Anj Lusuan finished her physics degree in 2010 at the Ateneo de Manila University, and in 2011 completed a degree in material science and engineering with a minor in economics. After college she left her homeland in the Philippines to pursue a European Masters title (SERP-Chem) in chemistry and material science for two years while travelling around partner universities within the European Union. Whilst engaging in scientific research and studying for a Doctor of Philosophy programme in material science in Genoa, she sought ways to explain her research to friends and family and fell into science communication, starting her own unique blog of sketches and stories in addition to her day job.
“…I believe sketches give a different perspective in the same way as photographs. It’s an avenue for me to break the rules… You don’t have to study in a fine art school to be an illustrator. You just have to go crazy with a pen closest to you…”
My career to date
So far, my career has just started. While working on my Ph.D., I was already having doubts about whether I wanted to continue my current life in research. I was fed up sitting in a laboratory that had no window for me to look out of as I sat and looked at my samples through a Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM). I was second-guessing about my future as I was halfway through my Ph.D. when I realised that I love presenting my research to colleagues in workshops and conferences, and reading any scientific and non-scientific articles that intrigue my curiosity.
One day, I went to my boss’s office to ask if there were other opportunities for me to try out such as science communication (which I happened to discover via an acquaintance). He suggested I should apply for a part-time job as a remote managing editor for Applied Surface Science, one of the many prestigious physics journals published by Elsevier.
Having submitted my resume and having done the interview, I got the job, which entails reading and checking the quality of the manuscripts on a daily basis from my laptop in Italy. I am responsible for screening papers prior to submitting some of them (once they pass the basic markers) for further evaluation.
Putting my love of science communication into practice
Alongside that part-time job, I am currently an intern here for a company called Fondazione Icons, a communication-based company situated in Lodi, a city in the south of Milan. I am part of the iCube Programme team, where we work on developing communication and dissemination strategies with the help of impact-based monitoring activities for EU-funded projects. Most of them happen to be related to the discipline I was fully immersed in – science and technology.
I have almost completed my internship now and I will continue working for them as a project assistant until I am fully capable of managing the activities required for each project. So far, I am responsible for a series of activities for selected EU-funded projects. All of them require me to provide content for the communication and dissemination activities already planned in the projects. This also includes managing the editorial plan, writing news releases, managing the social media accounts of these projects.
Conceptualising a project to sketch women in science and share their stories
Drawing has been a hobby of mine ever since I was a toddler and so was writing. I never thought much about my skills until now (as people often suggested that I should rethink of my career path when I was doing research). I did not have a distinct childhood dream though I often pictured myself being an illustrator for comics or a writer as I used to gorge on children’s science books when I’d finished school.
While studying, I often tried to find women in the sciences who could be my role models while I struggled to pass one exam after another. There weren’t many. I accepted this fact, yet my female friends here in Europe didn’t. They were the women who wanted to shout out to the world that they exist and that they were fed up of being ignored.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago, I accidentally drew a friend of mine pipetting and shared it through social media. It became a hit and I thought I was dreaming. People loved the idea so much that I set up a site to share more sketches and write the story behind each of the women.
How sketches add an extra dimension to stories
I believe sketches give a different perspective in the same way as photographs. It’s an avenue for me to break the rules. I have loved reading comics all my life and gathered inspiration from all of them. You don’t have to study in a fine art school to be an illustrator. You just have to go crazy with a pen closest to you.
Sketching in particular is limitless. You can point out the essentials that remain unseen by the naked eye. You can also change the faces of people and deliver a message by changing the readers’ perception. That’s what caricature is all about.
For me, drawing has been an outlet to better describe what I think and feel about a certain topic or a person. I feel that there’s more soul in it compared to formal family portraits taken in studios. Little can be said by staring at them, while sketches give you an opportunity to challenge their perception and give life to stoic figures.
So far, I have featured women from Sweden, the Philippines, the US, Palestine and Australia. Days after publishing their sketches and stories, I received responses from the women sharing their stories to say that they weren’t expecting people to write them back and to find out more about what they do. It’s been surreal.
I hope more women in science are willing to share their stories since I also received feedback saying that my basic interview questions are tough – they force you to sit down and reflect about your life and your actions in particular. In general, I have received a positive response to what I do, which is a good start!
Challenges of combining a side project with a regular role
Time is the greatest challenge for me – it is all I need and lack at the same time. Working in another part of the region during regular hours and working part-time during the weekend require a lot of time and energy. I struggle to find an hour or so (after work hours) to read carefully the answers sent in by the women. So far, I have been unable to keep up publishing one story every week but I try my best given the limited time I have for myself.
Coming up next
The next sketch and story will be released this week (fingers crossed). It’s going to feature an Italian researcher leading an organisation that fights for researchers’ rights here in Italy. Perhaps I can present special issues in the form of comics featuring solely women or the science they do. Also, I want to dig deeper when doing interviews to show the people what is going on in the women’s lives through their culture, history, and so on. Please do keep following my work.
I hope readers can send in stories, giving a wider perspective of what life is like for women from all over the world when doing science. They don’t have to win Nobel Prizes. They can be women who left the sciences or women who may not work in research but try their best to spread the love of science and technology within their community.