Career Migrants: Kimbra Turner, Biologist & Scientific Illustrator/Designer

Kimbra Turner is a Scientific Illustrator and Graphic Designer. She is a Biology Ph.D. with a broad set of interests. With research experience in microbiology, parasitology, mathematical modeling/computational biology, her research has focused on global health and infectious disease. Over time, Kimbra Turner has delved into and built a scientific illustration and design name for herself. Her illustrations and designs have been featured and used in Journals/Publications. She has a strong interest in the arts, sometimes she paints, draws, plays with pastels, take pictures, or dabble in whatever medium suits her.
Her mission is to bridge two separate but complementary passions – this intersection of Biology and Illustration is why we love her! So we asked her a couple of question for our Career Migrants series.

Kimbra Turner

On Career Journey
I have always been a creative at heart. Early on I was aware of the relationship between Arts and STEM. Playing the violin and reading sheet music meant I had to perform quick subdivisions in my head in order to play the music correctly. Already, I was applying mathematics to an art form. Though when it came time to choose a major field of study, I initially chose to keep my art for myself as an outlet for relaxation. I decided to study biology because I was fascinated by the interactions that were occurring at every level – from cellular to global. I’ve never really been one to accept an answer, so taking my questioning thought process to graduate school for science seemed like the right path.

I spent my time learning and understanding more about our natural world. More time spent in the lab deepened my understanding of the connections between art and science. Taking pictures of microscopic organisms was art. Watching different colors light up on the screen, and even just looking around at all of the pictures hanging up in the microscopy facility, demonstrated the true power and beauty of this technology.

The further I got in my graduate career, the more I embraced this artistic side of science. I could communicate concepts with increasing clarity through simple graphic. My lab notebooks were filled with illustrations guiding readers through protocols and experimental designs.

I began creating more detailed imagery for annual seminar presentations on my research progress, entering a competition calling for an illustration of a scientific pathway, winning the grand prize.

As a result of my crossover talents, I was given the opportunity to create a cover image submission for a scientific journal. A colleague’s work had recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry requesting artwork representative of their story to potentially appear on the cover of the issue. This was a big step forward from illustrating my own work. Other professors in the department learned about this success and I was asked to create other imagery specific to their work. All of the success that I have been granted has been a result of interacting with the people around me and opportunities that I created.

On How STEM & Humanities Can Walk & Work Hand-In-Hand
As far as encouraging better cross-talk between the Humanities and STEM fields, I would say that goes back to education. Instead of placing greater importance on the STEM fields and discouraging artistic expression, both studies should be embraced. Encouraging students to illustrate their natural environment helps them to develop skills in observation – an incredibly valuable tool for STEM studies. Conversely, encouraging students to communicate and present results from scientific experiments in a non-traditional manner encourages creative thought-processes, which are beneficial for both art and science. After all, if you can’t explain your work to others, how can its value be properly understood and have a real application? Kimbra Turner CellDeathPathways_Paintbrush

I believe that art is a significantly more important tool than scientists and STEM professionals may realize. The strength that a well-designed graphic has is instrumental in communicating the most complex concepts. In order to continue the invaluable research that scientists conduct, they need to better embrace the arts as a means to do so. Science is always coming up with new things to say, and art is a means of communication and expression. Forever connected in my mind, merging art and science engage learning, inspires innovation, and invites participation.

Follow Kimbra Turner’s work on her website and Twitter.

Are you like Kimbra Turner? Did you move from Arts to STEM or from one field of study to another new one entirely? We’d love to interview you. Please fill this short Career Migrants form below, so we can reach out to you and interview you.

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