From Kindness to Career: The Surprising Link between Being Nice and Fieldwork in Japanese Forests
Christopher Attewell-Hughes poses next to a waterfall in Yakushima.
The following is a blog post written by one of our interns, Christopher Attewell-Hughes, who interned with the MacIntosh Lab on the YakuTan Project in June 2023. We asked our interns to reflect on their time with us and share what was most impactful for them, and this is what Christopher shared with us: Competition: it’s what drives us. At school you need the best grades. In work we have to outcompete colleagues. It’s the way, they say, for us to get ahead. Sometimes that’s true, but often being kind and showing you’re willing to do your best goes just as far.
This was a surprise to me. Having been to university twice and working in finance for 10 years, often if you want to succeed, you have to be willing to put yourself first. In science, however, my experience has been a little different. The industry is competitive, it’s true. If you have a degree, people want a masters. If you have a masters, they want paid experience. And if you have that, maybe they want practical skills. The list can be pretty endless. Some are able to meet these ever-increasing expectations, but in a field where jobs are uncommon and pay isn’t always liveable, most are left feeling despondent.
So for those of us who have the passion, but not the time to be learn to drive a boat or take yet another expensive course, how can we get ahead? The answer is kindness. And yes it does sound idealistic, but my best opportunities have come from people I’ve met where we’ve been nice to one another. And there’s no shortage of this in Science; a field where people are excited to collaborate with people they like and who share their passion. This is how I found myself looking for tanuki faeces in a Japanese forest on a mountain island fuelled by ice cream and ramen.
I met Kasia Majewski while volunteering at Manchester Museum. I decided early on she was a good egg. She’s kind, compassionate and has the air of someone who knows a little something about just about everything. We got along well and years later when she was knee-deep in a PHD, she invited me to intern. But funding was tight and we needed to get to Yakushima Island, her study site, somehow. I needed to think of a way to help not only myself, but my friend too.
The answer came in the form of crowdfunding. We didn’t need a lot, just enough to cover our travel and the cost of accommodation. My family and close friends were quick to help, but what surprised me most were the people who I knew less well who donated. An amazing opportunity was being made possible by, yet again, kindness.
The internship itself was amazing. I saw forests filled with thousand-year-old cedars, troops of macaques idling in on riverbanks, centipedes big enough to take down snakes, and turtles laying clutches in the middle of the night. However, what I’ll remember most fondly and what I know will benefit me more are the friendships I made. My experience has been that science happens when two like-minded humans share one too many pints or a warm pot of tea. It’s in these moments that connections are wrought. And it’s these connections that could lead to the next opportunity.
So while an impressive CV is important, so is the value of a simple gesture. Ask a person about their day. Bring them a coffee they didn’t expect. Offer to help with that proof-reading they just haven’t had time for yet. The next time there’s a position, they might just think of you and how you made them feel.