#SciArt careers

11/17/2017 4:41:04 PM

Are the margins of your lab notebook filled with intricate sketches of biological specimens or molecular structures? Do you spend hours at the microscope trying to capture the perfect image for your own aesthetic pleasure? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may be interested in knowing more about #sciart career paths.

Historically, science and art had been considered diametrically opposed at either end of the academic spectrum. But, as scientists, we know this line is blurred and rightfully so. The use of visual elements enhances our communication efforts by making the science more eye-catching and comprehensible for a broader audience. And the natural world around us is a masterpiece in its own right.

Scientific artists are needed in a broad range of career paths, including research communications, science education, scientific publishing, etc. So, how do you get started in #sciart? Here are a few general ideas. And future posts will delve into more details about specific niche careers (e.g., medical illustration and data visualization).

  • Start building a portfolio of your work — technical graphs and figures, presentations, educational materials, etc. that you have developed.
  • Gain as much experience as possible in multimedia/graphics design and software by using your research as the subject matter. For example, volunteer to be your lab’s guru for bio-imaging applications. Take the lead on designing a visual abstract for your next publication, or create a digital animation to explain a complex topic to students.
  • Take courses and workshops whenever possible. Many university IT departments offer free classes on various software applications (e.g., Adobe products). There also are online resources, such as Canva, offering free modules on the fundamentals of visual-design principles (h/t to Kirstin Roundy, who shared this resource with me).
  • Get engaged with the #scicomm and #sciart communities. For example, the Twitter accounts @iamscicomm and @iamsciart are hosted by different science-communications professionals every week. The host shares “pro tips” on effective communications and design, and the discussion often includes career-related information.
  • Reach out to #sciart professionals to learn about their career paths. For example, I contacted last week’s @iamscicomm host, Tami Tolpa (@tolpastudios), a freelance science illustrator, to ask about career resources. She shared an amazing amount of information relevant for anyone interested in being a science or medical illustrator (to be featured later). In addition, I learned she has co-designed an online course in visual communications for scientists.  

Below is a sampling of job postings I found this week, each with a focus in graphics and visual design, to give you an idea of the types of careers out there. All of these positions involve digital or visual science storytelling but for different target audiences and purposes (e.g., engaging the general public in science education, showcasing work to attract potential donors).

Job titles for such positions greatly vary, so get a feel for what’s out there to help define keywords for future job searches. For example, some keywords I used in searches included “medical/science illustration,” “graphics design,” “communications specialist” and “visual information specialist,” plus an additional scientific discipline keyword (e.g., “biology”).

You also will note that many of these positions state a degree in graphics/communications is required. Therefore, I recommend you reach out and inquire as to whether a scientist with a strong graphics background will be considered. I am assuming this would be the case, but you never know who actually is sitting behind the desk at the other end checking off those qualification boxes.

Finally, I ran across a number of jobs (not included here) looking for applicants who could serve as one-stop shops for all-things communications related. If you can combine expertise in both writing and graphics design (but no pressure), you’ll likely be even more competitive in the job market. 

Feel free to reach out with any other career resources to feature in an upcoming post on this topic. And if you have any #sciart-sy work of your own that you would like to show off to the ASBMB community, directly contact Public Outreach Manager Danielle Snowflack on Twitter or by email.


Weekly jobs roundup

  • Science Systems and Applications Inc. is hiring a digital Earth science storyteller to work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. This person will create visually driven stories and multimedia products for the NASA Earth Observatory website. Required qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in the earth or physical sciences or communications field with two years of relevant experience, or a master’s degree. No application deadline is posted.
  • NOVA at WGBH in Boston is hiring for several positions, including a digital editor, digital associate producer and outreach coordinator to work on its award-winning science television series and related digital and education products. Check out the job descriptions for details on qualifications, but no position requires more than a general bachelor’s degree. No application deadlines are posted. (H/t to ASBMB public outreach committee member Ana Zambrana, who alerted me to these postings via Twitter.)
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science is seeking a graphics editor to join the digital media design team at its office in Washington, D.C. The graphics editor will develop data visualizations and technical figures for several scientific journals, along with digital interactive pieces. Stated qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in graphics design or similar field and three to five years of experience in data visualizations. The application deadline is Nov. 26.
  • The San Francisco Bay area-based biotechnology company Zymergen is looking for a visual storytelling expert to serve as a presentation specialist for its executive team and directors. Qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in graphics design (or equivalent work experience) and five to seven years of experience in visual communications. A portfolio is required. No application deadline is posted.
  • The Field Museum in Chicago is hiring a digital interactives producer to create hands-on experiences for visitors at current and upcoming exhibits. The qualifications listed focus on the skills (e.g., application development, 3-D modeling software) needed to be successful in this position, instead of a formal education requirement. No application deadline is posted.  
  • The Pacific Science Center in Seattle is hiring a part-time exhibit graphics designer to produce effective visual components for print and digital exhibit materials. The qualifications for this position also focus on skills and experience in graphics design and theory, rather than an education requirement. No application deadline is posted.
  • Jefferson, an academic medical center that includes Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, in Philadelphia is recruiting for a visual communications specialist to create multimedia products that showcase its research and work. Qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in a related communications fields and experience preferred in video production and other digital-media techniques. No application deadline is posted.
  • The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., is hiring an art director to oversee the design of visuals for digital and print products that highlight the impact of Caltech research. Qualifications include a general bachelor’s degree and four years of experience in design and production. No application deadline is posted.

Donna Kridelbaugh is the ASBMB careers blogger. Connect with her on Twitter (@science_mentor) or at her website (