A blog about scientific and medical visualization and all that’s involved.

Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Searching for Internships–Tips and Advices

Posted by Janet on August 4, 2009

Have really enjoyed reading about your internship, i graduated last year with an anatomical science degree and want to do somthing creative with it but have not found any jobs that combine the two…. this internship seems perfect tho! how did you find it?


Dear Louise,

These two links below list the current available internships at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Names and contact informations of the project sponsors are listed below project descriptions. Once you find an interesting project, you should contact the sponsor and have your resume (and portfolio if relevant) ready in case they ask for it. If your sponsor decides that you are a good fit for the project, he/she will contact you with further info.

As far as how I came across this opportunity, I contacted people I knew in the illustration field for advice and then looked online until I found those pages. A few questions to ask yourself:

-What skills do I have?
-Do other fields value these skills?

In my experience, thinking about your specific skills rather than what you want to be forces you to think outside the box and will open up more opportunities. For example, I am trained in medical illustration, but I have both traditional and digital drawing skills, I’m good with details, and can draw faces. Instead of looking strictly for medical illustration jobs, maybe I can draw portraits on weekends for extra income, etc. etc.

-What types of companies do I want to work for?
-Where would I like to live?

These two questions generally help me refine the search results. General searches often times will not point you to a specific position, especially if the title of the position does not match your search keywords. If there is a list of companies you are interested in, you can go directly to the company’s website and see if they have anything available at the moment. Adding a location after a general search will sometimes tell you whether there is a market for what you would like to do in that area.

Hope that helps,

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Random Thoughts; Book Chapter and Working with Engineers

Posted by Janet on May 17, 2009

I’m not really sure how things get done. I’d say right now I’m in limbo–having finished taking classes but not yet fulfilled all graduation requirements. Still three more days of internship left before leaving for semi-vacation, and all this time while trying to pack, see friends, and work on a side illustration project. A week after returning, I’ll be packing again to go to another internship, this time to the other side of the country.

This illustration project I’m working on is part of a to-be-published book chapter. All the illustrations are diagrammatic, and for the most part they are already drawn. My job is simply to increase readability and make sure everything fits the publication requirements. Unfortunately, the images did not contain layers so the simple changes involve retracing a large portion of the original image. I’m also learning more than I expected to about working with engineers’ conventions.

Unlike illustrators, most engineers use different software to produce diagrams. The reasons are completely valid, but sometimes that makes it more difficult for illustrators to make all the necessary changes quickly. While designers would most likely format text through InDesign, for this project I was presented with a LaTeX document. This resulted in a day spent uninstalling an old version of MikTeX that somehow made its way to my laptop years ago, downloading and installing the newer version, and figuring out how to compile.

Other challenges include gaining some knowledge about the subject matter you’re working with. While it’s not necessary to know all the details of what’s going on in the paper, it helps to have at least a general idea in order to make suggestions to the client on ways to convey the information better via graphics. I felt abonormally proud of myself when I caught a small error in the original diagram, and again when my client decided to trust me completely to convert the units on his graphs.

Perhaps the most overwhelming part of this project is the sheer number of diagrams that needs to be redrawn. In less than three weeks I’ve retraced and reformatted nearly fifty diagrams. Although not the most difficult, it is the largest number of pages per client I have worked with so far. I’ve heard from more experienced illustrators that a book deal is the way for illustrators to become extremely skilled at a certain media. Books usually require a consistent style. With enough diagrams to keep you busy for months, it’s not surprising that people can crank out illustrations pretty quickly near the end.

It’s time to go back to the diagrams, or maybe just pack a little more and sleep. Vacation is calling.

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Finding Jobs: What Your Employers Won’t Tell You

Posted by Janet on April 8, 2009

In a previous post about a current internship I’m doing, I mentioned that I would get into the detail about this internship/job searching process. I’ve come across some pretty neat opportunities over the last few years, but what my resume doesn’t tell you is that every opportunity I find comes with at least five rejections. The recent economy crisis brings that number to at least ten. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Finding positions in our field isn’t like finding positions in other fields.
Although not the most important point on my list, every person new to this field should understand and accept this. It doesn’t make it easier to find something, but knowing this will make it easier to deal with when your friends pick up salaried jobs with ease and you’re still hopelessly begging for an unpaid internship after being rejected for the 10th time. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of competition out there and our positions are usually the first to be cut when funding becomes a problem. So what can you do?

Make contacts.
This is the most important strategy for us. This is important no matter what field you’re in, but especially so in ours. The dirty secret is that many available positions are announced in private and passed around like chain letters, making job positions difficult to find for those who aren’t part of this private club. Science/medical illustration is small compared to other fields, so employers who are looking specifically for someone trained in this field will likely contact directors of graduate programs. The directors of these programs then pass them on to current students and alumni. Sometimes positions are e-mailed prior to the official public announcement, giving us an early start. Other positions never make it to the public. Therefore, knowing people who can pass information on to you makes a big difference.

