I was cleaning this website up, and found an old draft of a "1 year after Biomedical Communications (BMC)" post sitting around. Well now it's been ~5 years. Time for a retrospective.
BMC was a lot of hard work. I did course work for almost 1.5 years, which meant I was hounded by exams and assignments all year, and that is on top of doing my research, keeping myself motivated to push my master's research project (MRP) forward, and keeping my committee in the loop.
I constantly had to shift between the right and left sides of my brain. Some minutes were spent being very logical and technically accurate, while others were spent on pushing things creatively and visually. That was very challenging, and remains a challenge for me now (balancing and transitioning between the two sides).
Near graduation, I felt doomed about my job prospects. A lot of that was driven by my own lack of self-confidence in my abilities. Some people want to be specialists in a small facet of developing communications medical information. Maybe you do want to just become the best 3d animator/UV mapper/lighter. That's cool! Some people want to be generalists (do a bit of everything, like programming, web design, content writing, illustration) for a large project. That's cool too!
My experience developing my MRP made me realize that I didn't want to be a one-man-shop freelancer. It was too much work to be doing everything by myself. I could not compete with the legit software programmers out there. Even though I couldn't imagine myself being a medical illustrator (I love drawing anatomically incorrect things way too much), I rebranded myself to show off my illustration skills for industry day (I created a special sketchbook to give away). I thought that my drawing abilities rank higher than my other abilities.
What's interesting to me is that the BMC program enables us to be generalists and specialists at the same time. We have enough knowledge about the creation of tangible things (drawing, animation, printed media, website, app, etc.) to be able to design in those spaces. In some instances, it will be the BMC pulling through the work, and other times, it will be us laying the groundwork and communicating out to someone who can polish it up (e.g., a software programmer). This helps us stay pretty flexible as prospective hires! In hindsight, I can appreciate the selective breadth and depth that I got from being in BMC.
Afterwards I did a bit of freelance, TA-ing, and also the chance to work on a grant project with BMC and Cooler Solutions (now Bridgeable). The grant project was to create a prototype to show breast/prostate cancer patients which therapy options they are more suited for, according to their clinical cancer attributes. Unlike BMC, I was forced to collaborate with people that were extremely different from me, and also the people who would ultimately be using a resource like this.
A functional prototype was created and put to test with real cancer patients in USA. Lots of interesting insights, which led to scrapping the majority of the original prototype and reimagining it to be more about supporting the decision-making process, rather than just information about treatment options. I am so appreciative of the feedback that I received during validation/testing. There was so much more to just communicating things accurately and at the right visual/reading level.
This led to a shift in mindset for me. I was designing stuff in isolation, best on what I know to be good. But what I needed was to understand and look at the bigger picture, the context/environment, and the needs of the audience in a more deep and thoughtful way. Most of this is only achievable through collaboration.
You can make the most beautiful deliverable (animation, website, illustration, etc.), but if you don't think about how it will get to the audience, only a handful of people will see it.
If you don't think about what information is actually important to the audience, people won't even pick it up or engage with it.
If you don't help people understand what to do with the information, it's education without a purpose.
If you don't make the education or communication meaningful to the people it is meant to be for, why bother?
I was hooked. I couldn't go back to doing things I did before if there was even a GLIMMER of opportunity to talk to people and learn more from them. Now I look at every interaction with the people as a learning opportunity.
I looked for opportunities to embed communication best practices and these "bigger picture considerations" in the way I worked. This included how I created deliverables (visuals, format, writing ,etc.), how I wrote emails to colleagues and clients, how I made powerpoint slides to tell a story about my deliverables, how I spoke and interacted with people in-person, how I designed and facilitated workshops and meetings, etc.
How do I create a great experience for anyone that I meet?
Even though I'm not drawing medical illustration for work, I don't feel like I've stepped backwards. BMC gave me the opportunity to communicate things in the medical space, but I was able to build on to that foundation to find others ways make clear communication valuable in all sorts of other contexts.
Clear communication can solve a lot of issues in this world.