SpaceUP NL

science communication

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Last month, I attended my second Space Up event with some friends. As an unconference, it challenges the usual constraints found within a traditional conference environment and invites the participants to shape the topics and structure of the day.

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Space Up NL took place at the Space EXPO, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) museum on the space campus here in the Netherlands.

Featuring a model of the Columbus module of the International Space Station, satellite mock-ups and more, it really was the perfect location to discuss why space matters, what’s next in the space industry and how to inspire the next generation.

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Of course, I had to take advantage of the Cupola module. Here I am, pretending to be an astronaut and posing with a cardboard cutout of one too!

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There was a great variety of talks on the day. A particular highlight of mine was on ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission – which intends to crash into an asteroid to understand it. (Bruce Willis eat your heart out!)

Other talks were more personal, triggering discussions with the audience on topics such as entrepreneurship, science communication and whether we should ban commercial spaceflight.

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Space Up NL just so happened to fall on 3 October, or 3 Oktober – a national holiday in the city of Leiden where fellow Leiden blogger Molly and I live. Our neighbourhood turned into a funfair for the weekend, making for both a beautiful, if not fairly random end to the day.

If you’d like to take part in a space unconference too, the next Space Up is in Tokyo on 22 November, with the next European Space Up taking place next February 2016 in Helsinki.

-Nikita

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Kraków Photo Diary

All, Travel

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I love visiting new places, and Poland is one country that I have wanted to visit for a while. I spent the week in Kraków but also visited Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which was deeply moving.

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Kraków itself is a beautiful blend of old, traditional buildings and more modern architecture. I like that there’s more old than new, the city is incredibly well-preserved and there’s a story behind every street corner. Hopefully I’ll visit Poland again sometime soon!

– Nikita

 

Pad Thai and Jazz

All, Travel

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This blog post includes a few of my favourite things. Pad thai, being one of them. Pretty blue china plates with rose gold cutlery being the second. And, jazz by the canal being the third.

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Jazz in de Gracht – or Jazz in the canal is an annual jazz festival here in Holland. Recently, I went along to check it out after work. It was a warm summers evening and a perfect mid-week musical break.
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The cute food trucks, jazz playing from boats (only in Holland!) and the balmy temperature made for a perfect end of summer atmosphere. The Netherlands has a lot to offer in terms of free, community events.

As Autumn (my favourite season) approaches, I’m excited to see the country in all it’s crisp, orange-leaved glory very soon!

-Nikita

10 Unexpected Realities Of Living Abroad I Wish I’d Prepared For

career, Travel

I’ve never really settled. I go from country to country, trying out different foods, jobs, climates and eventually, move on to the next one. Having never stayed in one place for more than 7 months in the past 3 years, the prospect of moving somewhere alone – and living there for a year or more – scares me a little bit. I’m not one to shy away from commitment when it comes to people but a country? Not quite yet. Having grown up in London, I’ve always wanted to use the better part of my 20s to see the world, learn who I am and what I want and eventually, yes, I’d settle down and choose a country to call home. My current country of choice, the Netherlands, may or may not be that, but I’ve learned plenty along the way.

I’m very happy with my decision to travel so much and have done so with a purpose and a way to support myself. However, there are certainly some things I would’ve loved to do differently, or wish I’d prepared for. Here are the 10 realities that I wish had known before I started traveling:

1. You’ll end up spending a lot of quality time with yourself.

You won’t be surrounded by your safety net of friends, family or your familiar neighborhood spots. You’ve got to start from scratch. That takes time and effort and you’re going to have a lot more “me” time than you might be used to. Never before have I realized how much I like my own company than when I was forced into a situation where it was all I had. At first, it will be an adjustment period. Eating alone, cooking alone and watching tv alone. I started out hating it. The loneliness was palpable. I missed having my best friends alongside me to mock trash TV with, and having a regular social schedule that used to get me through the week.

Appreciate the unlimited time you have to be by yourself. Be as creative, or not creative as you like. Binge watch that new Netflix series or try out that Pilates YouTube channel you’ve been putting off. I sometimes try out new recipes and it’s great, because there’s no one around to watch me mess them up.

2. You will almost always feel like a foreigner. (Not necessarily in a bad way, though.)

No matter how much you try to learn the local language or assimilate yourself into local life, you won’t fully feel like you belong. Maybe you’ll feel very much at home, but being from somewhere and feeling at home are two very different things. Maybe this is completely subjective, but for me, home will always be home. And wherever I go, I can never fully replicate that feeling.

3. People are nicer than you think.

Something that I have learned from all of my travels is that people are inherently nice. Whenever I have been in a situation where I felt lost or needed help with something, I was able to find someone to point me in the right direction.