People also post position openings in newsletters or pass them on through mailing lists of related associations such as the GNSI or AMI. The bottom line is the more people you know, the more chances you’ll have in finding out when something becomes available. I highly recommend joining GNSI, AMI, or any other association of your choice. Sign up for newsletters, put your name on the mailing list, and go to conferences to meet people. If you are not ready to commit to anything that requires a membership fee, I suggest finding people who are more experienced in the field and e-mailing them with relevant questions.

Choose the right categories.
As I said before, science/medical illustration is a small field. This means that most positions you qualify for won’t say “science/medical illustration” in their title unless the employer is specifically looking for someone who is certified or has a degree from an accredited school. However, if you look carefully, you can often find jobs under a different title that will fit your background and interest.

Don’t be frustrated if you can’t find a category called “science illustration.” Look elsewhere, but be aware of key words such as “science,” “medicine,” and “health care.” Unless you want to work in a lab or a clinical environment, you won’t find anything there. First, find a company you would like to work for. Then look under categories that resemble the creative field such as “graphic illustration” and “visual information.” If you are feeling brave, explore the “advertising,” “marketing,” and the miscellaneous categories. Sometimes you will find medical illustration jobs under “advertising” if the company sells medical products. You get the idea.

It’s okay to look beyond your boundary. Even non-creative companies need illustrators. Creative but non-scientific industries would also love to have your expertise. If applying a skill set is more important to you than focusing on the scientific and medical subjects, think about what additional skills and interests you have and expand your search. Your unique background can make you stand out in a pool of applicants.

Some positions don’t exist until you convince someone to hire you.
It’s true. Sometimes a potential employer will tell you that nothing is available, and a week later your friend/classmate/nemesis somehow acquired a position working for them. The right timing and good people skills can get you somewhere. It also takes us back to the most important point of all–making contacts. Keep talking to people. If you talk to the right person at the right time, it can happen. When someone wants to hire you but the appropriate position does not exist, they will create a position for you.

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Anatomical Model Internship–Part 2

Posted by Janet on March 19, 2009

(Continued from part 1)

A while ago I encountered an episode of “How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel that showed the process of making anatomical models. If you have seen that episode, that sums up how these models are made in a nutshell. The process begins with a design. A prototype is created from the design. From the prototype, a metal mold is made and this mold is then used and reused many times to produce the anatomical models. The models are then trimmed, painted, and assembled. Even though this is considered “mass production,” the entire process is time consuming and requires a lot of “hand made” procedures. This is why anatomical models can be very expensive.

When a design is completely new, the model needs to be sculpted by hand. However, sometimes the anatomical model company already owns a model that is similar to the new design. If such is the case, the original model can be scanned with a 3D scanner and edited using a computer software. The final file is sent to a rapid prototyping machine, where a prototype is created. Some companies own their own rapid prototyping machines. Those who don’t usually send their designs to rapid prototyping service bureaus. This newly created raw model is rarely perfect. To complete the process, a sculptor must smooth the piece and re-carve the fine details.

The next step is mold creation. Metal is chosen for their heat tolerance and durability. The mold design can be tricky because anatomy often have very complicated shapes. In order to avoid undercuts, the design of both the model and the mold needs to be carefully considered. Like the previous process, the mold can also be created off site by another company.

Once the mold is made, a worker fills the mold with materials and churns it so the material fills the entire mold surface. The raw model is removed while still warm and left to cool. During the cooling process, the material shrinks slightly, contributing to the difficulty of fitting multiple parts together in a precise manner. The edges of each model are trimmed, and the models line up on shelves waiting for the next step. Eventually some models are sprayed with a base paint. Sometimes the base color is the color of the material, so the layer of paint isn’t always necessary. Painters then take the models and hand paint them according to a chart to ensure accuracy in all the models. The paint used in this process forms a chemical bond with the material, preventing the paint from being rubbed off easily. Finally, assemblers drill holes and fit the different parts of a model together.

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Anatomical Model Internship–Part 1

Posted by Janet on March 13, 2009

I would really like to share some things that I’ve been doing at my internship, but since the projects are manufactured into products, I can’t actually talk about it until the products come out. Instead, I will talk a little bit about the company, the manufacturing process, and give some tips for finding internships.

Denoyer-Geppert is an anatomical model company based in Skokie. It is a manufacturer as well as a distributor, which means that the company makes its own models as well as buys models from other companies to sell. In addition to making models, Denoyer-Geppert also produces illustrations. These illustrations can be a stand alone product, but they are often part of an educational package or used to compliment a model.

Most of the time, designers or freelancers (which is technically what I am) at the company design products and produce illustrations, and the company owns all rights to the work. Yes, this means that you can’t show your own work freely on your website without the company’s permission. You even have to be careful NOT to make derivative works from something you created at a company. Occasionally, an outside scientist, educator, artist, or anyone would have an idea for a model they would like the company to manufacture. So they will call the company and negotiate a deal. If this is the case, the creator of the model is credited and/or may enjoy certain benefits when the models sell. Examples of such models include “Plane Jane,” a model showing the anatomical planes, and the “Complete Sarcomere Model,” which illustrates the sliding filament theory.

