Episode 33 – Interview with Dr Sue Pillans

Welcome back to season 5 of Let’s Talk SciComm! We’re thrilled to be sharing another season of great episodes with you and we know you’re going to love this first episode with the one-and-only Sue Pillans.

Sue is a marine scientist, artist, children’s author/illustrator and graphic recorder who specialises in creative and visual communications. As a graphic recorder Sue draws out ideas with people, teams and organisations to visually capture and convey discussions, information and concepts. She uses the art and science of visual storytelling to help make the complex simple and the simple compelling.

Sue has a diverse background starting with her PhD in marine science which looked at assessing the effectiveness of no-take marine reserves in subtropical Queensland. She then went onto a career in the Queensland Government working across multiple Departments including environment, fisheries, aquaculture and reef policy and leading the strategic policy and planning of several portfolios including regional development, transport and agriculture industry development.

Until seven years ago Sue didn’t know her job as a graphic recorder even existed and since then, through visual communications business, she has worked with over 50 organisations across Australia and the Asia-Pacific region to help “picture your ideas”. Sue also combines her love of marine science and art through her alter ego Dr Suzie Starfish to bring creativity into classrooms and her series of ocean picture books. Her creative thinking style helps to make learning visual and fun for children of all ages, with messages of science, solutions and hope that we can all be the change we want to ’sea’ in the world.

You call follow Sue and find out more about her work here:


Jen (00:00:00)
Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne Science Communication Teaching Team. I’m Associate Professor Jen Martin and my wonderful cohost is Dr Michael Wheeler and we believe that science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.

Michael (00:00:46)
Hello and welcome to Season 5. We are absolutely powering through the seasons here at Let’s Talk SciComm. We recently celebrated our first birthday and now with Season 5 we’re into our second year of the podcast. So from myself and Jen, we just want to say thanks so much to all of our listeners who have come along on this journey with us.
And we are very excited to share Season 5 with you. We recorded some great episodes. We have an episode with marine scientist and visual storytelling rockstar Dr Sue Pillans, also known as Dr Suzie Starfish. We have a couple of great episodes with researchers from Deakin University. One is about nutrition and mental health with Dr Helen Macpherson and Sara Dingle. And another is about physical activity and mental health with Dr Megan Teychenne and Dr Niamh Mundell.
We also chatted with immunologist Dr Kylie Quinn about vaccine communication during COVID-19. And we also have an episode with Dr Malini Devadas who is a writing and editing coach. We chatted with Professor Natalie Hannon about her research and communication in the area of understanding complications that happen during pregnancy. We also chatted with one of our students Isolde Gottwald, who is over here on exchange from Austria. And finally then we have an episode about how to build resilience with Christine Burns, who’s just published a book on this topic.
So we can’t wait to share all these episodes with you. And I’m sure you will enjoy them just as much as we enjoyed recording them. So without further delay, here is the first episode.

Jen (00:03:23)
Hello everybody and welcome to another hopefully fine episode of Let’s Talk SciComm. I’m Jen and I am joined by my wonderful friend Michael. Hi Michael.

Michael (00:03:39)
Hey Jen, great to be here as always. Except this time I’m in an exotic location, not the usual spot where I record, an exotic sunny location by the beach. So sorry if that’s making you jealous ’cause I know I left behind a lot of rain in Melbourne.

Jen (00:03:53)
I’m gonna just hold back from expressing my jealousy because that wouldn’t be the kindest response. “I’m very happy for you Michael”, said through gritted teeth that you’re in a lovely warm sunny place.
But I think a place by the beach is a, is a very good introduction to today’s podcast because today we’re joined by someone who I think many of our regular listeners might have seen on their socials, particularly any of our listeners who’ve been involved in any of the social media challenges that Michael and I’ve been involved with. So that’s #MyScienceMay, #MySciMonday and SciComm September, along with Amelia from Avid Research.
Because Dr Sue Pillans who’s with us today, has been one of our most active and colourful and exciting I think supporters of our social media challenges. So Sue’s a marine scientist who specialises in visual and creative communication. And one of Sue’s catchphrases which I really love and it’s actually stayed with me since I read it last week, is that she likes to make the complex simple and the simple compelling. So we’re going to come back to that.
So essentially, Sue uses her really remarkable artistic skills, as well as her kind of scientific, strategic and logical thinking to help people tell their stories in a very compelling and visual way. And if you’re sort of trying to get your head around what I’m talking about, pause the podcast. Please come back, don’t, don’t not come back. But just pause for a second, because if you’ve never seen any of Sue’s really, just stunning kind of what I would call sketchnote creations, then you’re going to want to go and have a little look.
So go to drsuepillans.com or to her YouTube channel if you Google her, you’ll find her really easily. Aside from all of that, Sue’s also a children’s author and illustrator. She’s known also by the name Dr Suzie Starfish. And to date Dr Suzie Starfish has written and illustrated three kid’s picture books about the ocean. And again, you’re going to want to have a look at them because they are just stunning.
So welcome Sue, or if you prefer Dr Starfish. We’re just so rapt to have the chance to speak with you today.

