During graduate school, I wanted to spend time doing something that was going to make a difference and be important in the world.
So, how did infographics become part of my career journey?
This is a story of taking chances, creating, fostering, and growing your mentor network, and creating and looking for opportunities.
During the third year of my PhD at the University of Guelph, I attended a workshop on Infographics. I was interested in the topic because I liked and found “knowledge translation” important. The workshop provided background information, as well as hands on interactive exposure with infographics software, specifically Piktochart.
During the workshop, I was basically buzzing with so many ideas. During the hands-on activity, a recent conference (Canadian Nutrition Society – CNS) I attended came to mind, and information from that conference poured onto my infographic canvas! I ran out of the workshop that night to keep creating my new project, and it went well into the night. After a few days of work, I felt that I had “finished” the infographic.
I wondered…now, what? What happens next?
I sent my conference summary in the form of an infographic to a few friends and family members, whom I thought would be interested in the topic (protein and health). Then I thought, why not send it to one of the CNS conference organizers?
I felt eager to share my work, but recognized that I might have to take a chance to share this product further. There was a faculty member in my department who was part of the CNS conference organizing committee. So, I sent a not-so “cold-call” email to them attaching the infographic and asking what they thought about it. I also asked whether CNS might like to use it in some capacity.
To my surprise, they were intrigued, and my infographic was sent to a group of researchers who had presented their work at the conference. I added and incorporated feedback from the group, and after several weeks of back and forth and additional work, voila, a final product!
There had been other conferences like this in the past, and the CNS committee suggested that I create an infographic for those topics as well.
Creating, fostering, and growing your mentor network.
At this point, a mentor of mine entered the picture. Other than one workshop, I didn’t have knowledge on plain language communication. This mentor was an expert in education and nutrition communication. It was recommended that I pump the brakes a little bit, and that I work closely with them to learn more skills related to knowledge translation. And wow, I sure did learn a lot!
My mentor spent considerable time with me, providing constructive feedback on language, imagery, and messaging on the infographics I was creating. Within two years, I had created four infographics for CNS, working closely with my mentor, the researchers, and education committee.
Once I finished graduate school, it was time for me to hand the reigns over and I suggested that someone else become the creator, and I act as the mentor.
Creating and looking for opportunities.
When I started working at the Canadian Sugar Institute (CSI), I was thrilled to see that CSI created infographics to share information!
During my position at the CSI, I learned the value of clearly identifying key stakeholder groups for communication: registered dietitians, health care professionals, and other professionals in the food and nutrition sectors. CSI provides objective and evidence-based resources and communication materials designed specifically for these stakeholders, allowing them to use the information in their messaging and communication with clients and the public.
As a way to link my past experience with this new position, I proposed that I create and run a two-part webinar on the “what and why” and the “how to” of infographics in partnership with CNS, who I had worked with in the past creating conference summary infographics.
Last year, in 2018, I hosted the two webinars and we received great feedback. I also followed these webinars with two guest lectures, and a conference presentation on the topic. I am now working to create some new infographics for CSI.
What I realized was that communicating effectively to your audience (especially, to the “public”) is really HARD. There are so many people, all with diverse needs, and setting out to share one piece of information with everyone may not be the best approach.
Am I an expert on infographics design?
History and opportunities would say, yes!
I know I still have a lot to learn, especially in the areas of graphic design and visual arts. I am picking up tips and tricks along the way and have learned a lot from other colleagues I have engaged with during this process.
One critical takeaway from this entire process of learning and creating infographics was the value of feedback. Creating a good infographic is not possible without asking for, receiving, and incorporating feedback from mentors, colleagues, experts in the field, and key stakeholders. This feedback transforms infographics from good to great. I think that working with a graphic designer to utilize their skills would take infographics a step further, and transform them from great to greater!
I plan to continue using these skills in my current position, and will seek out new opportunities for creation and collaboration! I also hope to pursue freelance work, where I can be part of a team to help deliver important information to their audiences. I will make sure that my future work in this position or others continues to incorporate infographics. This journey has been an amazing learning experience, and I look forward to continuing to learn and create.
About the author:
Kaitlin Roke is a nutritional scientist and is currently working at the Canadian Sugar Institute in a science communications role. Kaitlin earned her PhD, MSc, and BSc at the University of Guelph. Kaitlin is interested in knowledge translation, integrating great science and evidence to improve health and wellness, promoting women and girls in STEM, among other topics. Kaitlin loves spending time outside and enjoying time with friends and family. Follow her work on Twitter @KaitlinRoke!