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Lizah van der Aart makes glossy about PhD research

After four years of hard work, the time has finally come: your thesis is finished. But who of your family and friends will ever read it? Biologist Lizah van der Aart decided to make a magazine for layman. 'It was precisely the explanation of the difficult, fundamental parts that gave me good tools for my follow-up research.'

Lost in anonymity

Blood, sweat, tears and a few panic attacks, but it's all worth it in the end. In good spirits you have your thesis printed 150 times. You send the booklet to all your friends and family members. The visitors of your PhD defence fight for a copy. Finally the world gets to see what you have have been working on for so long. But then comes the reflection: apart from the popular summary and the acknowledgements ('am I mentioned?'), hardly anyone outside science will read your work. Lizah van der Aart decided to outurn this fate and made a magazine. 'Because, contrary to my thesis, people are actually going to read this magazine.'

From blog to glossy

It all started with participating in Famelab in 2016, a competition in which young scientists have to pitch their research in three minutes. 'Via Famelab I was offered a course from Hermen Visser, and through him I started blogging for Wetenschap.nu.' Van der Aart started writing together with colleague Anne van der Meij, but it wasn't easy. 'Anne and I received a lot of feedback from the editors of Wetenschap.nu. They could explain perfectly why a different approach would be more useful.' And that approach turned out to work. The two colleagues received many positive reactions to their blogs on microbiology and 'poop transplants'. That’s when I decided to write an understandable story about my PhD research.'

Lizah van der Aart at her PhD defence

Trapped inside your head

Although it took a lot of time, Van der Aart can recommend every PhD student to make such a magazine. ‘During a PhD, at some point you get trapped inside your own head,' she says. ‘So at a certain time, you only read and talk in details and you can lose the overview. By explaining your work to people who are not experts in your field, you force yourself to look at the bigger picture.’

Viral

Not only her own environment, but also the online scientific community could appreciate Van der Aart’s magazine. A tweet from Van der Aart showing her glossy got almost 2500 likes. ‘Many retweets came from people in the field who said that they like it when scientists spend time communicating their field of expertise.’ According to the biologist, there should be more room for this. ‘We are always very much focused on writing scientific publications in leading journals with a high scientific impact. But isn't social impact with an article in a popular scientific journal also important?’

The tweet that went viral

Ionica Smeets

Before she started working on her magazine, Van der Aart asked Professor of Science Communication Ionica Smeets for advice. ‘I had spoken to her about this idea at the beginning, she encouraged me to just do it.’ Eventually Smeets described the magazine on Twitter as 'one of the coolest things in times'. Van der Aart endorses the importance of science communication. ‘I think that the appreciation for my magazine in the field shows how important it is that we are working on science communication in Leiden, for example with the chair of Ionica Smeets.'

Ionica Smeets is very enthusiastic about the glossy

The research

Bacteria exist in many different shapes and sizes: round, elongated or even multicellular with long wires such as the Streptomycetes. The shape is determined by the cell wall, specifically the peptidoglycan layer. During her research Van der Aart looked at the peptidoglycan layer during growth to see how the Streptomycete retains its shape. She also investigated how this layer exactly changes when the strain has become resistant to antibiotics.

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