Sue (00:06:02)
Oh, thank you so much for the wonderful introduction.
And hello to Michael and Jen and all the listeners.

Michael (00:06:07)
It’s great to have you Sue. And you know, you’re a marine scientist, but you also love a good pun…
When you were, when you were originally emailing us, I thought your sign off was fantastic.
So I think it was “Can’t wait to dive into this podcast. Best fishes” so…

Sue (00:06:26)
And sea you soon.

Michael (00:06:28)
Yeah, “and sea you soon”.
There was a, there was a third one.

Jen (00:06:31)
It’s all about creating a commotion, as far as I recall.

Sue (00:06:35)
Oh, there you go. Isn’t that perfect?
Yeah, I do think I’m a bit punny. But you know, we’ll see how that goes throughout the podcast.

Michael (00:06:41)
I love it.

Jen (00:06:42)
We’re big fans of puns here, so you, you’ve come to the right place. Hopefully you’ll feel right at home soon.

Sue (00:06:47)
I already do.

Jen (00:06:48)
Excellent! Well as our regular listeners know I mean, obviously we’re here to talk about effective communication of science and what we can all learn from your skills there. But we do always like to go back a bit to begin with.
So can you pinpoint a time or a place or an experience that led you to become a scientist? My sense is that perhaps it all began for you with a love of the ocean, which is certainly how my love for science began.

Sue (00:07:13)
Absolutely. No, you’ve hit the nail on the head there. As a youngster, we would, we grew up in regional Queensland. We always went to the beach and we always camped. So there was always that outdoor experience and I think I learned to swim in the ocean when I was two or three years old.
I was just let out and I know you don’t do that these days, but I was let out and off I went. And I’ve had a love of the ocean ever since. And I’m just lucky enough now as an adult that I’m still amongst the ocean, under the water or above the water and I just, I love it.

Michael (00:07:36)
Is that a daily dose of the beach and the ocean that you try and get?

Sue (00:07:41)
That’s exactly right. To get my vitamin *sea*.
There you go. I was hoping I could get that in there.

Michael (00:07:48)
Yeah excellent, excellent. Yeah it’s so great to hear that that’s you know, you get a daily dose of what you really love.
And then of course, your other love is art and being an artist.
And yeah, I’m just curious whether you developed your passion for art early on, or is that something that came later?

Sue (00:08:06)
Good question. So I always had these fond memories of doodling and drawing from a very young age. That was always done just you know, as a kid, that’s what you do. You just draw with your pens and paper. As I then went through and got older through high school, that was something that I didn’t really do any more. Basically I did science and the maths and things like that.
The reason I picked up art again was because when I started my PhD, I found it a little bit stressful and I needed a bit of a… something to do outside of the field work in the science and the, the grind that was the PhD. And so I found this watercolour art class and it had a a bunch of lovely ladies who were semi-retired to retired, who would meet once a week during the day and they would have tea and coffee and they would have lunches. And they would paint you know, throughout the day.
I’m like this sounds alright, so I joined. And then they started… You know, I was watching what they were painting and they’re doing tulips and Tuscany scenes and flowers. And I was here I am, I’m like what about this mudcrab and you know what the mudcrab does? And I do a you know a tuna or a seahorse. And did you know that seahorse, the males actually carry the babies? And they’re just looking at me like…
And so from actually, what happened from that point for years and years and years of going to this one day a week art class, my art teacher one day just stopped because I talked a lot as you could probably tell. I was very excited about the ocean and my science and she said look, “You’re so passionate about the ocean. You have great stories. Have you ever thought of illustrating a children’s picture book about the oceans?” And I said, “I beg your pardon, what a great idea”.
And so from that moment, in my head it was just all these ideas, these thoughts. And well, how could I draw that? How could I paint that? What would it look like? And so that’s how it actually started. So I didn’t do art my whole life. I didn’t go to art school. I had it sort of like a hobby on the side, which was then because of my science stories that went with it, people could see that I had this passion. And so, why not make it a reality and put it into a book?

