TED TALK: How My Style Blog Made Me a Better Scientist
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My word for 2022? Execution. I'm in a season of growth and determined to pursue that which pushes me out of my comfort zone. When I got the email about the 2022 Women's Leadership Summit, hosted by my alma mater Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), I asked myself "why not apply?"
The COVID-19 pandemic made me reflect on my own priorities and progress. To be honest, it wasn't pretty. I realized I became complacent with my personal and professional growth long before the COVID-19 spread across the world.
With a new found sense confidence and purpose, I applied to the Women's Leadership Summit hosted by Leadership Academy at RIT Saunders College of Business, and I was accepted to give a TED Talk entitled "How My Style Blog Made Me a Better Scientist". The theme of WLS 2022? BE STEAM.
"BE STEAM stands for Business Entrepreneurship & and Art in STEM. We chose BE STEAM for our WLS 2022 Theme as it represents the culmination of diverse fields of study & industries in today’s world and reflects RIT’s creative & innovative students from all RIT Academic Colleges."
Conversations of leadership often center around traditional training and corporate roles. These conversations are valuable, however, I wanted to emphasize my life at the intersection of science and style, and how my non-traditional experiences in creative spaces have shaped my career and approach to leadership.
When I found out I was accepted to give a TED Talk at my alma mater Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), I immediately started planning my trip. I ultimately decided to stay in the quaint town of Pittsford, a suburb of Rochester, NY. You can read the full review of my stay at Del Monte Lodge and Spa here. You can find a video recap of my stay here.
After booking my travel and hotel, I had to decide what to wear. I knew I wanted to wear a jumpsuit. Why? A jumpsuit always makes me feel confident, powerful, and chic. As a Rent the Runway member, I searched the Rent the Runway website for business casual jumpsuits with a presence. If you want to try out Rent the Runway, shoot me a DM on Instagram for 40% off your first month.
I ultimately decided to rent this bright pink Adam Lippes jumpsuit. It fit like a glove. I couldn't have asked for a more empowering look. I styled it with my Sergio Hudson belt and Senreve Armonica Tote Bag. Get $50 off your next $300+ Senreve purchase when you shop through this link.
"In middle school, I had to design a science fair project using the scientific method we learned in elementary school. You know...question, background research, hypothesis, experiment, analysis, conclusion.
Personally, I was curious if candle color impacted burn time. My mom kept candles on our dining room table, and I hypothesized the chemicals introduced to add color + scent to wax would impact its burn dynamics. Yes, this is what I thought about as an awkward middle schooler.
I remember my teacher gave me the strangest look when I proposed the project to him, but he approved it nevertheless. So, we went to Michael’s the next day and stocked up on tea candles of all colors and scents, and I proceeded to test my hypothesis. Now, it was far too long ago for me to remember the results, but I remember feeling really excited and proud of my creative idea.
As I entered high school, I started to define myself by 1) playing tennis (my dad is a professional tennis coach) and 2) being good at science. And by being good at science, I mean memorizing science information because that's how it was taught. While in high school, my grandfather passed away from cancer. It was both a devastating and motivating experience for me, and during my grieving process, I decided I would pursue a career in medicine.
Eventually landing at Rochester Institute of Technology, I majored in Biomedical Sciences with a liberal arts concentration in Writing Studies, taking courses about language and how we communicate. Because I wanted to be a doctor, I followed coursework that would set me up to perform well on the Medical College Admissions Test, also known as the MCAT. However, med school applications look at far more than just GPA and test scores. They also want research experience, and I didn’t have it..
Anyone in the audience have experience in research? Just curious, raise your hands.
I needed to get into research, so every year from 2012 to 2014, I applied to summer research programs in hopes of an acceptance. I remember asking Dr. Andre Hudson, the current Head of RIT's College of Science and my first scientific mentor, for recommendation letters. He offered to be a resource for me early on in my scientific career, and for that, I'm forever grateful.
An acceptance finally came in 2014. In the summer of 2014, I started as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at the Mayo Clinic. I worked in the McLean lab, studying the neurobiology of Parkinson’s Disease and a protein called alpha-synuclein. It was at the Mayo Clinic I encountered a level of intellectual freedom I’d never experienced before, and I was enamored by it.
Working at the Mayo Clinic was my first job experience, so I started taking pictures (bad pictures) of my work outfits to document for friends and family. I took this documentation one step further and decided to start a Wordpress blog to showcase my looks and fashion advice as a naïve, 21yo student.
