home, it’s impossible to do everything, so I take it easy by giving myself room for flexibility, and not sticking to a routine, especially when it comes to homeschooling. The important thing is trying to enjoy small things. It could be the sunset, a stroll with my bike, a cup of tea, or just sitting in the garden under the sunshine.”

On starting in information technology and web development:

“My first advice would be discovering what they want to do. What kind of value do you want to add, to yourself and others? IT work has such a massive variety, you could be a developer (even this has so many branches within), a database administrator, system analyst or a technical architect. They are all different and there are endless career opportunities. I think it’s important to find out what makes you enjoy the work you’re doing. For me, this is SharePoint: as an application, it has so many layers and functions and there are always multiple ways to solve a problem or accomplish a task. I love discovering new functionalities and aspects of it during my work time.”

Ova also loves doodles, which are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning.

On encouraging people to embrace reading and books:

“I don’t think I can convince people to read. If someone is attracted to reading, they will find their way into being a reader. But If I’m convincing enough, I’ll say, books offer orgasms- literally. An example is Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories. Every story in that book blew my mind. I remember reading The Werewolf, and from the first sentence, I was disconnected from my surroundings and entering into the world of Carter. Good writing has this effect on me. So, it’s always a good idea to discover fictional worlds because the greatest books are written by possibly the greatest minds.”

On her strategy for creating content on Instagram:

“I have only one strategy: being spontaneous. It’s more like, “what shall I post today?”. I also don’t spend more than 10 minutes to write a post unless it’s a book review, and I love being creative with it. I buy my books from either bookshops or online. My local Heffers bookshop is where I do my walk-in shopping, and my online shopping is done on eBay, Book depository, and I use Amazon for a different edition of classics. I just recently discovered hive.co.uk, which allows you to shop from independent bookshops within the UK.”

The important thing is trying to enjoy small things. It could be the sunset, a stroll with my bike, a cup of tea, or just sitting in the garden under the sunshine.

Ova Ceren, MBA

Five Questions With Neurobiologist Nathasia Muwanigwa

Name: Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa
Job: Neurobiology PhD Researcher and STEM Advocate
Country: Zimbabwe, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Cyprus
Age: 26

Nathasia Muwanigwa is currently pursuing a PhD in neurobiology at the University of Luxembourg. Her research focuses on stem cell based modeling of Parkinson’s disease at the Luxembourg Center for Systems Biomedicine. Nathasia has a Bachelors in Human Biology, summa cum laude, from the University of Nicosia (Cyprus) and a Research Master’s in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease from Radboud University (Netherlands). She is an early career panelist for Neuro Central, an online hub that delivers high quality content uniting neurology and neuroscience. Nathasia is a dedicated advocate for underrepresented individuals in STEM, particularly Africans in STEM who lack visibility on the global STEM landscape. She is a Co-Founder and Director of Visibility STEM Africa, an initiative changing the narrative surrounding African contributions to STEM. As a result of her advocacy, she was profiled in Forbes Science. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook

On her research about Parkinson’s disease:

“My research focuses on Parkinson’s disease (PD), the second most common neurodegenerative disorder globally. PD is characterized by the loss of a specific type of brain cell (dopaminergic neurons) from the midbrain. Symptomatically, PD patients present with tremor, muscle rigidity and slow movement amongst other symptoms. For my research, I make use of stem cell derived “minibrains” (aka organoids) that mimic human brain development. The aim of my research is to use these minibrains to model the changes that occur in the brain during the progression of PD in order to discover new molecular pathways that can be targeted for therapeutic interventions and drug discovery.”

On whether people with Parkinson’s can have good quality of life:

“One of the most challenging aspects of Parkinson’s is it is a progressive disorder, meaning symptoms worsen over time. This can make maintaining a good quality of life challenging as the condition progresses. Some PD patients are responsive to drugs that slow the progression of the disease, but for many, these drugs may not have any effect. There are lifestyle changes that PD patients can make that can prolong their mobility. Regular exercise at early diagnosis is important in maintaining mobility and balance. Maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated can be helpful particularly in avoiding some of the gastrointestinal issues associated with PD. There is substantial research going into improving early detection of PD and researchers are exploring various therapies, which will help in slowing down the progression of the disease.”

On how Zimbabwe treats older adults:

Generally, in my experience, Zimbabweans hold family to high importance. Family is at the backbone of Zimbabwean culture. When family members get older, it is quite common that they may move in with their adult children. Otherwise, in some cases people will hire caregivers for their parents when they are unable to care for themselves. However, given the current economic challenges in the country, much of the older population is not receiving sufficient medical care and support, despite their family’s efforts. Limited resources and a poor healthcare system has rendered the older populations quite vulnerable.