Don’t be too shy or hesitant to ask those around you. Foreign languages can be intimidating but knowing the basics, “excuse me” and “thank you” can go a long way. I prefer not to rely solely on technology to get me around, it’s great as a back-up, but I’ve always found that if I’m unsure about something, asking works. Of course, you have to use your best judgement when approaching strangers and be aware of your surroundings.

4. Making friends as an adult will make you wish you were 10 again.

I never had to think about making friends. It just sort of happened. I’ve always moved to places with a group of people alongside me or worked in an environment that naturally bonded me with like-minded people who would, eventually, become my people. When I moved to the Netherlands, however, this was not the case. Making friends as an adult will make you wish you could go back to a simpler time.

Trying to make friends as a grown adult can feel forced and unnatural, especially in a new place. At first, I resisted it. I refused to go out alone and talk to strangers. Why should I? When I have all the friends I need back at home, and in other parts of the world. I’ve noticed that every country is different. Social circles can be closed in some places and you’ll need a mutual friend to join the rest of the group. I’ve had to play the waiting game on more than a few occasions. 

5. Your friend’s lives back home will go on without you.

It’s hard not to feel left out when you see photos of them having fun without you on social media, or when your phone is blowing up from the latest ‘you had to be there’ group chats on WhatsApp. But, just remember, that it’s not intentional. They’re just living their lives and you, yours. Being the one that leaves is always difficult. No matter how amazing the country and experience, missing out on birthdays, weddings and sometimes even funerals, is the toughest pill to swallow. This is the flip side of moving abroad. Your peers may envy you and your new life that looks glamorous on the outside, but it’s still okay to miss home. Being homesick will happen often, but how you deal with it is what matters. Staying involved and in touch is vital to keeping up to date with the latest from your hometown. Visiting friends and family will help to create new memories together that you can look back on. 

6. Maintaining relationships requires constant effort.

Losing friends is a part of growing up. I can safely say that after traveling for 3 years, I’ve realized who really matters. Those are the ones that stay. They care and they are there for you, even though they can’t physically be there for you. However, this is very much a two-way street. Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp and Facebook are your friends. I’ve grown so much closer to some people and completely lost contact with others.

The best friends are the ones who always make you feel like you picked up right where you left off, even if you don’t talk everyday. Hold on to those people, they will keep you grounded.

7. Navigating paperwork alone is a challenge.

I don’t know enough about taxes and the legal system as it is, let alone figuring it all out in another language. Once you’ve moved to your new country and hopefully started work, you’ll need to register at the city council, start paying taxes and generally do other frustrating, immigration-related tasks.

I’ve found there’s usually a person at work that speaks your language and is more than happy to help out. This person will be your savior when it comes sorting out your tax return, getting a phone plan and calling up the bank. If you don’t have someone like this, consider reaching out to neighbors or seeking advice from other expats on local Facebook groups. Join these groups prior to moving to your new location, since other people’s experiences will help you pack. Some of these sites are also dedicated to apartment searching and selling furniture as people come and go in the city.

8. You will learn a lot about who you actually are.

This year has been both the toughest and best year of my life. Before I made this leap, I really didn’t think through how big of a step it was. Because I was so used to bouncing around, the location didn’t phase me when I was applying for my current job. An exciting country and a great job awaited, and I assumed that was all that mattered.

In hindsight, I now see how much I’ve changed. Pushing myself way outside my comfort zone has allowed me to grow in ways that I never would have if I’d stayed put. Independence, self-sufficiency, confidence, assertiveness and mindfulness, are just a few of the qualities that I’ve strengthened and gained this year and am honestly proud of myself for it. 

9. Be aware of your bank account, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

For the first time, this year I’ve been truly self-sufficient in terms of finances. It feels amazing. I understand the value of money, and ensure that I’m saving alongside spending. But, I can also be too hard on myself. Moving abroad and supporting yourself financially will be overwhelming. Once the bills have been paid, the little that you’re left will be precious and you’ll want to save some of that. But, make sure that doesn’t entirely dissuade you from experiencing the country you’re in. Be frugal, don’t “treat yo self” too regularly, but make sure you aren’t just staying home. 

10. Learning to accept your new home as a “home” is something I may always struggle with.

Even though it may be temporary, it can be hard to truly accept that you, for the time being, live here. Try to set aside a few undisturbed weeknights or weekends in a row where it’s just you and your new city. Look it in the eye and take it on. Once you get to know it, it won’t feel so foreign. It can be easy to live your life on a constant loop, between work and home, in order to keep yourself busy. But you can’t accept the city as your own unless you stop to reflect, and allow yourself to be immersed.  

