When I was 14, someone who was theoretically my friend passed a piece of paper around the class. It had the words “Petition to make Alice shut up” written across the top and an increasingly long list of signatures underneath.

It was the world’s worst register, wholly dedicated to me.

Every now and then I tell this story over dinner with friends and people laugh, because the idea of such petty classroom slacktivism is genuinely quite hilarious and teenagers do cruel, stupid things that prove to be funny in later life. I laugh too. Fortunately my life has improved in the years since then. If someone tried to make a petition about me now, I’d probably feel vaguely honoured and sign it myself under a few different comedy names.

That petition existed because the person who made it didn’t like me very much (shocker!) but, more, as the title would suggest, because I was loud, nerdy and said apparently lame, geeky things that, in adulthood, would probably be seen as assertive and interesting.

The petition failed. I didn’t shut up, and I still haven’t. My mouth still gets me in trouble, but it’s also got me my career and enough money to go and pay for those dinners with friends.

Because, at 14, my career experience was limited to babysitting and a simplistic personality test that suggested I should work in advertising, I didn’t realise that all of the nerdy traits I tried – and evidently failed – to hide on a daily basis would be the ones respected by grown-ups who have the ability to pay you money to do stuff you like doing.

Sometimes girls are told to shrink, although never that explicitly. It comes under the guise of being told to admire the skinny girls, to make less noise, to put up with boys when they’re being boorish and rude, to wear smaller clothes, be more mysterious, to take up less space.

Here are just some of the things about me that I felt ashamed of when I was at school: joining the debating club, using “big words”, doing revision, getting my homework done on time, doing part-time work, making sure there was a plan for the weekend, being keen to sort things out, finding out if people were coming to my birthday party, being organised, being on time, being too loud. Pretty much the standard ingredients of a nerd-flavoured cocktail.

Sometimes I’m still ashamed of those things – but all of them have stood me in really good stead as a grown-up. Here’s how:

Joining the debating club: knowing how to stand my corner, keep my cool and calmly explain why yes, I am right – whether that discussion is with a drunk man heckling me or a colleague.

Using “big words”: hello there, I’m a journalist now. I get paid for deploying these things.

Doing revision: I know how to prepare for everything from a job interview to a presentation at the last minute. Plus it meant I could pass university exams on three hours’ sleep and a hangover.

Getting my homework done: hi again, I’m a journalist. I get paid for writing things very quickly.

Doing part-time work: helped massively with the dawning realisation that sometimes we have to do things we hate in order to afford to eat.

Making sure there was a plan for the weekend: although the organisers of the fun will never be perceived to be as “cool” or “laidback” as those spontaneous types, everybody is grateful to have them around. Plus they organise the fun.

Being keen to sort things out: life is a lot more enjoyable if you can spend as little time as possible on stuff like bills, finding somewhere to live, yadda yadda yawn.

Finding out if people were coming to my birthday party: still a chore as an adult, but people are generally far more polite and excited about it.

Being organised: this is a gift many people struggle to attain.

Being on time: boring, yes, and you’ll spend a lot of time waiting for other people, but you will never* arrive somewhere sweaty and stressed.

Being too loud: literally the only people who think you’re too loud are you, and people who don’t like you enough.

I don’t know who your inner nerd is, but I can guarantee that she’s awesome. Maybe your inner nerd can understand maths like she’s breathing, or is fascinated by how stuff works. Perhaps your inner nerd is incredible at sorting things into rainbow order, or packing loads of stuff into her schoolbag. She might even know all the words to songs nobody else thinks are cool, or has a magical ability to get everyone together in the same place at the same time.

All of these things are as wonderful as the sound you make when you can’t stop laughing, or how you act when you’re with your best friend – even if you don’t think they’re cool. But one day, I promise, they will be, as will your inner nerd. I’d hedge a bet that you’ll be grateful that she’s there.