Michael (00:10:01)
Yeah great. It’s so great that you, you kind of discovered that later on.
So there’s still hope for me yet. I’m an non-artist at the moment, but you never know.

Sue (00:10:08)
Everybody’s got a better artist in them. Don’t be scared.

Jen (00:10:12)
So Sue it sounds like that might have been actually quite a revelation. You know, someone who… Yes, you knew that you loved to doodle and draw as a kid, but actually you were a scientist. You’ve studied mathematics and science, and you went on to do a PhD in science. You know, that’s a pretty big commitment to science.
So I don’t know, when did you realise that you could really combine those two passions in a very professional manner, I suppose?

Sue (00:10:35)
Yeah, good question. So up until seven years ago I had no idea that I could do what I do now. None! I had no idea. So what do I do, one of the the roles that I play is like a graphic recorder. That’s one of the roles that I take on in my communications business. And a graphic recorder visually captures and conveys information through words and pictures, usually in real time. So in in front of people, live drawing.
And so how that came about? I sort of got to a point in my career where I wasn’t really enjoying it that much. And one day I was just happen to be reading at home on a weekend this creative business magazine, I don’t know how I even came across it but… And I flipped through the pages and there was this picture of a woman and she was next to a board and she’s looking up into the camera with this pen. And in bold letters it said “I use my strategic thinking with my artistic skills to help people picture their stories”, something along those lines. And I went whoa, hang on, stop, I’ll read that again. And I read the article and I went oh, that’s a graphic recorder, what a great job that sounds like. I’m going to do that.
Now, anyone who knows me, I, I have lists and I plan things very well. I don’t just go and start a new job or start a new business. But this is what I did. I got to a point where I wanted something different. I looked and I thought I can do this. I have strategic skills. I have those interpretation skills through my science. And I have these artistic skills. So why not put it all together and become a graphic recorder and have my own business?
And so from a couple weeks later that’s what I did and for seven years that’s what I’ve done. And I’m, I love it. And it, it is something in that’s become natural to me, like I actually when people say “How do you do what you do?” I’m like well, it just kind of comes naturally to me. But I think it’s that diverse career that you’ve mentioned, pulling all of those skills together to help visualise people, stories and information in a very compelling way that they can… once they see it, they get it.
It’s a really wonderful feeling for me as a graphic recorder or visual artist to see that moment when someone’s lightbulb when they see this visual story in front of them, sees it and gets it. And they, they look at me, “You’ve just, you’ve just summarised 25 years of my research into one picture. How did you do that?” And I said, “Well, I will listen to what you were saying, and I drew out all of the the, the most important points. And I made it into a story.” ‘Cause that’s, everyone has a story. And so I feel very privileged in the work that I do with people, to be able to draw out people’s stories.

Michael (00:12:50)
That’s fantastic. I think a graphic recorder is such a fascinating job because first of all you’ve got demands to be artistic and you have to be able to draw well. But also the pressure of doing it live and in front of other people.
I just think yeah, that’s that’s fascinating. Is it something that came easy to you at the beginning, or was it a steep learning curve?

Sue (00:13:11)
I would say that the very first time I did it, it was actually for CSIRO. And it was in the Torres Strait, actually helping to visualise really complex fisheries scientists for the Torres Strait Island fishery up there, the lobster fishery.
And so I went in. This is my very first job and I’ll be honest, it came naturally. The indigenous fishers loved the pictures. They actually got really, pardon me, they got really engaged with the storytelling that was shown in front of them. Like this was their story, this was their fishery. And they had insight into it, and they had input into it.
I would say to people, it’s the first time in my life that I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, like it… And when I’m, in a room with I’ve had 1000 people in a room where I’m drawing live. And I don’t know one person in that room. And I zone out completely. I wouldn’t even know. I sing to myself sometimes when I’m drawing if there’s music at a conference. Whatever I’m thinking, oops, probably should have done that out loud. Until I hear people snickering behind me and I’m like, “Ooh yeah, sorry.”
So I mean, I am really in the moment for you know, those 8 hours, 10 hours that day at the events that I go to and it’s just, I’m just drawing. So I’m, I’m listening and I’m drawing.