On her thoughts about aging gracefully versus cosmetic treatments:

“To me aging gracefully is entering your older years with confidence. How you achieve that is entirely up to an individual. I think there is nothing wrong with getting cosmetic treatments if that is what you want and it makes you feel good. I am a big believer in people having autonomy over their own bodies and making informed decisions that suit them. I think what is most important is having a good understanding of what the cosmetic treatments do and have realistic expectations. There are steps people can take to “age gracefully” without cosmetic procedures too. For example, starting a good skincare routine in your 20’s and 30’s is beneficial for healthy skin as well as eating well, exercising and self-care.”

On her future goals:

I definitely want to continue in science, although time will tell whether I will remain in academia or pursue other avenues, such as science communication. I am excited about the future of Visibility STEM Africa (VSA). The initiative aims to give visibility to Africans in STEM both on the continent and in the diaspora in order to provide visible role models for young Africans interested in pursuing STEM careers. To learn more, follow VSA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn! I also serve on a board of directors the Biotech Institute (Zimbabwe), a private hybrid academic-biotechnology research institution that focuses on both basic and translational research in the areas of biomedicine and agriculture.

Aging gracefully is entering your older years with confidence. How you achieve that is entirely up to an individual.

Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa, MSc, PhD Candidate

Five Questions With Neuroscientist Dennis Eckmeier

Name: Dennis Eckmeier
Job: Science Editor and Communicator
Country: Germany, USA, Portugal
Age: 41

Dennis Eckmeier supports scientists who are preparing manuscripts and funding applications. He is further establishing himself as a podcast producer in science communication. His podcast is about the role of science and academia in society. The project resulted from his engagement in the March for Science in Portugal. Dr. Eckmeier has a university degree in biology and a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Originally from Germany, he spent a total of 13 years conducting research in Germany, the USA, and Portugal. In 2018 he quit the academic career path and moved back to Germany as an independent scientist. You can find him on Twitter and his website.

On his fears about getting older:

“My fear of advanced age is the threat of poverty. Spending 20 years in academia has left me with sub-par retirement funds.

In Germany, the current working generations – Millennials and Generation X (my generation) – pay the retirement of the current retired generation (Baby Boomers+). For this “generation contract” to work well, however, the working population needs to be larger than the retired population. But the German population is shrinking because of low birth rates. 

Currently, the retiring baby boomer generation is the largest age-group in Germany; they are also the first generation to enjoy retirement for 20 years on average because of increasing life expectancy (81.41 years in 2020).

Image result for germany life expectancy 2020
Learn more about the population of Germany here.

This means, our growing population of retirees needs to be financially supported by a shrinking working population, which is already causing problems. In response, the government is encouraging us to buy private retirement plans in addition to paying for public retirement insurance.

Subsidized private insurance plans were conceived. I couldn’t buy one before I left Germany – and still can’t – but they have proven insufficient, anyways. Many cases were made public where the insured are lucky to get out what they paid in. On the other hand, interest rates in Germany are currently lower than inflation, meaning that saving money in the bank will shrink rather than grow your wealth.

Being an academic prohibited me from paying even average amounts into retirement plans. The amount of money you receive from the German public retirement insurance depends on the years and the amounts you paid into it. But as an academic, you usually don’t pay into it until after graduation. So, most workers have already paid for a decade before academics even begin. This is supposed to be offset by a higher salary that academics are expected to earn. But, academics in the public sector in Germany aren’t paid particularly much – and good long-term contracts are rare. As a Ph.D. student, I only got a 50 percent part-time contract despite working 50 hours per week. Colleagues who received a fellowship did not pay retirement insurance since fellowships are tax-free. That sounds great until you realize that fellowships are so low, that after paying mandatory health insurance, they have less money than those who have working contracts with the university (where health insurance is included).

In addition to the four years part-time contribution to my public retirement account, I have a 401(k) from my time in the USA (4.5 years), and I am entitled to some retirement funds from Portugal. But my 401(k) only received minimum rates, and the median income in Portugal is quite low. So I can’t expect big returns from either.

I’m now 41, and despite having earned a Ph.D. and having worked at top research institutes, my retirement savings are below average. And I’m currently not paying into my retirement plan at all, because I just started my own business.

The uncertainty further increases, as German politicians struggle to find a good solution for the failing generation contract. They are raising the retirement age to decrease the ratio between working and retired people, and they are discussing how many years you need to have paid into retirement to receive full retirement pay.”