*I frequently arrive places sweaty and stressed. I wish I was more like 12-year-old me in this respect.


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Image: Manjit Thapp

So before I start, I want to make something clear: I wouldn’t describe myself as a huge fan of Star Wars. I have watched the old films and I liked them, sure, but while I can recite the Harry Potter books line for line and could probably write a 10,000 word essay on The Hunger Games, it was never that much of a thing for me, growing up. 

But now? Now, hand me a lightsaber and call me Padmé, I am a signed-up Star Wars geek. I loved The Force Awakens and now I love the new film Rogue One. I have never felt more elated than when Rey turned on that lightsaber for the first time, and Rogue One was similarly delightful. If you’re um-ing and ah-ing over whether or not you should tear yourself away from the Quality Street to go and see it, here are five reasons why you definitely should. 

1. It will give you All The Feels

Without spoiling anything, if you’re a fan of going to a film and crying off all your mascara, Rogue One starts with a scene that had me full on ugly sobbing and the final third had me crying so much I had to stuff my fist in my mouth so I didn’t make a noise in the otherwise silent cinema. If a film can make you so emotionally invested you start honking because of your tears, it’s probably doing something right. 

2. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is a delicately featured, five foot three badass 

She doesn’t have a single scene where she is in a bikini or treated as an object to be lusted over. In fact, she spends most of the film dirty, sweaty, and Getting Stuff Done. It’s amazing to have a female character who is vulnerable and strong and clever and impulsive and an action hero and respected and sometimes a bit of an idiot, and now Star Wars has given us two in a row. It’s awesome.

3. It’s making a lot of stupid people on the internet very angry

I know this sounds like a weird reason to see a film, but stay with me. Whilst making people angry isn’t usually something I’m a fan of, these people are angry because the last two Star Wars films have had a black man and women as the main characters. They are insistent that women aren’t strong enough to lead rebellions (er, have they not heard of Boudica, Leymah Gbowee or Joan of Arc?) and that black men can’t be heroes because… well. I dunno, really. They’re just idiots. But the success of The Force Awakens and Rogue One is proving them wrong, and long may it continue. 

4. It is wondrous escapism

I spend most of my life in an anxious tizzy about something or other, but sitting staring at a giant screen that’s filled with utterly beautiful pictures telling me stories of rebellions and space battles is enough to take me away from it just for a few hours. Rogue One does this perfectly. It’s hard to care about your holiday Maths homework when the future of the galaxy is at stake. 

5. There’s an incredibly sarcastic seven-foot robot played by the guy who voiced The Duke of Weasleton in Frozen

Which is reason enough to see it on its own, tbh. 


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It’s a weird world for nerdy girls. In one way, it seems as though life has never been better. There are projects celebrating self declared nerds, like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girl ProgrammeKarlie Kloss has her own tech school where girls can learn to code, and academically, we’re excelling. Last year, in the US, a study found that more women were likely to have college degrees than men.

However, if you’re at school, whether you’re often at the top of the class or just feel passionately interested in a particular subject, there’s a chance that your nerdiness is not being supported. Have you ever wanted to ask a question or dig a little deeper, but worried about whether the other people in your class would think you were a bit, you know, keen? How many times have you known the answer, and felt nervous about putting your hand up? Do you ever wonder where all your nerdiness is getting you, and whether life might be easier if you kept your head down?

If you need inspiration and proof that one day, the geek will inherit the earth, you need to meet our Shero Anne Miller. Anne is one of few female ‘elves’ working on TV show QI, and at 29, one of the youngest. She started working on the show five years ago, and most impressively, she’s written the latest book of QI facts. If you’ve ever watched Stephen Fry on the show and been dazzled by his knowledge, it’s worth remembering that some of it comes from Anne.

She’s a big fan of the people on her team, but admits that the world of obscure facts and the world of television does get a bit male dominated. “To be honest, my lack of experience helped me a bit – when I first started trying to work in TV, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t. If I’d known more people in the industry and had them tell me about how hard it can be, it might have put me off!”