Stay tuned for part 2 about the design and manufacturing process.

plane-jane sarcomere
Above Left (Top): Plane Jane; Above Right (Bottom): Complete Sarcomere Model

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News About Science Illustration Program

Posted by Janet on September 4, 2008

The Scientific Illustration Certificate Program at UC Santa Cruz, which is now a part of the UC Santa Cruz Extension, is facing issues of funding cuts. The lease on the University Town Center, the building that houses the program, expires in summer 2009 and the Extension has decided not to renew the lease.

Meanwhile, the faculty of the Science Illustration Program is looking for possible alternatives at less expensive locations as well as ways to support the space costs. Ann Caudle, director of the Science Illustration Program, states “…there is a deep well of support for our program amongst the faculty on the campus, in the scientific community, and elsewhere. We are optimistic about turning the situation around.”

To future applicants, the program encourages you to keep checking its website for updates, and do not hesitate to apply.

In a letter addressed to program alumni, Caudle wrote “After careful consideration, we’ve concluded that letters from employers of our graduates may have the greatest influence. Such letters would, ideally, clearly spell out the positive impact that our graduates have had on their institution (or their organization, or project).”

Graduates from other illustration programs or professionals in the field, the program needs your support also. If you are in a position to write an influential letter or do something to help, please contact Ann Caudle at or address a letter to Ann Caudle, Science Illustration Program, 1101 Pacific Avenue, Suite 200, Santa Cruz, CA, 95060.

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AMI Day 5

Posted by Janet on July 20, 2008

By this day the majority of the people have left. There were a few morning lectures but overall things have died down. Most people left last night after the Versalius Trust live auction. I stayed, but ended up sleeping in and missed all the morning lectures.

Next year’s conference will take place in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a great opportunity to meet people, especially those whose names you’ve heard but haven’t met. If I go next year, I’ll definitely attend some workshops, and maybe stay for 3-4 days only.

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AMI Day 4

Posted by Janet on July 19, 2008

A lot of people had left by the fourth day. Those who stayed, myself included, had stopped taking vigorous notes and started dressing down.

My day began with the second talk given by “Charles Darwin.” It was actually Craig Gosling dressed up as Darwin, but you could almost believe he was Darwin. “Darwin” showed slides as he talked about his life and the importance of illustrators to him during his career.

Of the concurrent sessions in the afternoon, I attended part of a poster session (just enough to gain inspirations and come up with a research topic to fulfill my graduation requirement) before going back to the hotel room to nap. Then I went back to the next talk by Ahmet Sinav, who showed a series of anatomical mistakes that appeared in anatomical atlases from past to present.

The evening was concluded with a dinner and live auction.

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AMI Days 3

Posted by Janet on July 18, 2008

Session 1
Arthur Olson and Graham Johnson spoke about the history of molecular visualization and what they do at the Molecular Graphics Lab at Scripps College. The lab produced physical models of molecules using rapid prototyping, then used these models for educational and research purposes. Some models have magnets embedded in certain areas to simulate molecular interactions. Sensors attached to molecules or used by itself could be augmented with computer graphics to represent different side chains of a molecule (see below). Different side chains can be substituted digitally, and the molecules could be held in place on screen for researchers to observe the physical fit between two molecules.

Above: Dr. Olson demonstrated computer augmentation in real time.

Below: A physical model of the beta sheet structure. Magnets allow flexible parts of the model to snap into their most stable form.

Session 2
In this lecture, Charles Falco presented many evidence showing that artists dating back to the 1430s used optics to help construct realistic details in their paintings. Evidence of optics were discovered during a collaboration between Charles Falco and David Hockney, and this discovery is now termed “The Hockney-Falco Thesis.” Visit to see clips from the documentary “David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge,” read an article, or buy the book.

Techniques Showcase and Versalius Trust Silent Auction
In the afternoon, a series of small group presentations take place simultaneously in a large room. It’s like a mini-classroom where you can sit down with experts to learn techniques in traditional medial, digital media, and to get a closer look at visualization methods presented in some of the earlier lectures. You have the option to walk between station, or sit through an entire session. A silent auction takes place in an adjacent room to raise funds for the Versalius Trust. Anyone can bring items to donate. Some items at the auction include medical books, surgical instruments, watercolor palettes, anatomy models, original artworks, and anatomy-inspired jewelries.

Above: Graham Johnson talking about molecular models at the Techniques Showcase.

Below: Tim Phelps demonstrating pen and ink technique.

Below: Underside of a pair of shoes at the silent auction.

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Random Thoughts

Posted by Janet on July 17, 2008

I just realized that the author of Visualizing Evolution Heidi Reichter is also blogging live from the AMI meeting. I have yet to meet her but maybe I’ll randomly run into her and say hi.

It’s such an unusual feeling to see so many medical illustrators at one place. No one thinks we’re morbid, and it’s normal to see a talk where the presenter shows severed human parts or unattractive positions on the slide shows. I randomly ran into a former medical illustrator at a nearby bookstore and he had no idea the conference was going on right here. He was pretty excited to meet us until we told him there’s about 300 more medical illustrators a block away. Upon hearing the information he packed up everything and headed over right away.

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