Learn more about his expertise on his website.

On how academia can help improve quality of life:

“Where retirement is purely a private responsibility, salaries must be sufficiently high for graduate students and postdocs to not only live a middle-class lifestyle in that area but also ensure they have a proper retirement plan. In some regions, it may even be worth considering building houses specifically for postdocs to live in. In countries where fellowships are tax-free, but also mean no contribution to public retirement insurance, this must be changed. People should receive the same rights and benefits regardless of who pays for the salary. Where there are special rules for academia so that worker protection regulation is being circumvented, this must stop. There is really no reason to have special rules for academia that allow them to exploit early career researchers the way it is happening right now.”

On his financial struggles as a postdoc:

“After I graduated in 2010, I was advised to go abroad for international research experience. I spent 4.5 years in the USA at a top research facility in Long Island, so my pay was relatively high for a postdoc in the USA. I even had a 401(k)! However, while other employees received payment to their 401(k) at nine percent of their salary, postdocs only received one percent – the minimum for having a 401(k) at all, as far as I know. It was justified by claiming that postdocs were only temporarily – even though most postdocs stayed for more than five years. And despite the relatively high salary, I could not afford to pay into retirement, since living in Long Island is very expensive. Also, as a postdoc abroad, I needed my savings for the next move. I later moved to Portugal for a second postdoc, where I had a tax-free fellowship, so I didn’t pay into their social security system – except for a minimum voluntary amount.

On his future goals:

“I am currently in the process of building a business for Science Editing and Science Communication. I hope to, at some point, be able to retire without ending in poverty.”

On his healthy habits for self-care:

“I try to reduce stress by choosing work I can enjoy, and by getting some physical activity in.”

Where retirement is purely a private responsibility, salaries must be sufficiently high for graduate students and postdocs to not only live a middle-class lifestyle in that area, but also ensure they have a proper retirement plan.

Dr. Dennis Eckmeier, PhD

Five Questions With Data Scientist Crystal Grant

Name: Crystal Grant
Job: Genetics Researcher and Science Advocate
Country: United States and the Netherlands
Age: 27

Crystal Grant was recently awarded a PhD in Genetics at Emory University. As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, she used bioinformatics tools to characterize the molecular changes in humans with age. Originally from New York City, Dr. Grant completed her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, where she earned a BA in Biological Sciences with a minor in Anthropology. Throughout her graduate studies, she advocated for graduate students as President of Emory’s Graduate Student Council, volunteered with K-12 science outreach and education initiatives around Atlanta, and mentored underrepresented students. Dr. Grant enjoys practicing yoga, exploring museums, and traveling. In her future career, Dr. Grant she aims to combine her interest in crafting evidence-based science and technology policies with her doctoral experience working with big data. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and her website.

On why she chose to the biology of aging:

“My decision to study aging was a result of the lab I chose at Emory University. PhD students enter the university before choosing a lab and then do three 3-month rotations through different labs before choosing one. I had just come from working in a mouse lab on a leukemia-like disease as part of my gap year. While I liked getting to work on a human disease, I disliked having to sacrifice mice, so I went into graduate school hoping to find a lab that studied a human condition using bioinformatics tools–meaning I’d just be working on the computer, not with any animal models. And I found just that in the Conneely Lab!

I spoke early in my first year to Dr. Karen Conneely (my now advisor) so she could tell me more about her lab. She studied epigenetics (which is the field that looks at how the environment interacts with our genetics) and had a student in her lab who was using this approach to study evolutionary theories of aging. It was a fascinating conversation that got me excited about her research and the prospect of joining her lab. She then told me more about what would become my first paper—that the environment around our DNA changes in a way that is so predictable and linear that these changes can be used to predict the age of the person with very high accuracy across several different tissues! Because of this accuracy and the correlation of someone’s predicted age based on their DNA marks with their actual time to mortality, it was suggested that looking at this mark on DNA (called DNA methylation) could be a biomarker of aging–essentially meaning that it was a better predictor of someone’s health than their actual chronological age. I was sold and luckily, she let me join her lab.

Since joining Karen’s lab, I’ve learned a lot more about this field and I’m always excited to see the new things we’re able to learn about the process of aging. Before I began studying aging, I thought, like many people, that we understood it well–but the more I learn about it, the more I realize how little we understand this process that we are all going through! But I think the promise of biomarkers of aging could help revolutionize medical treatment. It has the potential to allow us to know exactly what environmental factors and behaviors age us faster in addition to who is more at risk of disease development and early mortality.

