Secret Bullicorns, Unite! Megan van Groll & Katherine Shives

When I first read about Katherine, my initial thought was that you couldn’t have paired two people with less similar professional backgrounds. I’m a visual artist and I work in advertising, while Katherine is an accomplished, published scientist working towards a PhD in microbiology. It turns out, however, that we actually both encounter many similar issues in our very different worlds.

What I admire most about Katherine’s endeavors is her passion for bridging the gap between the scientific community and the public. This isn’t obscure knowledge or a field only a certain subsets of scientific or medical professionals would have any interest in. She’s pursuing research that may lead to a cure for diseases that are currently untreatable (how badass is that?). This is research that directly affects human lives. Katherine writes about these issues in an accessible way — for those of us without advanced degrees in science — at her blog Microbe Matters. Similarly, the art world has barriers to accessibility that frustrate me — weary postmodern “artspeak” comes to mind — that cause an unnecessary amount of people to either shun art or shrug their shoulders at it, disowning their ability to decide whether or not they like something or find meaning in it. Talking with Katherine reminded that science can be much the same way, so I find it admirable and refreshing that she has taken her writing skills in this direction. I find it disturbing how little the average citizen understands about basic aspects of science and medicine (reproductive comments by certain politicians come to mind) so I believe wholeheartedly in this noble and significant cause.

It’s also interesting to see how Katherine’s gender plays into the way she manages her life and career. This is something that any career-minded woman who’s ever considered having a family has to think about, but academic life — particularly in a field as rigorous as microbiology — has its own unique challenges. Timing is everything, and she has to plan an incredibly personal aspect of her life around a profession in which there really is no good time to start a family. It’s interesting to see how women in different professions also handle this. I think we both wish more women would openly discuss with each other how they navigate these issues.

– Megan van Groll

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