One microscope, two slides and some dyslexia

This blog was originally written by Eilidh Player for the Science on a Postcard blog and is recreated here, with kind permission from Heidi Gardner. You can see the original blog here.

This post is written by Eilidh Player, a self-confessed nature nerd, Young Ambassador with Dyslexia Scotland, and graduate of SRUC. Eilidh was awarded the Royal Northern Agricultural Society’s Special Achievement Award for promoting, supporting and enhancing student life at SRUC, when she graduated last year.

She is passionate about encouraging young people with dyslexia to follow their dreams, and here she demonstrates that by talking about her journey to life as a Scientist. Eilidh pitched her story to me a few weeks ago, explaining that she’d like to highlight her experiences with dyslexia, and I jumped at the chance to work with her on this. You can follow Eilidh’s Instagram page here.

I got told I had dyslexia when I was at secondary school. I could say that my life totally changed from there but it absolutely did not, I’m pretty sure that straight after I got my diagnosis I went straight to sea cadets. Although I remember being annoyed that I’d missed my science class. I had a sort of love-hate relationship with school. I loved my Biology classes it because I found the subject really interesting, but I hated it because I had a hard time answering the exam questions. In the end I never did pass my higher Biology exam, but that’s okay.

When I was at school, my favourite parts about Biology were doing hands-on experiments and looking at things under microscopes. My favourite experiments were the ones that involved going outside to collect things; we gathered leaves from trees, pond weed from the school pond, and we made pitfall traps for insects.

Drawing by Eilidh - a leaf stained brown (with iodine) and some green parts. Text above reads 'can you see my chlorophyll?'

One experiment I remember doing clearly, involved putting iodine on the leaf and watching it turn the chlorophyll in the leaf (the bit that makes the leaf green) brown. I remember thinking it was cool, but probably not understanding why the iodine made parts of the leaf go brown. I’ve since discovered that iodine is used to test for the presence of starch; during photosynthesis a plant absorbs light energy using chlorophyll to allow it to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose. This glucose is stored as starch, hence why the iodine turned the leaf brown.

Despite enjoying science throughout school, I thought that I was failing at being a Scientist. I think it was because I had an unrealistic expectation of what a Scientist was. I thought to be a Scientist you had to be super smart and know absolutely everything. I didn’t think I could be a scientist because I wasn’t smart enough. In actual fact there are different kinds of intelligence and everyone is smart in a different way. I mean, if you want to know about bumblebees – I’m your person! There are hundreds of different types of scientists and they all do different things depending on their skills and passions.

Am I now succeeding as a Scientist?

The term ‘success’ is difficult to quantify, it’s not like you can measure it in a lab with a set of scales or a measuring cylinder. I now have a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Countryside Management, which allowed me to explore topics related to the environment, wildlife and conservation – all things that I’m really passionate about – but it hasn’t been a smooth ride.

I am not going to sit here and tell you that everything has been easy, because it hasn’t. I got through it with the help and support of lots of nice people along the way. I’ve also used technology to help me; Siri’s Apple has become my saviour because she doesn’t mind if I yell “spell quantify” at her, to be honest I don’t know how I would spell most difficult words for my reports without Siri. I’m so glad that we now live in a technical age. There are so many great technology and apps that you can use to help you with your work, I would definitely recommend investigating and trying out a few to see what suits you best. I guess when you have dyslexia you have to work harder than everyone else to achieve things, it can be exhausting but it is possible.

Eilidh's pin badge collection, featuring butterflies, a frog, a ladybird, and Science On A Postcard's very own 'Conservationist' pin.

There are so many different routes that you can take to further education. I started on a college level course and worked my way up to an undergraduate degree. Next, I’m hoping to study for an MSc, that’s the next challenge. In terms of career choices I’d eventually like a job with a mix of lab work and outside field work – both areas I enjoy and will fit the experience I built during my studies.

If you dream of becoming a scientist, don’t give up on it. 🙂

Photograph taken through grass - you can see Eilidh's smiling face and her hand holding the stem of a plant.