Crystal won the Poster Prize (and 500 EUR) at the Ageing, Health & Rejuvenation conference.

On her yearlong research fellowship in the Netherlands:

“It was a cool experience. I was able to go because I am an NSF Graduate Research Fellow; fellows can apply for this additional program, Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW). The goal of GROW is to get more American scientists collaborating internationally. I’m super grateful to have been given that opportunity by the NSF. And finding my lab in the Netherlands resulted from me attending an international conference and having dinner with Dr. Eline Slagboom who put me in touch with Dr. Bas Heijmans. Through GROW, I worked in the Heijmans Lab in Leiden for a year on an interesting aging project. Others in the field seemed to agree, I attended an aging conference and many people at my poster were excited about our approach to developing a new biomarker of aging. However, the marker I developed in my 12 months of work did not appear an improvement over existing ones, but I’m hopeful that, once another graduate student picks up the project, they may make more headway on this project given more time.

Something else I learned was just how similar the process of doing science is in Europe compared to the US–the main differences were work life balance (which I think they are much better at there) and that graduate students are recognized and employees and treated as such. I thought it was amazing that everyone was entitled to 5 weeks of vacation each year and that grads were given a raise every few years to acknowledge how much more proficient they had gotten at their craft. However, I was surprised to learn that many of their contracts run out before they are finished writing their thesis, so they end up having to write it while at their new job–something that seemed very stressful to me. Another difference seemed to be the scale of biobanks (these are tissue samples from people volunteering to be part of research projects) in Europe compared to the US. Because of historical factors and mistreatment by US scientists of minorities in research studies of the past, it’s much harder to get Americans to participate in research in the US compared to Europeans, which is unfortunate and something scientists and policy makers in the US need to address.”

On becoming a science activist in graduate school:

“In graduate school, I’ve been very active both at Emory and on a larger scale at Capitol Hill in DC. More locally, I’ve been passionate about empowering graduate students at Emory. Especially now that I’ve seen how the PhD is so different in other parts of the world, I’m more well versed in ways American universities could improve the graduate experience. At Emory, I’m on a task force with the goal of improving the graduate experience for biology PhD students. Additionally, I’ve been part of a graduate organization that works to educate students on how they can have an impact on policy-makers, specifically in communicating the importance of the federal government funding for science research. This organization, the Emory Science Advocacy Network (EScAN), has given me experience in science policy and knowledge of careers that marry my interests in science research with my desire to maintain my civic engagement.

Through the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other professional societies, I’ve gotten to travel to DC to talk to Georgia legislators about the importance of funding science research at the federal level—which was a great experience. I think more scientists need to work on being advocates for what we do and practice talking about it with non-scientists. If the public and law-makers can better understand why what we do is so important, they’ll feel more comfortable trusting both us as researchers and the scientific findings that we publish.”

aaas_profile.jpeg
Crystal was profiled as part of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Member Spotlight. In the interview, she talked about on her experiences in both genetics research and activism during graduate school. Read more.

On her future goals:

“This January, I’ll be starting a 3-month science policy fellowship at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine through the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. I’m SUPER excited about this opportunity since working in policy has been a goal of mine since starting my PhD. I’m also really interested in careers in Data Science since this is essentially what I’ve done these last 5 years in my PhD. I find I really enjoyed working with data to uncover trends and draw conclusions and then communicating these findings, especially to non-technical audiences.

For now, my main goal is to finish my PhD sometime in early 2020 and find a job that I really love. My ideal career would allow me to combine my interests in analyzing data and contributing to crafting evidence-based policies (and hopefully let me still travel).”

On her love of travel and favorite places:

“I love to travel, I get stir crazy if I’m in one place too long. My year of research in the Netherlands was a great experience in part because Europe is so easy to travel on a budget–I went to as many places as I could staying in cheap hostels and bargain hunting for cheap flights. I went to: Dublin, Ireland for St Patrick’s Day; Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest; Paris, France for AfroPunk; London, England for the Notting Hill Carnival; and many more. While, I still think Amsterdam is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived, I found the sights in Vietnam (specially Ha Long Bay and the rice fields of Sa Pa) to be the most beautiful to visit. But my hands down favorite place to visit is Venice, Italy.”

Crystal talks about aging research to her department.

Before I began studying aging, I thought, like many people, that we understood it well–but the more I learn about it, the more I realize how little we understand this process that we are all going through!