But when I returned to RIT for my last semester, the blog fell to the wayside because I was focused on graduating and my post-graduation plans, including returning to research. Ultimately, I decided to take a gap year. I was burnt out after pushing myself mentally and
physically for 3.5y, being President of a sorority on campus and graduating early from the Honors Program at RIT.
Shortly after graduation, I moved to Baltimore, MD to start as a Research Technician in the at Johns Hopkins Medicine. One gap year quickly turned into three and a half years because I thoroughly enjoyed the people and my work studying the molecular genetics of cystic fibrosis. Those 3.5y were transformative for me. I became independent as an adult, and scientifically, I refined my curiosity, gained specialized training in molecular biology. Fortunately, I was co-author on many publications, launching my into the next stage of my academic career.
During these 3.5y, I also re-launched my style blog, stylishlytaylored.com, and I started publishing blog posts about my life at the intersection of science – style.
"I can say with certainty, my creative pursuits outside of the lab have taught me three lessons that have made me a better scientist."
Now, you need to know my love for style started young. My mom modeled a playful yet intentional relationship with clothing, exemplified by her pattern mixing. My mom used clothes to express and enhance her mood, and as a young girl, I thought her relationship with clothing was beautiful. I was in awe at her closet and the variety of pieces she owned, and throughout high school, I played dress up in her clothes, experimenting with pieces new-to-me and old-to-her. To this day, I credit my mom with sparking my love for secondhand clothing.
I also credit my mom for my personal style. My style does not emulates hers, we are very different, but she gave me the space and autonomy to develop my personal style. For example, one day, we were in our basement going through closets, and we found my mom's old bowling bag, complete with custom bowling shoes. Can you guess what happened next? I wore those bowling shoes to school in 6th grade and was immediately made fun of by my classmates. But I didn’t care. They were unique, I had the courage to wear them.
So, as I said, I re-launched my blog after moving to Baltimore. Why?
I liked sharing my personal style.
I liked writing.
I had just moved to a new city where I knew NO ONE, and I was hoping it would connect me to people with similar interests.
It was an inexpensive hobby, I wasn’t being paid a lot.
It was a creative outlet when my mind needed a break from science.
As I got busier and busier, stylishlytaylored.com blossomed into something far bigger than I originally anticipated. It turned into a business, and I, a business owner. I was suddenly navigating press releases, negotiations, and contracts, brand deals, networking events alongside my work responsibilities. I felt clueless.
After 3.5y, I left the Cutting Lab to pursue my Ph.D., ultimately choosing to stay at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I’m now in the 4th year of my Ph.D., and the 7th year of blogging, and I can tell you science is more than memorization, and blogging is more than just outfits and photos. I can say with certainty, my creative pursuits outside of the lab have taught me three lessons that have made me a better scientist.
Own Your Perspective
In science, business, art, blogging, YOU need to know, and own, your unique perspective in order for you 1) to communicate it 2) for it to be valuable to your community. In business, this may be comparable to a value proposition. Your customer has a challenge and your brand’s product solves it. So your communication/marketing is centered around the unique solution you provide.
I love secondhand clothing – and I realized this was a unique perspective I brought to the style blogging space. So, I pitched Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, the regional Goodwill around the Baltimore-metro area because I knew I could produce a campaign that made people want to shop secondhand.
At one point in my blogging journey, I tried to be like every other style blogger, but it didn’t feel authentic and it wasn’t helping my business grow. This campaign was a defining moment for me because it helped me communicate my unique perspective on personal style + style blogging. It also reintroduced secondhand clothes to my community in a way they’ve never seen before, and my audience, to this day, knows wearing and re-wearing secondhand clothes is a tenant of my brand.
Similarly, my specific research experiences have shaped a unique perspective I bring to every scientific conversation. At this point in my career, I’ve studied the molecular biology and genetics of Parkinson’s Disease, cystic fibrosis, and repetitive sequences in the human genome using both molecular biology and computational research approaches. My mentor knows I bring a unique perspective to the lab of understanding molecular genetics and RNA biology. She also recognizes I have the potential to learn new skills, like computational biology,
As a result, she gave me the lead on a project over the pandemic because I’m able to understand and recognize the biological limitations of our computational approaches. I’m also able to use my unique perspective and experiences to ask biologically relevant questions of our data and analyze it, accordingly.
