Thought Leaders

Visualize Your Science: How to Communicate Scientific Research Visually

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Visualize your Science offers courses in visual communications for scientists who are looking to communicate their research more effectively. AZoMaterials spoke to Andreas about the importance of communicating scientific research both peer-to-peer and to a wider audience, the challenges of creating presentations and high-quality pedagogical images, and how Visualize your Science courses can teach researchers this skill.

What is Visualize your Science and what are the solutions you offer?

Visualize your Science is a company that I started in 2016 to teach scientists how to visually communicate their research more effectively. 

I am a scientist and my background is a PhD in analytical chemistry from Uppsala University, Sweden in 2005. After that I gained experience in industry for a couple of years and then returned to Uppsala University for another eight years to work as a researcher. I have always been interested in drawing and creating images for my research to present it in the best possible way. In 2011, when I was working as a researcher at Uppsala University, PhD students that I knew approached me and expressed an interest in learning more about how to present scientific images and asked me to develop a course on how to create effective images for scientific research. I developed the course in 2011 and designed it to combine the disciplines of scientific research, illustration, and drawing. The initial email that I sent out to PhD students at Uppsala University to gauge how many people were interested in attending the course led to the course being filled within twenty minutes and a waiting list of one hundred and fifty people for the next course. I continued teaching the course at Uppsala University until my research project ended in 2016. 

I started Visualize your Science to enable me to deliver this course to PhD students and researchers at more universities. The universities I taught to initially were all in Sweden, but now we give courses to scientists and researchers across Europe, to help improve their visual skillset to describe their own research more effectively.  Our courses include Visualize Science, Animate Science, and Visual Storytelling, which equip participants with the visual skills to be able to create posters for scientific publications or research presentations, create photorealistic images and animation, or presentations based on visual storytelling respectively. We also run other workshops and do commission drawing work for scientific research. 

Some of the courses are registered as official PhD-courses at different universities and students attending the courses could get ECTS-credits corresponding to the amount of work spent in the courses. So far, all students that have participated in the courses have also got ECTS credits, but I always recommend my students to check with their research school before registering for the course, if they are interested in getting ECTS credits.    

How can Visualize your Science help with the challenges of the peer-to-peer communication of scientific research?

As a scientist, I have personal experience of the challenges faced when completing a PhD, or any research. It is important that scientists communicate their research effectively and correctly. There are three main ways that scientists communicate their research. The most common of these is text-based communication, usually scientific articles. Talking to defend our theories or discuss our findings is another main skill needed to communicate research effectively. The third method of communicating scientific research is through visual communication, but scientists do not receive much training in creating images, so when we create images to illustrate our methods, theories, or laboratory equipment, the images do not necessarily communicate the message effectively. 

At Visualize Your Science, we help scientists to create better visuals by learning to think visually, so they can create images that communicate effectively. Ultimately, the communication of research to your peers will be much more effective because now you can communicate strongly via, text, talks and images or visuals. This applies not only to peer communication, but it also assists with communicating scientific research to a much wider audience.



Posters made by students attending the Visualize your Science course last Autumn. The poster to the left is made by Mads Lüchow, PhD student at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden. Poster to the right is made by Elena Mondino, PhD student at Uppsala University, Sweden. Image Credit: Visualize your Science, posters are used with permission from the creators

 

What is the importance of using visual methods to communicate scientific research?

I think the reason why the courses became popular is that it is challenging to create a scientific drawing when you do not have a visual background or knowledge of where to start. You don't know which software to use, you don't know what kinds of techniques to use, and which style of drawing will most effectively communicate the research. 

When you visualize scientific research, you need to know where you must be extremely precise and where you don't have to be so precise. For example, when visually demonstrating a technology or how something works, it is possible to be abstract, whereas scientific results must be illustrated in a correct and clear way. However, it is important that all visuals are factually correct, conceptually correct and visually correct.


The Visualize your Science course ends with a conference where all students meet and present their posters. Image Credit: Visualize your Science

Are your courses applicable to all scientific disciplines?