Written by Nikita Marwaha for The Financial Diet

Eetwinkel NICO

All, Lifestyle, Travel

Earlier this week, I popped into a place I’ve walked past several times in Leiden but hadn’t checked out yet. Eetwinkel NICO is quite centrally located, right beside the Oude Singel canal and just off the Beestenmarkt square in downtown Leiden at Morsstraat 25.

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My friend, and fellow Leiden blogger Molly went in to grab a couple of drinks before heading out to dinner. We were pleasantly surprised by the stylish, and very modern interior. I especially liked the neon sign inside the bar, a great contrast to the wooden elements.
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I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Eetwinkel NICO. It had some lovely outdoor seating, friendly service (a rare find here) and next time, I’ll hopefully try some food too – I’ve heard great things!

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Molly and I have collectively lived in Leiden for almost 2 years and with the sun out more often now, we’ll be checking out some more new places in town that I’ll be sure to share with you guys!

– Nikita

Advice from an Astronaut: Dealing with Self-Doubt

All, career

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Social media brings people from all walks of life together. And today, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman shared her 140 character thoughts with the world in a live Twitter chat.

Hosted by brilliant women’s story site MAKERS, Cady answered questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskCady. Questions ranged from parents asking on behalf of their curious child, to adults wondering how to fulfill their childhood astronaut dreams — the live chat provided a space in which the seemingly unreachable could be reached.

My question was more of a personal one. I’ve been wondering a lot about how high achieving women reach their ambitious goals. Do they ever doubt themselves like we all do, or are astronauts like Cady selected to be immune to these so-called ‘weak’ traits? If they do, then how do they conquer these feelings of self-doubt to become the astronaut that they’ve always wanted to become?

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So, Cady’s method when faced with self-doubt is one of preparation. Sort of along the lines of the well-known saying ‘fail to be prepared and prepare to fail’. Apart from terrifying me before university exams, this phrase and Cady’s approach is a great way to deal with self-doubt. Knowing you have given it your all makes it easier to feel confident about what lies ahead.

For me though, it can take a little more than that. Sometimes, I may have put 110% into something and still have a speck of self-doubt. That’s when I take a step back, reflect on times I’ve faced and successfully conquered a similar situation and simply believe that I can do it again (also dancing around to my happy song helps too).

How do you tackle those creeping feelings of self-doubt? I’d love to hear how other women and men out there deal with this common, yet rarely talked about subject. Tweet me, or comment below 🙂

– Nikita

p.s thanks to Canadian Space Agency PR pro Magalie Renaud who let me know about this wonderful online event 🙂

Current Book Recommendations

All, science communication

DSCF6132 (3)Recently, I found that I’ve been reading less than I used to. It’s always been one of my favourite things to do, so to inspire both myself and hopefully some of you to dust those books off the bookshelf, here are some of my favourite books right now!

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Some of you may already know, I am a big fan of Amy Poehler. Her work, her voice and her honesty really speak to me. This book is the epitome of all three. She is down to earth and speaks frankly and light-heartedly about things that we all think, yet sometimes don’t say. Whether it be about who we are, what we want to do or who we want to be with – Amy dishes out some real life advice from her own experiences.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This novel is a classic. Set in 19th Century England, it centres around the lives of the Bennet sisters, in particular Elizabeth Bennet. I’m one of those people that tends to forget the details once I complete a book, so I love having this one on hand to re-read it all over again. Also, I have a soft spot for Mr Darcy..

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The Hands-On Guide for Science Communicators by Lars Lindberg Christensen

This book is slightly different to those previously mentioned. Written by my former boss from my time at the European Southern Observatory, it is a great guide to science communication. The foundations of communicating scientific concepts are explored in the book, illustrated by graphics which concisely present the information in a colourful way. I’d recommend this for not only those new to the field, but also experienced science communicators out there. 

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

The first time I got my hands on this book I was around 15. I found it in my parent’s house and in an attempt to try something more mature, I gave it a try. Needless to say, I didn’t really understand a lot of the philosphical elements back then. But, now at the ripe ‘old’ age of 24, this book is one that I think anyone can read and gain something from. It’s quite a dense piece of literature and can be slow at times, however the character of Dorian Gray is so different to others I think it is worth the read.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Usually, I like to read the original book before watching the movie version of a story. This was a rare exception. I caught the movie on my flight home from Canada last year and immediately knew I had to read the book. I was not dissapointed. Let’s just say, you will not have a dry eye when reading this one. It’s a very heartwarming and touching storyline for all ages. I also like the fact that my new home of the Netherlands makes an appearance in the book too!

What are your favourite books right now? Let me know and I’d love to give them a try 🙂

-Nikita

A Week in Vienna: The European Geosciences Union General Assembly

All, science communication, Travel

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A few weeks ago, I travelled to the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria. Vienna is one of my favourite cities so I was really happy to be there again! 