Crystal Grant, PhD

Five Questions With Public Health Registrar Rory McGill

Name: Rory McGill
Job: Public Health Specialty Registrar
Country: Ireland and England
Age: 33

Rory McGill is currently training as a Public Health Specialty Registrar in the North West of England. He is a health and social psychologist by background and worked as a Postdoc in academia upon completing his PhD in psychology from Queen’s University Belfast. Dr. McGill was born and raised in Derry, Ireland but is currently based in Liverpool, England. His research interests include the wider determinants of health and the practical application of the social sciences. His hobbies include all things horror and video game related, which can be explained partly by being a Derry native which is the global capital of Halloween! He is passionate about using his platform to engage with wide audiences about the causes of health and the importance of well being and connecting with others that goes beyond academic journal articles.  Find him on Twitter and Instagram.  

On his training as a public health consultant:

“Training to be a Public Health consultant is a very exciting opportunity! The training programme began specifically for clinicians to develop their specialty in public health and become consultants. However, this was then opened to health professionals with non-medical backgrounds as public health is more than just the treatment of illness or management of communicable diseases. It includes everything that can impact upon health, which if you think about it is almost everything from the food we eat to where we spend our time and how we feel. Having such a diverse curriculum means two days are never the same, which I love! I completed my PhD in psychology back in 2011 and had no idea what public health was. I worked as a postdoc within the field of psychology before taking an academic position in public health as it dovetailed nicely with my own research on eating behaviours. This experience made me certain that this was the field I wanted to be a part of. Being able to apply the academic theory in practice and see population health improve is so fulfilling!”

Dr. McGill was a guest on Homo Sapiens podcast with hosts Chris and Will. He talked about why our LGB elders are missing out on vital healthcare services. Listen here.




On one surprising fact about older LGB in your research:

“I am passionate about the health of our ageing population, particularly our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) elders. I am a gay man who is very grateful for the work our older LGBT generation have done in fighting for our rights to live as normalised and accepted members of society. However, there is a disproportionate focus on youth culture when considering the LGBT community. While this is a vital consideration, older generations can become forgotten about. My research examined the care experiences of older LGB people in Merseyside (UK) and their thoughts on the future. There is a lack of academic research and UK policy consideration involving older LGB people. The Office for National Statistics estimate that 2 percent of the UK population identify as LGB. Older LGB people experience multiple disadvantage living in a hetero-normative society, with poorer health outcomes than their heterosexual counterparts. This is worsened by a long-standing oppression which has shaped the interactions of older LGB people with informal (care from family and friends/social interactions) and formal care (medical care from a professional). The implication of this is widened health inequalities arising from sub-optimum care, yet little research focusses specifically on older LGB health. My research found that older people did not want to be defined by their sexual orientation. They wanted to be valued as a whole person when receiving any form of care or support, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it! What was surprising for me was the differences in viewpoint by gender. The older women I spoke to were not as accepted as gay men into the “gay scene” of the 1960’s and 1970’s, forcing them to develop their own close support networks. This resulted in a preference for care exclusively from female carers and in contexts predominantly female. This highlights that older LGB people are not a homogenous group and should not be considered as such!”

On making health systems inclusive for older LGBT:

“It is important to note that I did not include older trans people in my research as there are very important biological considerations necessary when serving our trans elders, such as training for healthcare professionals to carry out the appropriate screening checks, e.g. carrying out prostate examinations in older trans women. This is an area which needs to be explored more in depth! From my research, it was shocking to hear some of the care experiences had by older LGB people. Some older gay men were tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) despite not having had a sexual partner in decades, and older women having had pregnancy tests despite never having had sexual contact with a man. Their clinicians failed to hear them and tested them based on stereotypical assumptions which made them feel isolated, stigmatised and alone. This is completely avoidable and does not require huge investment for our overstretched healthcare services. Front line staff should treat anyone coming through the door as an individual and not with preconceived and outdated assumptions. Older people are vulnerable, and when you add any other minority status to ageing, it makes them doubly vulnerable and this should be a consideration within induction training for care staff, no matter what minority group it may be.”

On whether or not older LGBT care homes are needed:

“The idea of older LGBT care homes is a very interesting and contested concept. It has come about due the examples of older LGBT people having very negative experiences while being cared for. I read one case study about an older lady who was with her female partner for decades and who since passed away. She then wasn’t well enough to live independently and needed to move into a care facility. Her carer was reportedly homophobic and as a result, the older lady hid all evidence of her lifetime spent with her partner until she herself passed away. She essentially went back into the closet in the twilight of her life. It really stuck with me and got me involved in this research in the beginning. I was initially surprised to hear from my participants that a strong majority were very much averse to the idea of an older LGBT exclusive carer home. They wanted to be cared for alongside members of their local community and not “ghettoised” and isolated among only other LGBT people. They reported this would only magnify the “othering” they have felt throughout their lives. Considerable more research needs to be carried out exploring this before large financial investment is provided in establishing such facilities. In my own opinion, having a more inclusive care home environment with a kitemark signifying the space being a safe one for LGBT people, coupled with more sensitivity training would be an ideal scenario.”