If you haven’t done it already, I encourage you to reflect on the unique perspective you bring to different spaces so you can communicate them accordingly.
Know Your Audience
Let me tell you, running a blog has been a crash course in entrepreneurship and marketing. These photos are from the second of my three-part Goodwill campaign.
My blog + Instagram have two similar, but slightly different, target audiences. Generally speaking, my audience is women on the East Coast between 25-44. So when deciding on what looks to highlight during this campaign, I decided to include both a workwear look, showcasing how to style thrifted pieces for the office, as well as a look for a night out. I felt my target audiences have gotten dressed for both experiences and therefore could relate to the content.
Knowing your target audience is not only important for blogging, creating content, pitching campaigns, negotiate prices, but it’s also really important in science, more specifically publishing. Knowing the target audience of a scientific journal inherently influences the narrative of your manuscript.
For example. my Ph.D. thesis work focuses on understanding repetitive sequences in the human genome and their behavior through brain development and degeneration. The narrative, structure, and interpretation of my results is going to look different for a journal publishing work in human genetics versus a journal publishing work in neurodevelopment. A journal that publishes articles about neurodevelopment is going to want more background of developmental biology, brain anatomy whereas a journal focused on human genetics want info on variation within the population, molecular genetics at a cellular level. In either case, knowing your audience is crucial publishing and producing valuable content for the scientific community.
Seek Experience, Not Perfection
Here are the looks from the third, and final, part of my Goodwill campaign. At first, I was hesitant to pitch goodwill for the campaign. I knew I could produce great content, that wasn’t my concern. Rather, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to convince them to hire me because I hadn’t cold pitched many brands.
Cold pitch: I found the email of the marketing coordinator and pitched the project without any prior connection or relationship.
I pitched smaller projects prior to this campaign, so I pulled on what experience I did have to put together a convincing pitch. When they responded to set up a call, I was ecstatic. But another wave of concern hit when I realized I had to do more new things – verbal pitch, negotiating prices, writing a contract. Doing all of this for the first time was terrifying.
But I had to do it. Was my pitch perfect? Did I charge enough? Did I include all clauses in my contract? Definitely not.
Similarly, Is this talk perfect? Do I have public speaking experience? Nope! But here I am because experience is better than perfection.
The same goes for science. I quickly learned that science is never perfect and I’m going to make mistakes. I’ve learned the MOST from experiments where I failed, and I’ve learned to not take it personally – it’s always a learning experience. And I know that sounds really cliché, but the point is… you’re going to miss little moments of growth if you’re only focused on perfection. Those little moments of growth can teach us lessons that are bigger than a line of code or an accepted contract. The experience is far more valuable than the perfection.
So if you go to my Instagram, you’ll see unique outfits and cool locations. On the surface, you see aesthetically pleasing content, but I see:
Social media marketing
Failed brand pitches
Creative writing + storytelling
The truth of the matter is – blogging taught me so much more than how to showcase my style. And ultimately, blogging has influenced my career because science doesn’t exist in a box. Writing manuscripts is storytelling, collaborations are networking and relationship management, and much like styling new outfits, advancement of science relies the creative use of technology/previous knowledge to push boundaries. I bring all my experiences into science, and I bring my science into all my experiences.
Embracing the relationship between my style and my science has culminated in national and international press coverage about my life and design with features in Baltimore Home Magazine and Apartment Therapy. Very cool, very surreal.
“Creativity and science are internally linked, as the core of both is discovery.”
And as I wrap up, I want to leave you with this quote. I encourage you all to leave this conference thinking about what your career and interests have in common and how they may compliment one another. Valuable skills and lessons come from all types of experiences, not just those learned on the job. These skills, when embraced, can help you become an open-minded and creative leader.
With that, Thank you all for your attention and engagement, I hope you enjoy the rest of the talks today.
Feel free to follow along with my continued journey on stylishlytaylored.com or over on Instagram @stylishlytaylored. And I’ll be around all day if you want to come find me to chat."
I know some of you were disappointed the talk wasn't recorded, however, I'm happy to share the script so that you can still benefit from the words and perspective.
If you're looking for more posts about applying to graduate school, my research journey, or PhD journey, check out the posts under SCIENCE tab. Be sure you're following along with my style, science, and social adventures over on Instagram.
Until next time,