THE RAP­PER

THE (Times Higher Education) - - OPINION - Alex Lath­bridge is a bio­chem­istry doc­toral stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Bath.

Over the past three years, I have been play­ing high­oc­tane shows across the UK, from dimly lit pub base­ments to mas­sive stages at huge mu­sic fes­ti­vals.

My goal? To be­come a bet­ter rap­per and co­me­dian – while also work­ing my way to­wards a doc­tor­ate in the in­tri­ca­cies of pro­tein-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tions in cancer path­ways.

Lis­ten to my mu­sic and you’ll hear a lot about my sci­en­tific life. My songs are equal parts hip hop and peer-re­viewed sci­ence. They’re like Pro­fes­sor Green meets Pro­fes­sor Hawk­ing or Dr Dre crossed with the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Journal. I of­ten joke that when my mix­tape drops, it’ll be played on both BBC Ra­dio 1Xtra and Ra­dio 4. The clos­est I’ve come so far is a freestyle fea­tured on Ra­dio 4’s Inside Sci­ence.

This jour­ney has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary one. I have been given world-class com­edy men­tor­ing from the Sci­ence Showoff Tal­ent Fac­tory, had my rap­ping stud­ied in an MRI scan­ner by neu­ro­sci­en­tist So­phie Scott and, ear­lier this year, was named win­ner of FameLab UK – mean­ing that I am the best sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tor that the UK has to of­fer – un­til some­one else wins next year.

Peo­ple ask me if it is dif­fi­cult be­ing both a sci­en­tist and a per­former. I re­mind them that I’m a mixed-race Ghana­ian-Bri­tish man, brought up in South Lon­don but schooled in Sur­rey. My en­tire life has been a stream of iden­tity is­sues and dif­fer­ent masks.

It would be easy to think that these ca­reer paths – sci­en­tist and per­former – are some­what mu­tu­ally de­struc­tive. “Real” re­searchers don’t spend their free time lyri­cis­ing, and no “real” rap­per has a PhD (Kanye West’s hon­orary doc­tor­ate from the School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago notwith­stand­ing). Yet I have found it the ex­act op­po­site – be­com­ing a bet­ter per­former has helped me to be­come a bet­ter re­searcher, and vice versa.

The cre­ative mind­set needed to write a song is the same mind­set used to cre­ate nar­ra­tives when writ­ing pa­pers or grant ap­pli­ca­tions. And it’s far eas­ier to shake off im­pos­tor syn­drome at a con­fer­ence when you’ve just come off the high of a week­end in the shadow of the UK’s big­gest ra­dio tele­scope – Jo­drell Bank, site of the Blue­dot mu­sic, sci­ence and arts festival – with sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple shout­ing your song’s cho­rus.

The bal­anc­ing act can be pre­car­i­ous, though, and I do try to keep my two lives sep­a­rate. Re­search, by its na­ture, leads to unso­cia­ble hours. Per­form­ing is sim­i­lar in this re­spect. It doesn’t help that I’m cur­rently based in Bath and many of my gigs are in Lon­don. But I have adapted to the cross-coun­try com­mute, and some of my best re­search ideas have come to me as I’ve been half-asleep on the last train back from Paddington.

I don’t do this be­cause I se­cretly hate my doc­toral work (it’s ac­tu­ally re­ally cool), or be­cause I need an in­flux of cash (open mic gigs rarely pay). I do it be­cause I think that it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant for the pub­lic to see sci­en­tists as hu­man be­ings. I do it be­cause there aren’t many sci­en­tists in the me­dia who look like me (I re­cently founded Mi­nori­ties In STEM, a net­work for BAME peo­ple within sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths, to tackle this). And I do it be­cause mu­sic and com­edy are just as much a part of my life as sci­ence. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My songs are equal parts hip hop and peer-re­viewed sci­ence. They’re like Pro­fes­sor Green meets Pro­fes­sor Hawk­ing or Dr Dre crossed with the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Journal

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