At a recent meeting I noted that a few PIs have started to incorporate “professional-style” graphics into their talks. By professional-style graphics I mean the sort of graphics that you have come to expect in such publications as Nature Reviews. These graphics are colorful, eye-catching, and often look like something you would expect to see in an advertisement in a magazine or on a billboard. At the time, I suspected that these graphics were done by a professional graphics artist, but I didn’t know for sure so I asked. Nope, they were done by students in the lab who had experience with Adobe Illustrator or other such programs. It would appear that some of the young’ins are getting training in graphic design (or devoting their own time to the cause) allowing them to make diagrams of the science in these talks that are truly awe-inspiring. When I say awe-inspiring I am being quite serious. You could here gasps of amazement (or shall I say jealousy) among the audience when these diagrams were presented. I was among the gaspers. I was jealous.
Never one to be outdone, I decided that it would be to my young lab’s advantage to spend some time getting to know how to use Adobe Illustrator. Lucky for me, my institution has a site license for Illustrator so it didn’t cost me half an arm. I have now spent the better part of the past week getting to know the program and I am happy to report (perhaps naively) that the program is quite easy to use and I’m churning out all sorts of gorgeous diagrams to replace the old stick-figure type diagrams that used to populate my grants, papers and talks. I plugged one of these diagrams into a collaborative grant that we are currently getting ready to submit and let’s just say that my colleagues are very pleased.
So what is the point of writing a blog post on this?
I suppose the main point is to ask you, dear reader, if you feel that this sort of thing makes a difference. I have to admit that before I became a PI I was a bit oblivious to the art of self promotion. Sure, I wanted to do a good job in all of my presentations, etc., but I didn’t spend alot of time making sure that my hypothesis and summary diagrams were aesthetically pleasing (or of professional quality). While I don’t think that this hurt me, I now think that I likely missed some opportunities to make the best possible impression by not learning to make these types of professional quality diagrams earlier. I realize that this may seem to be much ado about nothing, but, aesthetics matter. As scientists, most of us are attracted to fancy experiments that include new and innovative technologies even though there may be more traditional (and easier) ways to get at these problems. I cannot help but think that this is somewhat related to our generalized love for aesthetics. Either way, we’re going to see how this little experiment works out for me quite soon. I am giving a talk on Friday which includes many of my new, professional quality (think Nature Reviews looking) diagrams. I’m hoping for some gasps of aesthetic joy (and jealousy) from the audience :-). Actually I’m hoping these new diagrams will help me get my point across more forcefully and that they will reflect a level of professionalism in my young lab that will communicate something that I cannot express in words to my colleagues.