On his future goals:

“My current goal for the future is to complete my training and qualify as a public health consultant. I then would love to be able to influence policy at a national level to help shape how we consider LGBT ageing in terms of both prevention of ill health and the inclusive treatment of illness. I would also like to highlight and showcase the diversity in STEM by being an openly gay man who can hopefully inspire others like me to pursue their own goals!”

Having a more inclusive care home environment with a kitemark signifying the space being a safe one for LGBT people, coupled with more sensitivity training would be an ideal scenario.

Dr. Rory McGill, PhD, MPH, MFPH

Interview with Medical Gerontologist Fatma Nur Mozoğlu

Fatma Nur Mozoğlu is a fifth-year student of Antalya Akdeniz University Health Sciences, Faculty Department of Gerontology and Eskişehir Anadolu University Social Work, The nation’s first Gerontology department was founded in 2006 at Antalya Akdeniz University. In 2018, Fatma was published in the Scholar Journal of Applied Sciences and Research. Her paper titled Gerontology and Aging in Turkey focused on healthy tourism, medications, and older adults, and university for older adults. She also works on a university initiative to encourage lifelong learning for students over 60. We are excited to interview Fatma about her research thesis and making intergenerational connections. Follow her on Twitter @fatmanurmozoglu

Can you tell us about your journey in Gerontology?

I started my journey in the Department of Gerontology at Turkey Antalya Akdeniz University Faculty of Health Sciences, this was in the 2014–2015 academic year. It has been a fun run and I’m excited to be writing my thesis with my adviser Dr. İkuko Murakami on the use of medicines for older adults.

Can you tell us about your work on intergenerational connections?

Since 2014, I have been working with Prof. Dr. Ismail Tufan and his team from the Gerontology department. Dr. Tufan is the gerontology chief of the department, he and his team published Turkey Gerontology Atlas (Gero Atlas) using data from the past 15 years. Gero Atlas was launched in 2000 and is expected to be completed in 2023.

60+ Tazelenme University is Turkey’s first Senior University. The university is specific to Turkey and aims to develop a model that will set an example in the world. It was founded by Akdeniz University as part of Dr. Tufan’s project on Gero Atlas. Open and free for students over 60, training lasts for four years and students can enroll in a variety of classes from archeology to agriculture. While all the courses have proven beneficial, a new knitting course offered only to men has given a special boost for those experiencing memory loss. Between classes, male students pass time knitting sweaters, berets, scarves and socks in the campus garden.

This initiative has created a new way of perceiving older adults in Turkey. On the 60+ Tazelenme University campus, it is ensured that lifelong learning is realized through theoretical courses, while on the other hand, practical lessons allow students to discover their talents. The aim of the training is to connect with younger generations studying on campus in a similar environment, older adults and gerontology students can benefit from their knowledge and experiences as they work together on projects. The main purpose of these studies is to encourage lifelong learning and I’m excited to contribute to the management of this project.

In your opinion what three words describe the characteristics of older adults in Turkey? 

Active, Knowledgeable, Healthy

What are you most proud of in your life?

I am a volunteer for environmental carbon offset and nature projects. I am glad to have Erasmus experience in the capital of Croatia. Additionally, I am an educator for disadvantaged groups, our topics are social entrepreneurship, safe internet, and innovation. Public and private services provided by the Internet makes life easier for people in the world. Use of the internet is growing rapidly in Turkey but everyone is not able to equally benefit from this technology.

I am a member of Crossing Paths, an organization running education and social responsibility programs mainly targeting the youth in Turkey. Crossing Paths believes that “most of our problems can be resolved through education, a kind of education that promotes empathy, tolerance, social responsibility and respect for differences. We trust that we can meet on common ground with anyone who shares this belief independent of their ethnic background, religion, political views, gender, sexual orientation, and age.” Crossing Paths was founded in Turkey.

What are your future career goals?

I would like to be an international researcher and academician. I am going to graduate in June 2019 and hope to start a masters degree next year. I am currently exploring internships with nursing homes, hospitals, and Alzheimer’s centers among others.

What do you like to do for fun?