Michael (00:14:09)
And you’re just in a, in a state of flow. That’s a yeah, that’s wonderful. Do you think visual storytelling is, is different in some way to some other ways of storytelling? And do you think that is the the most effective way to communicate science and as you say, make the simple compelling?

Sue (00:14:25)
That’s a good question. So I think visual storytelling’s become very powerful, particularly in this day of age of data just being thrown in your face, and people are scrolling through social media, and there’s just so much noise. I also think that visual storytelling can be used in any situation for any audiences. You just have to tweak maybe some of the, the way that you present it.
So for example, I say to people, “we don’t wanna vomit up a rainbow here and and scare people with colour.” You want to you know, tailor the visual to your audience so that they feel compelled to look at it and not turn away. So but yeah, so visual storytelling I think engages hearts, minds, The eyes, the brain, every part of you. Once you see it, you do get it because 80% of us in the, in our population is actually visual thinkers. We may not know that.
And that’s the power of visuals as, as I keep saying. When you see it, you get it. And it’s just, sometimes it’s just a bit easier than reading lots and lots of text or a bar graph or other ways that people portray science. Which is fine, but maybe there’s another way to picture that information for your audience.

Jen (00:15:26)
Yeah, and I mean I guess you know, one of the things that really drives us in science communication is wanting to be more inclusive, wanting to bring more people into feeling like science has meaning and relevance for them. So the more diverse ways we can share science, I think the better because it brings more people into the, into feeling like it’s something that’s part of their world.

Sue (00:15:45)
Absolutely, I agree with that. And that’s what storytelling is, is a form of education. It’s – everyone has a story and we’ve been telling stories for centuries. And I think visual storytelling just, it breaks all the barriers, doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or what you’re doing, you’ll be able to relate somehow to a visual story I think, if it’s put in front of you with your words and your stories.

Jen (00:16:04)
Yeah, 100%. So Sue I’m really interested to know how you go about teaching other people to do this. I’ve seen on your website that you run workshops for people who want to learn how to communicate science visually. But not everyone has your just incredible artistic flair and talent. So where do you begin in trying to teach people?

Sue (00:16:23)
Yes, so I use sketchnoting science as my way to help people visualise their information. And sketchnoting is a very simple way of creating visual notes. You have to start with a basic vocabulary, and that’s a visual vocabulary. And it doesn’t have to be artistic. Being able to create visual stories takes time, practice and being part of your life. So yeah, one of the first things I say is “It’s, this is not about art. This is actually how you think. And this is how you think visually and everyone thinks differently. So it’s actually putting your thoughts from your head onto the page.”
And then basically I give people a basically, a toolkit of: How do you use icons? How do you use text? How do you put that all together in a story so that there’s a logical flow? And so that’s, I actually take people through sort of the elements of visual storytelling. And then once we put all that together like a new language, then we practice it. And we maybe might listen to a wonderful podcast like this podcast. And you might have to, you might have to draw it out. And then you can look at, you know you can look at documentation or scientific papers and say well, how could you visualise that abstract for example, which is a big thing now in scientific journals.

Jen (00:17:24)
Michael, I think we need to start saving so that (a) we can ask Sue to visually transcribe one of our episodes, but (b) so we can fly her down to Melbourne and get her to come and teach us how to do this.

Sue (00:17:34)
How fabulous. Book me in now!

Michael (00:17:36)
Yes, yes please. I think everyone listening is curious to give it a go and you know, start doing a little bit more visual storytelling. Because the way you’re describing it, it’s very interesting. You know it’s, it’s not just about the act, but it’s a, it’s about a way of thinking. And I’m really curious to know whether from your experience teaching people to do a little bit more visual communication, does it have crossover benefits for storytelling or communication in other realms?

Sue (00:18:06)
Look, I think it, I think it would. If you can actually visualise your story, you’ve put your thoughts on the page, there’s a logical flow, there’s connections. I think that it helps people to see in a more logical way what, what you’re actually trying to achieve here, and maybe it helps to get your story out of why.
So what I do also when I’m sort of teaching people about this is I say to people the first thing once we go through the, the visual vocabulary let’s say I’ll say to them, “OK, now think about your own science. Now why do I want to know about it? What’s your ‘So what?’ What’s your ‘So why?'”
And so actually, you can draw all these elements out, and I think it becomes a clearer picture. Pardon the pun again, but a clearer picture of what you’re trying to share with your, with your community through your science. So it’s, it definitely has, I think it would definitely have translate to other realms and other ways of communicating your story.