My previous blog post gave a sneak preview of what the week was all about but now I can share the experience with you, illustrated by some photos along the way.

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My office for the week was the European Geosciences Union’s General Assembly (EGU15), one of the largest conferences in the world on Earth, planetary and space sciences. 

DSC_3283~2 egu1 I worked as a Press Assistant in the Press Centre of the conference. It’s is the place to be for all things media-related. The Press Centre also acts as a great workspace for journalists to report on the many Press Conferences scheduled during the week.

Here, they can utilise interview rooms with scientists and gather quotes on fascinating research that’s announced during the week, before writing it up for publication that very day.2015-04-12 20.06.58

I was lucky enough to work alongside this bunch of lovely ladies. Together, we formed the Press Team and ensured that all things press, media and outreach related was going well at the conference.IMG_0040

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Some EJR-Quartz colleagues attended as speakers, sharing insights and lessons learnt from ESA’s Rosetta Mission. Personifying spacecrafts using social media and engaging the public through competitions were discussed by them in outreach sessions. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) were also present, revealing the first large mosaic images of Mars ever at the conference! 

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The highlight of the week for me was going to the ESA Rosetta Mission Press Conference. Here, scientists from DLR and ESA – such as Project Scientist Matt Taylor (pictured above mid-selfie) shared the latest results from the comet-chasing mission. I wrote an article for the EGU blog about it so take a look if you want to see what the spacecraft duo are up to right now.

I also wrote two articles about other new findings that were announced at EGU15. The first, is on the influence of climate change and the second describes interesting new findings from the NASA Dawn mission. I really enjoyed blogging about both space and environmental subjects and writing about time-sensitive topics.  

This week in Vienna was a wonderful experience, one that I shared avidly online through my Twitter account – especially when there was cake involved!

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What can I say…food makes me happy 🙂

The next EGU General Assembly will be held in Vienna between 17 and 22 April 2016. I look forward to finding out what new science results are announced next year!

– Nikita

(Photo credits: EGU/Stephanie McClellan)

Introducing the European Geosciences Union – General Assembly 2015

All, science communication

For the rest of April, my blog will be dedicated to all things Earth, planetary and space sciences as I fly to Vienna tomorrow to work at the European Geosciences Union’s (EGU) General Assembly. I will write an in-depth post on the week-long conference when I return but for now, here’s a sneak peek of what I’ll be up to 🙂

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Credit: EGU Twitter

Made up of over 12,500 members, EGU is dedicated to benefiting humanity and our understanding of the world around us. Their annual General Assembly attracts over 11,000 scientists from across the globe and includes sessions, symposia, poster and oral presentations on a plethora of topics on our planet and the Universe that we live in.

Ranging from space and ocean sciences, to paleontology and volcanology — the conference invites international scientists to present their research, as well as journalists to share these fascinating science stories with the world.

Credits: BBC

Credits: BBC

This year’s theme is ‘A voyage through scales’- contemplating Earth’s extraordinary variability in the scales of space, time and spacetime. Sounds mindboggling? It is, but in the good way! I will be working within the Press Team during the conference to ensure the smooth running of the Press Centre. I’ll have the opportunity to interview scientists on their work, attend sessions and press conferences and write for EGU’s official blog GeoLog. Hosted by the Austria Center Vienna, I’m looking forward to visiting Vienna again after my first visit last April.

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Keep an eye out for blog posts written by me during the conference on EGU’s blog and follow me on Twitter here for daily updates on the conference and to join me on my trip to Vienna. 

See you there!

-Nikita

p.s  I have worked with EGU before, you might remember a blog post on an article that I wrote for them last year here.

Easter Weekend

All, life, personal, Travel

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This Easter, my folks paid me a visit in (sometimes) sunny Holland. It was a wonderful long weekend filled with cheese, chocolate, Indian food, boat trips and general tourist-like behavior.

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The tulip and cheese museums were a big hit. Unlimited cheese sampling + tulips = a winning combination in my books.

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Standing by the Amsterdam sign without being photobombed by several other tourists is pretty much near impossible on Easter weekend, but I’m glad I finally took a photo by the famous sign after having lived here for over 3 months already!

Easter and food go hand in hand (just like Christmas, calories don’t count during Easter remember)! After a spot of baking, I ticked off two other Dutch delicacies as I tried Dutch pancakes and Hagelslag .

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Nutella and banana is one of my favourite food combinations so I had to get that on my pancakes. Next time, I’ll be sure to try some traditionally Dutch toppings.

Hagelslag is the wonderful rainbow-sprinkled bread shown above. These sugary sprinkles eaten on buttered bread are a common children’s breakfast in the Netherlands, something that I could definitely get used to 🙂

Hope you had a wonderful Easter wherever you are in the world!

-Nikita