My side hustle is the Science On A Postcard Etsy shop. I design, create and sell science-related products such as enamel pin badges, notebooks, postcards, pencil cases and stickers. The idea for the shop came very quickly – I was speaking to a stranger in an airport and this person asked what I did for a living, I explained that I’m a scientist, and he looked very shocked and said ‘oh, you don’t look like a scientist’. By the time my flight had landed I had already registered the Etsy and Instagram domains. I wanted to produce something that I could use or wear on a daily basis, that would demonstrate that I’m a scientist without necessarily needing people to ask. The first pin badge I created was a bright pink pin badge that simply said ‘Scientist’ – it sold out quickly, and I now have a full range of pins for different STEM roles. People have told me that they stimulate conversation with strangers, which I think is a really cool way for scientists to gently do some public engagement every day!
How does your PhD help you in your side hustle?
I set up my side hustle in the second year of my PhD, and I was pretty naïve as to what running a small business would entail – turns out, there’s a million things that need to be sorted out that I’d never thought of before! It’s actually pretty similar to doing a PhD – you need a wide range of different skills (organisation, ability to prioritise and multi-task, awareness of regulations and relevant laws etc, and lots of customer service). I did qualitative data collection as part of my PhD, so having some experience of speaking to strangers about potentially tricky issues was really helpful. Research skills were also super important too – designing and making new products meant I had to find out how to make stuff that I’d never thought of before, the amount of research needed to find reliable suppliers, and good quality products at decent prices was pretty huge.
What does an average day in the life look like for you?
An average day is only average in so far as I’m at work at my day job as a Researcher during the day, and then I’m busy doing side hustle stuff around that. Aside from that there isn’t really such thing as an ‘average’ day – every day is different! I work on lots of different projects, which is exciting and keeps me on my toes. In terms of Science On A Postcard, I tend to package orders every other evening, and then take them to the Post Office the following morning before heading into the office for work. At the weekends if I have some spare time I’ll work on designs for new products, and I also spend time doing freelance projects – in the past they’ve tended to be writing projects, but recently I’ve also been asked to do custom illustration work for people that have bought and enjoyed products from my shop. Every day is varied, and I love that.
How has your emotional health changed since leaving academia?
I haven’t left academia by any means, but having a side hustle has definitely improved my mental and emotional health in general. I was diagnosed with depression during the second year of my PhD, and my Supervisors were all really supportive. My main supervisor advised me to try to find a hobby or something that would give me an ‘immediate’ reward – that’s when I started drawing and designing, which is what led me to setting up Science On A Postcard. A PhD is an emotional rollercoaster, and you’re often waiting months and months (sometimes even years!) to get results, so having a shop where I could design a product, have it manufactured, and then sell it all within the space of a few days or weeks was pretty mind-blowing. That instant reward definitely keeps me motivated, and helps me to keep plugging away with my research when results aren’t always so speedy.
advice would you give others looking at starting a side hustle?
Do your research! Invest time in finding good suppliers, learning new skills for yourself, and figuring out stock details etc. Putting time into this before you go public with your side hustle will put you in a stronger position for growth, and you’ll feel much more prepared when customers or business collaborators approach you with questions. I’d also really recommend setting up social media handles on every platform possible – even if you don’t plan to use them straight away, it’s a good idea to have them available for you in the future.
Want to be featured? Send me a message with a brief outline of your side hustle or non-academic career and I will be in touch.
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