Michael (00:18:54)
Hmm yeah. And, and of course your… as your alter ego Dr Suzie Starfish, you are doing a lot of this important work with kids. You spend a lot of time visiting schools around Australia.
Yeah, I’m just curious to hear a little bit more about that and what it was like writing a children’s book and and what it’s like interacting with kids.

Sue (00:19:15)
Oh look, I’d have to say it’s the biggest joy of my life when I go into a school or a classroom as Dr Suzie Starfish. And I, and it might be hard to believe, but I’m quite colourful and I have an outfit that’s made of the ocean, you know, for each of my visits. And I wanted an alter ego that I could just sort of be myself, but probably be a little bit more colourful. When I go into a classroom to really engage children to start with, and then use the science stories that I have to excite them a little bit, to empower them. ‘Cause I think the two together, the art and the science together is very powerful in terms of curiosity, problem solving, innovation.
But it really does because when I go into a classrooms, I will talk about science, also about what I do. We might talk about the outfit. Actually we talk about the outfit a lot, so that sort of gets you know, that could be a little bit of a distraction. But anyway, it really excites the kids. And then I say, “OK, well now we’re going to bring all of that science and all those stories together, and we’re going to create this artwork. But just remember that there are no errors and there’s no mistakes in art. So in science you know we, we ask questions and we get answers and it’s very logical. But what we’re gonna do now be a bit more creative with those stories and those science stories, and we’re gonna create some art. And however you create is, there are no errors here.”
So I like to say that art is science made clear. I don’t say that in the classrooms, but to me that’s what it is. And so the kids really get this art, science and storytelling all at once. But I like there to be that inclusivity that we can do all of these different things. It’s interactive, go at your own pace. And in the end it’s really as I said, it’s quite the most joyous experience that I’ve I have in what I do apart from drawing for people of course. But the kids, it’s very special.

Michael (00:20:57)
Can I sign up? Even I might be a bit old, but?…

Sue (00:20:59)
No, I think adult classes would be fabulous.
Actually, write that down on our list, Jen.

Jen (00:21:04)
Yeah, we need to do some serious fundraising here Michael so that we can get Sue to come and do these things with us.
But Sue just listening to you there, it strikes me that art and science, I feel like art is also where science meets imagination.
And I sort of think about you know, all children are born scientists I believe. Children are curious. They ask a million questions. They’re constantly wondering why and then somehow as we, many of us then decide science is a passion and we pursue science at school or even at tertiary level. You know, it becomes much more about kind of accuracy and and obviously a crucial and fundamental parts of science you know, science of course is about precision and accuracy.
But I just wonder if this sort of the work that you do gives adults permission to remember that so much of the joy and wonder in, in science is actually about curiosity and imagination and and the visual plays such a strong role in that.

Sue (00:21:56)
Oh yeah, that’s beautifully put. I love that. And yes, I think we do lose, we do lose that the play factor. When I go into a classroom, for example, just to watch the the freedom that they have. And you know, as a professional visual artist myself, I do get lost in that place sometimes. Like oh, I’ve got to make sure that’s within the lines.
And yet I’ll go into a classroom, the first thing I say after “it’s not, there’s no mistakes in art” I’ll say “colour outside the lines”. It’s fabulous you know. And so yes, you’re right. I think we lose things as we get older. And I think I’m finding the inner child when I go into a classroom again. And I’m just like I’m just writing and scribbling, and you know, I am colouring outside the lines which is a, it’s a fabulous feeling to be honest, that freedom.
But yeah, I do think that art science world, you hear about it a lot actually, about they put art and science and say they’ll put it together, but they don’t actually. It’s, it’s sort of so but art and science are much more similar than we think. They’re both experiment and explore and express things. They might do it in a slightly different way but together, they’re super powerful when you use it as a story.

