top of page

SciViz for Research Scientists Workshop

I recently had the opportunity to host a half-day workshop at Kansas State University, for their Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Approaches to Plasticity (CNAP) group. We had a great turnout of both faculty and graduate students, as well as guests from other departments, who wanted to improve their figures. The workshop I presented was called "Science Visualization for Research Scientists," but I decided a much better title for this topic is "Effective Science Storytelling." Our goal and recurring theme was to how to share your data effectively, and often that means to do less, not more.

I accentuated the point that scientists can be artists, because scientists are the CONTENT EXPERTS. Research scientists understand their data better than anyone. The steps in creating an effective science visual are using design principles to draw the viewer's attention to your message and minimizing or removing the excess.

The afternoon was broken down into two half hour presentations, two hands-on tutorials, and a quick game. The game, called "Good Example or Bad Example," was a series of real examples found in neuroscience research papers and the attendees had to decide whether the figure was a good or bad example at "effective storytelling" and why.

Although I am a self-declared master in Adobe Illustrator, the department requested I demonstrate in-person tutorials in freeware or software that everyone is already familiar with, such as Microsoft Powerpoint. Although it is possible to create some simplistic figures or diagrams inside of Powerpoint, I decided we needed more creative control over the graphics (ability to change color, match style, and adjust anchor points), so I demonstrated a few examples inside of Inkscape, a free open-source software vector-graphics program, similar to Adobe Illustrator.

One of my favorite features of both vector-graphics programs is the ability to take a sketch and turn into to vector art using Trace Bitmap in Inkscape or Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator. Sometimes drawing with the brush tool or pen tool can be challenging using a trackpad or mouse, so scanning a sketch created with simple writing tools, such as pencils or markers, gives the user a bit more control.

We also discussed how to find free SVGs, or scaleable vector graphics, under the Creative Commons license, Public Domain or CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0). After the workshop, I uploaded my graphics to Pixabay to offer the scienctific community some freebies! There is already a growing database of great cellular and scientific svgs available for free.

If you are interested in an online or on location workshop or lecture, please send me an email at to discuss your needs.


bottom of page