The newest series of QI has finally put a fabulously nerdy woman front and centre – Sandi Toksvig, we love you and we often wish that you were our surrogate auntie – so I talked to Anne about how to celebrate the nerdiness in your nature, and use it to pursue your dreams.

Firstly, how did you get your amazing job?

“After uni, I got onto a talent scheme in Edinburgh called The Network which led to a longer six month programme. I met amazing people and learned loads about TV in a short space of time, and as a result of that, I got a short contract job as a researcher on a different programme. When that ended, one of my mentors was able to put me in touch with people at QI, and I spent a day in the studio learning about how it was put together. I stayed in touch with the people I met, and impulsively sent them an unusual fact I found – ‘A vulture can safely swallow enough botulinum toxin to kill 300,000 guinea pigs.’ They loved it and asked me to send any more I found, so I used to email a few facts a week, which helped me to keep building the relationship with them.”

What’s your typical day in the office like?

“It’s research heavy, so we all sit with unusual books and bits of text and search out interesting facts to include on the show.

Often, we’re working with a particular theme – each series corresponds to a letter, and then the theme will begin with that letter so I know if I’m looking for facts about something specific. But sometimes random things will pop up – I’ll come across something weird about onions and file it away for when we get to O! As well as the main show, we have the podcast, No Such Thing As A Fish, the radio show The Museum Of Curiosity and a new TV show, No Such Thing As The News. And I just wrote the book, so it’s quite busy!”

Is this what you always wanted to do?

“Actually I wanted to be a neurosurgeon! I even changed my Highers [Scottish exams, like GCSEs] because I realised I hadn’t picked enough science to get into medical school. My parents helped me to persuade the school to do it, they were really supportive of me. I think I was lucky, and my family and school was quite unusual. I loved learning, I was good at it and I was surrounded by people who made me feel as though there was nothing I couldn’t do.”

Why did you change your mind?

“I still think that being a doctor is the very best thing you can do, but if I’m honest I wasn’t totally committed to it. I’d started to get curious about other things. I did politics at A level and I loved it, and that’s what I studied at university, and I think that if you’re going to be a doctor you need to be completely committed.”

Were you ever bullied for being clever or nerdy?

“I was really lucky, it didn’t really come up. I think I had one fight with one girl who deliberately tried to trip me in the corridor. My parents talked to the school and I really just wanted to leave it, so I tried smiling at her before she could say anything nasty, and she was nice to me for a whole day. What’s weird is that I thought she was singling me out, and years later I’ve discovered that she was horrible to everyone I knew! To be honest, it helped that I went to school in St Andrews, which is fairly remote. There just wasn’t the time or space for people to be that mean, if you really wanted to go out of your way to bully someone outside school you’d have to get on a bus and they only came once a day! When I was at school Facebook, Instagram and Twitter didn’t exist, and I think that made a huge difference. It would be much harder now.”

Were you popular?

“I had my own crew of creative people. We didn’t like the popular girls, and they didn’t like us, which was fine. There was no real rivalry, we just ignored each other. I remember thinking that I was really glad that I wasn’t popular because they all wore the same clothes and had the same haircut, and it looked like it was loads of effort. I didn’t want a side fringe!”

What would you tell your 13 year old self?

“‘Try everything’. I love my job, but I wouldn’t have found it if I wasn’t curious, and confident enough in my intelligence to keep giving different things a go. When you see a careers advisor or go to a careers fair, you don’t see the breadth of different inspiring jobs you can do, you only meet the people who work for companies who have paid for a stand! Sometimes the path isn’t obvious, and you have to make a way for yourself – if you want a job and it seems like the door is shut, try getting in through the window.”

Anne’s book, 1342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted, is out on 3 November. QI, hosted by Sandi Toksvig, is shown at 10PM on Fridays on BBC2.


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