Jen (00:22:56)
Absolutely, and I’m, I’m really keen to hear your thoughts following directly from that Sue. I sort of you know. You and I both found our way into science because of a deep passion for the ocean and for the environment, and for this understanding that you know, we depend on a healthy planet. And yet right now, the world’s facing a biodiversity crisis that you or I would never have imagined I think when, when we were children.
And you know, the work that Michael and I do in our day jobs is to help scientists be more effective communicators.  I guess I’m asking, do you sort of see it the same way as we do that one of the crucial ways to tackle this biodiversity crisis and and climate change and so many of the other problems that we face is to help more scientists to tell their stories and to be more inclusive with their science? Is that part of the answer?

Sue (00:23:43)
Yeah, absolutely. So if you can help a scientist picture what they’re trying to say in a way that will engage with this broader audience, I think that’s a really powerful thing these days. It’s just I mean I, I’m, I’m very depressed sometimes when I read everything that’s happening, climate change, marine debris, pollution, biodiversity degradation and loss. It’s just there’s a lot. There’s a lot out there.
And so I think if you want people to engage in an issue that happens to be science, I think they need to 1) relate to it. 2) they don’t feel hopeless about it. And 3), they want to be part of it. So how could you do that? Well, visual storytelling is one way of doing that is to give people the hope through the story and the pictures that go along with it. Because we do, we need this collect… the collective good at the moment because we are in a crisis which is very sad.

Jen (00:24:26)
I’m searching for my coloured textas right now.
I just want to be producing stuff.

Sue (00:24:29)
Absolutely, pick out the pens.

Jen (00:24:32)

Michael (00:24:33)
And I think what holds a lot of scientists back from communicating about their science is fear that it’s that they might make mistakes, or that it’s not perfect. And I just think that’s such a liberating message you know when, when it comes to visual communication, you can colour outside the lines. You’re expressing yourself and your ideas. And yeah, I think that’s, that’s wonderful.

Sue (00:24:55)
Oh, I love that as well, we need to write that down.
But it is, isn’t it?

Jen (00:24:59)
Well, I know this person who can write stuff down that she hears and she’s really good at it.

Sue (00:25:04)
I’m picturing it right now, I should be saying actually. No but you’d be right, it is, it gives those, science like we said that science is very factual. It’s, there’s a question and there’s an answer. But the art could help hopefully express, I think that’s the big word there, “express” your science to people in a different way that they’re not used to.
And ’cause we don’t want them, we don’t want science rammed down people’s throats. We don’t want to use jargon. These are all the things you learn in science communication. But how about using a way to visualise that or picture that information so you can draw attention, there’s another one, another pun, draw attention to your story. So yeah no, I love that.

Michael (00:25:41)
Yeah, that’s fantastic. And speaking of questions and answers, you’ll know we do like to finish off the, the podcast with a few lighthearted questions.
And I’d love to just say you know, feel free to colour outside the lines when it comes to answering these.

Sue (00:25:57)
I love it. Oh Michael.

Michael (00:26:12)
So it’s time for our rapid fire questions. First one off the rank:
If you had to pick an alternative career to what you’re doing now, what would it be?

Sue (00:26:20)
Ooh, that’s a hard one, I love what I do. Can I say rockstar? I wouldn’t mind being a rockstar.
I mean, I think anything to do with maybe helping animals I think, I really I have a passion for animals, whatever that would be.
I think maybe helping animals in some way.

Jen (00:26:38)
As a rockstar?

Sue (00:26:41)
And a rockstar.

Michael (00:26:42)
Well, I think animals is a, is a good answer there because rockstar, we asked for an alternative career to what you’re doing at the moment and I think you’re currently a rock star.

Sue (00:26:53)
Oh Michael. Stop. That’s, I’ll hear that again, that’s wonderful.

Jen (00:26:57)
A rock star who is also a sea star, may I point out?

Sue (00:27:02)
Oh, how good is that? You two could be on my marketing team, I think.

Jen (00:27:06)
Sign us up. We’re, we’re always up for new gigs, aren’t we Michael? Especially when there’s punnage involved.
Ok Dr Suzie Starfish, your second question is what has been your proudest professional moment?

Sue (00:27:21)
Oh, that’s a good… I think running a successful small creative communications business to be honest. I never thought in a million years I would run my own business alone, be successful and and have the work that I have and help the people that I help.

Jen (00:27:33)

Sue (00:27:35)
Thank you.

Michael (00:27:36)
That’s fantastic.
Next question. Twitter or Instagram and why?