I’m interested in tango, salsa, theater, painting, extreme sports, yoga, scuba diving etc. I play tennis as well as flute. I’ve also taken part in fun projects about stray animals and environmental pollution ecology in Croatia and Turkey.

Is there any other information that you would like to add?

I have many startup and project experience, I believe that social relations contribute to my academic career. I would like to reach more audiences by setting up a gerontology news channel on YouTube. I would also like to work with older adults and their families. Thanks to the Global Health Aging team for this lovely interview!

A Call to Reclaim Aging Today

Anti-aging! It’s everywhere.

There’s lotions, potions, creams, and make-up. Shampoo, moisturizers, face masks and toothpaste. There are anti-aging diets promoting superfoods, revitalizing drinks, vitamins, herbal mixes, homeopathic remedies and juicing whilst at the same time we read the latest story about the oldest person on the planet reaching that age on wine, chocolate, and a maverick attitude!

We’re told about anti-aging exercises, treatments, laser surgery, sun lamps, and cosmetic procedures. We’re advised on clothes, underwear, hairstyle, hair color, and even eyebrow shape!

There are books, magazines, DVDs, radio programmes, tv programmes, youtube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Snaps, Insta influencers, podcasts, and blogs all dedicated to anti-aging.

We can even go on retreats, workshops, and seminars to learn, discuss and discover the best ways to beat aging.

Why?

Aging is a sign of survival- what’s the alternative? Not surviving? Not a great option. We need to celebrate having survived, realizing that the wrinkles, the lines, the grey hairs are a mark of success, of having reached a point in life that is your new record and you beat that record every day by getting older day by day. A ‘personal best’ you might say.

Whilst there appears to be a huge industry in ‘anti-aging’ and there is a myriad of ways that are promoted to be able to ‘stay young’, it cannot be denied that we are, all of us, not staying young! And that surely is the point.

We are all getting older and that is a good thing, we should stop trying to defy aging and, instead, live positively. Shake off the dreadful, negative, old age stereotypes and ask yourself what is so bad about aging that it has created such an ‘anti’ industry?

Let’s all be pro-age and let’s call out and challenge all the age discrimination that exists out there which has led to this huge ‘anti-aging’ phenomenon.

Let’s do it today.

Morna O’May is the Head of Service for Scotland at Contact the Elderly, the national charity dedicated to tackling loneliness and social isolation amongst older people living in the United Kingdom. Morna also writes the Goodstuffgreatideas blog about all things Third Sector. Follow Morna on Twitter.

An Interview with Jacynth Bassett: Ageism-Fighting Trailblazer

At 24, Jacynth Bassett is founder of the-Bias-Cut.com, a company whose designs have been featured in the likes of Vogue, The Sunday Times Style, Stylist Magazine, Stella Magazine and many other leading fashion publications. According to the website, the-Bias-Cut.com is Shopping With Attitude – Where Ageism Is Never In Style. Bassett is fighting against fashion’s ageism problem, thanks to her elegant and fashionable approach to design, among other innovative ideas.

It’s no surprise that ageism exists in fashion. Models over a certain age struggle to find their place – and older customers are frustrated at the lack of elegant fashion styles. This can lead to negative attitudes about aging which has significant consequences for physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety. From fashion to entrepreneurship, the-Bias-Cut.com is affecting change that can impact overall well-being in society and culture.

Join the Style Club for 10 percent off your first order!

INTERVIEW WITH JACYNTH BASSETT ABOUT THE BIAS CUT

What inspired you to launch the-Bias-Cut.com?

I was inspired to launch the-Bias-Cut.com after growing tired of seeing women like my mum feeling invisible and irrelevant in the eyes of the fashion industry, largely because of their age and changing bodies.

A love for style and wanting to look good does not fade. Yet brands and retailers tend to be either youth-focused or patronize the older customer base. We either see youth-based imagery and fashions designed for younger shapes, or clothing that is frumpy and dowdy – with both resulting in a demoralizing shopping experience for 40+ women who still want to look modern and stylish.

So I wanted to create an online boutique that empowers these women. We curate collections that cater to their body types and lifestyles, whilst still being contemporary and exciting, and we only use 40+ women to model our clothing. Plus we have an online forum called ‘Ageism Is Never In Style’ where they can share their views and be inspired.

Do you think society can get rid off ageism in this lifetime?

Anything is possible, but it will take a lot of team effort and self moderation for this to be achieved.

First we need to be encourage integration between groups and demographics rather than segregation. Only then will we be able to understand, appreciate and respect our similarities and differences. Then we need to collectively put in the time and effort to lead and promote the revolution we want to see, in order for it to have a real impact.

