Monday, August 8, 2011

Science Illustrators

Have you read Peter Fiske's book? You've probably heard of "Put Your Science to Work." It's a fantastic book that gives credit and credential to the parts of your experience in graduate school that weren't "science," and by science I mean the hard to describe to your grandmother part of your job. Those writing skills, the fact that you give insightful seminars, that you can deal with very complex, dynamic systems and that you have the project management skills to keep the many threads of a complex project in-line. Fiske suggests you think about your transferable skills, all those things that will make you a fantastic professional in any job, even if there aren't conical vials involved. Things that make your science successful, or can make you the golden child at your next job. Recognizing and developing these skills will make you a better scientist, or a better whatever you choose to be. I highly recommend the book, it certainly changed the way I thought about graduate school, and what I want to do afterwards.

For starters, it made me lighten up on the way I spent my time at work. As a first year, if I wasn't on the bench, I felt guilty for slacking. As a result, I almost never had time to think about what I was doing. Now, I get that it is important to be more well rounded, or at least recognize the parts of my job that I like enough to want to develop. I enjoy writing, I like being around people who are learning, and while I find it much more tolerable to help someone else troubleshoot experiments than to solve my own, I hate being in a position of authority. This is why careers like Application Scientist or anything called Liaison are appealing to me.

Perhaps this is why this item of note got bounced my way. What are cool ways you can use your science for good, but on your own time? Take a minute to bound around Shmoop, a sort of social networking study guide for teens. Perhaps if the entire site didn't have the California cool attitude, the job posting for Scientific Illustrator wouldn't have been written so that I thought I could do it. I don't mean to sound like a billboard for them (although I'd love to have a conflict of interest), but there are lots of postings for writing and illustrating jobs to create accessible science for high schoolers. And the description of the posting is simple, can you make figures? Yes, you can. You probably did it for lab meeting already this week.

As it turns out, I actually kind of loathe making figures (I was just reminded of that when I opened powerpoint to diagram a cell for that very application), but this is a really interesting job you could either try out as a grad student, or look for in other venues. If making pretty figures appeals to you, this is a real job. There is even a guild (Guild of Natural Science Illustrators). There are graduate programs you could enroll in, but I suspect if could collect the portfolio of things you made for talks and posters, you might already have a decent start.

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