They are actually applicable to all disciplines that use images for any purpose. Of course, we have students who are researching the more visual sciences, such as engineering sciences, natural sciences, and life sciences. However, we also have students from less visual disciplines such as mathematics, linguistics, and computer science. When it comes to more non-visual sciences, like computer science, for example, often, what I see is the students describing their project in analogs or they show what they're doing through metaphors, so we teach them to think in a different way, visually. The process of learning to think visually and extracting the most important research information to include in images also allows students to see the research from a completely different angle that they haven't thought of or seen before.

What are the benefits of your service and why should students choose your courses?

We aim to solve a problem for many researchers, which is the challenge of learning to draw and create illustrations and other visuals to correspond to their scientific research. To date, more than eighty five students that have taken this course have won poster prizes at the larger international conferences. This equates to around twenty percent of the students that attend the course have won poster prizes, which is a fantastic result. It is even better considering that not all students will present their posters at conferences after the course and not all conferences have poster awards. 

There are many ways of engaging with the courses. We have designed the course in a way that is flexible to suit the varying schedules of researchers and PhD students. Most of the materials are online, so students can access the information when they have time and they can choose to carry out meetings online or face to face. We are also flexible in terms of students who would like to stop the course and continue the next time the course is given if their PhD workload becomes too full. We know what it is like to be a scientist, so we prioritize enabling access and a flexible course schedule. 

Many other online courses are very non-personal, so you pay for access, and then it's all up to you whether to finish the course or not. At Visualize your Science, we take an active role in helping our students in a personal way; it is important to us that students finish the course and engage with the content as much as possible. Since this is a PhD course, the quality is high and it requires a lot of focused work so that students can learn a new skill in depth in a short period. Once you have access to a Visualize your Science course, you can access it after the course has finished and we welcome our former students contacting us to ask for feedback on posters or graphics that they are working on. 

Do you have any advice for our readers on what makes a good scientific poster?

In my experience, a good poster usually follows this format:

  • A good poster must be structured with an entry point, visual balancer, and lots of empty space.
  • A title should have text which is  > 90pt and be placed at the top of the poster
  • The best posters have around three hundred and fifty words, and the maximum should be six hundred words

  • The poster should have fifty five characters per line, for fast reading

  • It should follow the area ratio of twenty percent text, thirty five percent visuals, and forty five percent empty space

  • Dare to be creative.

Could you give an example of scientific posters from students attending Visualize your Science’s courses?

There are examples of graphical abstracts and Scientific posters created students studied Visualize your Science courses on our website.

Two poster prize winners that attended the course last year are Marianna Giassi and Andrea Benediktsdottir, both from Uppsala University, Sweden. Andrea's poster was selected as the best poster among 178 other posters at the European University Consortium of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Helsinki, June 2019. 



 

Two poster prize winners made by students in the Visualize your Science course.  The poster to the left is made by Marianna Giassi and the poster to the right is made by Andrea Benediktsdottir, both PhD students at Uppsala University, Sweden. Image Credit: Visualize your Science, posters are used with permission from the creators

Where can our readers find out more about your course catalogue and the other solutions that Visualize Your Science offers?

To find out more, please visit https://www.visualizeyourscience.com/.

Our current course catalogue can be viewed online: https://www.visualizeyourscience.com/pages/courses.

About Andreas Dahlin

Andreas Dahlin has a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry, Uppsala University, Sweden, from 2005. He after that worked as a project leader and researcher in an interdisciplinary project at Uppsala University, where his group developed new

microdialysis catheters for clinical use. In May 2017, he became an adjunct professor in analytical chemistry (docent), Uppsala University. He has always been interested in presenting science with high-quality pedagogical images.  

In 2011, Andreas started a PhD-course at Uppsala university with the name Visualize your Science, where he showed tips and tricks on how students could visually communicate their research more effectively to both the general audience and peers. The course quickly became the most popular, non-mandatory graduate course at Uppsala University. So far, more than 85 of Andreas' students have won poster awards in international conferences.  ImageForArticle_18854_15786544041843843.png

At the beginning of 2016, Andreas founded Visualize Your Science AB (Visualizeyourscience.com) and decided to dedicate all his time to help researchers become better science communicators using illustrations, visualizations, and animations. Today he gives courses to more than 300 PhD-students and researchers every year. His students come from all over the world but mainly from universities in Scandinavian. He also provides visual communications courses for research-based companies. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

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