But we also have an individual responsibility. Ageism is so ingrained in society, even those of us who are vocally against it can fall foul of using discriminatory terminology or stereotyping without realizing it. We need to be acutely aware of our own biases, and be the change we want to see.

Your company is very customer-friendly! Customers can shop for outfits using the Shop By Body tab. Why include this in the shopping experience?

Finding clothes that fit isn’t easy, particularly online. But as women’s bodies change with age, it becomes even more challenging. So I wanted to create an empowering user experience for customers, where they can quickly and easily find clothes that will flatter their body shapes, and not feel disappointed or ashamed of struggling to find clothes for their body types.

We love seeing your customers as models! Have you felt any pressure to use professional models?

Only when I was doing research and developing the business. I carried out a survey with my target market, and one of the questions I asked was about how they would feel seeing customers as models. The response was mixed. Some loved the idea, but others were used to seeing clothing on professionals and wanted to keep it that way.

It did concern me but after further investigation, I realized that the negative responses generally came from their own personal biases and assumptions about using customers as models. So I stuck with my vision and fortunately we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response.

Where do you see the-Bias-Cut.com in 10 years?

I hope it will become the global one-stop fashion destination for discerning women of all ages who love style, and are looking for something of beautiful quality and a bit different.

From your articles, What Does ‘Frumpy’ Really Mean? to It’s OK Not To Go Grey, why should society be careful about using certain words or viewing aging as a single dimension?

Words are extremely powerful, but now that everyone is writing their opinions online, they also have a lasting impact. Even when you delete a comment, it isn’t really gone, and someone may have already read it. So we need to be careful with the words we choose to make sure we really understand their meaning, and use them in the right context.

When it comes to aging, there are a lot of terms and phrase that have become the norm, but are actually still derogatory without our realizing it. So I think we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, and to take time and consideration before using them.

I also think we’re still struggling to recognize that ending ageism means having the choice to age as one wants to without external pressure or judgement. There are a lot of articles out there claiming to celebrate ageing in fashion – such as encouraging women to go grey, or to wear wacky clothes in order to be stylish – but actually they are still implying there is only one right way to grow older. Ultimately the right way is the right way for you, so we need to be acknowledging that we can age in a multitude of ways. Then we will all feel that we have the freedom to do so without being judged or criticized.

Do you work with the designers on your website? If so, do they share your mission?

Yes. I work very closely with the designers on the website if they’re British and/or with their agents if they’re European. It’s vital for me to understand where the clothes are coming from, the fabrics being used, and why the cut and style has been chosen. So I can spend hours at showrooms going through collections, trying on designs, and picking the very best pieces and patterns. And in some cases I’ve even co-designed exclusive pieces.

I also refuse to work with any designer or brand that does not support our mission. If a designer is ageist, it does not take long for a statement or comment to be made for the truth to come out, and for me to know they are not right for us. Maintaining a sense of integrity is integral to me and the-Bias-Cut.com.

What fashion item can you not live out?

Tricky question! I’m a bit of a style chameleon so I like to change things up all the time… Can I pick 3? I’d say a tailored dark blazer that I can throw over anything, a fabulous pair of ankle boots, and a pair of well-cut, slim fitting boyfriend jeans.

On the blog, you discuss fabrics from various regions (Hollandaise from West Africa, etc.), why is it important to explore other fabrics and designs?

To appreciate quality, I think it’s vital to understand fabrics: where they came from to how they have developed and changed over the years. Most of the common fabrics that we use today in the UK or the US came from other countries, and we should acknowledge and respect that. Plus its only once we’ve understood where fabrics have come from, that we can move forward.

I also think that we should be appreciating fabrics and designs from other cultures given the global society we live in today. Again it’s about integrating with one another, and by doing so, we can appreciate each other and be inspired to be even more creative.

What advise would you give millennials interested in launching companies especially for an older population?

  • Never make assumptions – integrate yourself as much as possible into your target market before moving forward.
  • Keep in constant contact with your market because it will change over time.
  • Know that not everyone in your target demographic is going to be a customer. So identify your ‘tribe’ so you can work out when to listen to feedback and not to.
  • But remember, just because you’re not your customer, doesn’t mean your opinion doesn’t count. You have the advantage of being more objective.
  • Be disciplined – make sure each decision you make is because your market wants it, not because you do!

Acknowledgement

A big thanks to Jacynth Bassett for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to check out the-Bias-Cut.com for more information, including becoming a featured blogger and liking the Facebook page.

*This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.*

Tessy Chu is the Managing Editor of Global Health Aging.