Sue (00:27:40)
Twitter because I can talk under water and Twitter has you know, you can only use so many words and the Twitter following or the Twitter community I’m part of are very positive and we’re really supportive each, of each other, so I really, I really like that. I don’t mind Instagram, but I just like Twitter better.

Jen (00:27:55)
I find that fascinating because as a visual communicator, I would have predicted that you would have said Instagram.
But I love the fact that you chose Twitter largely because of their community and the positive interactions.

Sue (00:28:05)
And that could be another, can I quickly say that could be a platform for people to try and practice, or at least try out the visual storytelling on Twitter. It is very forgiving. Well, I’ve found a very forgiving community in terms of I’m gonna try this out, what do you think?

Jen (00:28:17)
Yeah, absolutely.
OK question number four. And we did, we warn you they get harder and harder as we go along.

Sue (00:28:21)
Oh no.

Jen (00:28:23)
Question number 4 is what’s your favourite science related movie or book or joke?

Sue (00:28:29)
Oh well, all of my jokes on Twitter. I do love those if I can say that. All my puns.

Jen (00:28:32)

Sue (00:28:33)
I love the Blue Planet. I’m just going to say it. Like the music, the narration, the, the footage.
I’ve gotta say yeah, Blue Planet. I love it.

Jen (00:28:41)
Yeah, agree.

Michael (00:28:43)
Yeah, visual, visual storytelling as well.

Sue (00:28:45)
It is. And who doesn’t love David Attenborough? I’m sorry.

Michael (00:28:49)
Yeah. He’s come up a few times now as people’s favourites.

Sue (00:28:52)
I can imagine, yeah.

Michael (00:28:54)
So our final question here and you’ve given us some great advice already around effective communication and your process there.
But I’m just curious to hear if you could pick a very top tip for effective science communication, what would it be?

Sue (00:29:10)
Do you mean in terms of being visual?

Michael (00:29:11)
Yeah, it could be in terms of being visual. Yeah, so may, maybe for people who are listening to this now and they’re thinking I’m going to do some more visual science communication. What’s your top tip for them?

Sue (00:29:23)
I would think think about the visual first. Like when you’re doing science, a lot of the time you’re thinking about the data, you’re thinking about the graphs, you’re thinking about the next paper for example, the next publication. Take some photos. That’s what I would say straight away. Take a photo of what you do. People are interested in actually what you do. But they’re also interested in the outputs, I understand that. But it’s as part of your story you need to engage with people, you want to engage with people visually, then it’s the story in the picture. That’s what I would, I would think about that.
And the whole drawing side of it or art side, that’s a whole other, another element that you can do or or a drawing or a quick sketch, or try and visualise that that data information in a different type of way, use some colour, for example. Maybe don’t go out the lines too much. But if it’s scientific… but even just give it a go. Take some photos, share them, see how you go.

Jen (00:30:07)
Yeah, I think that’s just really excellent advice. We have a, a graphic designer who comes and talks with our students, just giving some fundamental advice on things like you know, placement and colour and fonts and that sort of stuff and and the lecture is called “Make it visual”. And I really like that as a title, just to encourage students to think about how could you make this information visual as opposed to what you’ve been trained to do, which is to put it into words.

Sue (00:30:34)
It is. Yeah, science is only as good as if you can get it out there, right?
I mean it’s, you want to share it with the world.

Jen (00:30:37)
Absolutely. Well, I can’t wait to share this episode with the world Sue because your energy and your passion and your knowledge and your experience are just absolutely enticingly wonderful. We’ve loved speaking with you today and I really am serious, we’re gonna have to do some busking I think Michael so we can get some money together in order to get you down to Melbourne.
Because I just can’t imagine how wonderful it would be for our students to have the chance to spend some time with you. And and for Michael and I to spend some time with you and just think about things in this whole different way that you just absolutely exemplify. So thank you for your time, really wonderful to chat and my suspicion is that our paths will cross again.

Sue (00:31:14)
Oh, I hope so. And thank you. This has been really wonderful. It’s wonderful to meet you both here and and to share our visual story with the rest of your listeners. So yeah, thanks for making my day.

Michael (00:31:24)
Brilliant, thanks Sue.

Michael (00:31:44)
Thanks for listening and thanks also to our wonderful production team, Stephanie Wong and Steven Tang for making these episodes happen behind the scenes. And thanks also to you, our listeners for your support.
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