Shane Hellyer graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacology with honours from the University of Otago in New Zealand. He then went on to complete a PhD in Pharmacology at the University of Otago. Needing a break from the lab, Shane worked as a medical writer at Kainic Medical Communications, where he produced advertising and educational material for drug companies and doctors. Currently, Shane is a postdoctoral researcher at Monash University in Australia, working in the field of neuropharmacology, and a bass player for a power pop band, Pipsy.
How do you break the stereotypes in science?
I got my first tattoo when I was 19. It was never my intention to get two full sleeves of tattoos, but it just happened over the course of a few years. I never really thought too much of how tattoos would affect my career in New Zealand because I had three close friends who were all doing PhDs and one had full sleeves, a couple had quite large tattoos on their arms. So, I thought that you can do whatever you want, because if you’re in the lab and not in front of clients, people will not judge you too much on your physical appearance. They judge you on your scientific output.
I haven’t noticed much prejudice against tattoos in science, apart from being at conferences, when I do see some of the older generations look at me a bit strangely. Then again, I would probably also be wearing a metal t-shirt, so I don’t think I looked like I belong at these conferences. The older generation seems to have a preconceived notion not so much of what a tattooed person can do, but what they can’t do; they don’t think I would be doing something “smart”. With the older generation, it can be frustrating at first, but then quite satisfying when I put them in their place, and they realise that people can be both tattooed and smart.
How do you deal with stress?
I don’t stress easily because I tend to know my limits. You can tell when I’m stressed because I’ll be visibly stressed, and it doesn’t happen very often. I think it’s important to know yourself and know what stresses you and what helps with that stress. When I first moved here, it was all science because I wasn’t playing sport or music. That, in addition to being in a new city and a long-distance relationship, started to wind me up. That’s when I joined a basketball team in the social league and reached out to a friend to meet up and jam some music.
I see a lot of people around me that work so above and beyond what they need. They enjoy doing it, but you can sometimes tell that they are pushing their limits. I’ll work 9 to 5 and I’ll get my work done. If my work isn’t done by 5 pm, I’m quite happy to put in a few extra hours, but I’m very focused on getting everything done in a certain time so I can go home at 5 pm.
To have a balanced lifestyle, the main thing is to get your work done within work hours and don’t procrastinate. If you want to have a balanced life, you’re going to have to try harder on both sides. Some people need to work long hours to feel like they are achieving something. I just know that for myself, I couldn’t come to work at 8 am and stay until 9 pm. I’d lose my mind. By knowing my limits, I won’t get burnt out as often or as fast, so my output is consistent.
QUICK FIRE ROUND
If you could have a coffee with anyone (dead or alive), who would it be and what is the one question you would ask them?
David Attenborough, because he was such an influence on me in conjunction with my grandparents. I was that kid that watched and enjoyed the “Private Life of Plants”. It would be really interesting to see what his views are on the single biggest priority for humankind right now to halt the damage that’s being done to the planet. I’d like to know if he could boil it down to a single event or one thing that we can do to help the planet.
How to make new friends/contacts at conferences?
Always go to the social events, try to talk to someone different and present yourself as you. You don’t want to be the person who sits by themselves at conferences. I classify myself as an introvert; I find it very hard to initiate conversation, but once I’ve started talking, I’m fine. So, it’s taking that initial step of just saying hi to someone. Find a poster you’re interested in, talk to the person at the poster and steer the conversation away from science onto other things.
Getting the PhD is still the biggest milestone in my life so far, especially being the first in my family to do so. Putting those eight years of work into undergraduate, honours and PhD degrees and not completely burning out, losing my mind and still wanting to work in science, it’s a big achievement.