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How my biotech career made me into a better storytelling artist

Updated: Apr 20, 2023




A woman's head superimposed over a backlit tree
JEFS digital collage

I never planned on becoming a storytelling artist. Most of my career I focused on science, working in both academic and corporate research laboratories.


My career path came to a fork in the road after I found myself in a role too far removed from the lab. I realized I was missing a certain creativity. I didn’t see options to create in the positions presented to me, so I chose to leave for a new path.


The transition into what I am doing now was bumpy and filled with uncertainty. Instead of looking for another job in science, I took a break. It was during this break that I discovered a service I could provide.


I realized I still loved science, and that I am a capable artist. My epiphany was to combine the two areas together. Mixing science with art would be a unique combination that not everyone offers. I committed to become a storytelling artist who specializes in telling visual stories with a focus on technical and scientific content.


For this idea, I would strike out on my own, but I recognized that it was going to take a lot of work. Guess what? I was right. Being a solopreneur is challenging.


What gives me comfort each day are the lessons I learned during my biotech career. I have found a lot of overlap in creating visual stories and practicing science. I thought I would share three significant similarities with you here.


Math is important


I used math all the time in the lab whether it was to calculate volumes for making solutions or to write formulas inside Excel spreadsheets. One wouldn’t think designing visuals or art would have much use for math, but the need for math pops up often in my projects.


Math is important to determine canvas sizes, speed up digital tasks or even to price work for clients. Also, I use math in my digital art to perform unit conversions. I often convert inches, to centimeters to pixels to points depending on the situation.


Another application of math I practice is the golden ratio or divine proportion.


The golden ratio is a design principle that creates a sense of balance and harmony. It’s based on a mathematical concept where the length of an object is approximately 1.6 times its width. I use this proportion to create visually pleasing compositions.


I find embracing math has helped me equally as both a scientist and a visual storyteller.


Keeping a lined notebook


A lab notebook is critical to a scientist because it is the source of truth for recording experiments and results. Scientists use lab notebooks as references to repeat experiments, write papers, complete patent applications, or to plan new experiments.


Many artists have notebooks for sketching and painting, but I keep a lined lab notebook for writing down my ideas and sketching. I also use my lab notebook to take meeting notes when I speak with clients.


I find keeping a lab notebook helps me reconcile the practical parts of my work to the creative aspects. I do use digital note tools like Apple notes, Notion and OneNote, but my lab notebook is always by my side.


Research and revision


While both scientists and visual artists try to help interpret and make sense of the world around us, their methods usually differ. One thing I didn’t expect in my transition from scientist into visual storyteller is how much research I do each day.


As a scientist, I was always reading to keep up with the latest advances in my area, to help plan new experiments, or to stay current with new scientific innovations.


As a storytelling artist, I read to keep up with the latest tools, to understand the current design trends, or to find inspirational material and artists.


I do more research and data analysis now than ever because I want to make sure I have the best inputs for my projects to create the best outcomes for my clients.


While I find the need for research to be a huge overlap between my biotech career and my role as a storytelling artist, the biggest lesson I carried over from my science career is that failure isn’t a bad thing. Failure is part of the process.


With failure comes a lot of iteration and revision. Things rarely get discovered or created without revision.


I have learned that I need to incorporate feedback into my visual storytelling just as I would lessons learned from a failed experiment. I am constantly revising in my project work for clients or my website to update my content or my writing in all my communications.


A background in science has made me comfortable with the research and revision that comes with great visual storytelling. I view every mistake I make as something to learn from and build upon.


Thoughts and takeaways


I hope sharing my perspective on these three overlapping areas between my previous biotech career and my new career as a storytelling artist is helpful for anyone else considering a career transition.


I am a better storytelling artist because I use math, write in a notebook, and enjoy research and revision.


If you are looking for a change in your career path, know that you will not leave all your experience behind. Your new path will be built upon the previous road you traveled.



 

Julia Fletcher is founder of JEFS Storytelling Arts, a graphic design studio, where she uses her unique research skills and artistic talents to create custom visual stories that help clients’ increase engagement and promote the education of their audience.

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