Always with the figure making! Why do we need to make a figure, damn it I’m an engineer not an artist! Yet I’m in a tight spot for the moment because I need to start creating about half a dozen figures showcasing the stuff that we’re doing at work. Oh and I need to make at least one more for the dissertation proposal, not including any additional figures for my slides. It’s going to be a rush job for sure.
On top of all the other things I have going on at the moment, namely prep for the dissertation proposal, I also happen to have a handful of figures to make for hospital-PI. It’s a mess at the moment and I don’t have a ton of time to work on them. Why am I blogging if I’m so swamped? Good question, so anyway…
I’m not even sure where I want to lump this post in my categories since it’s all a single thing (figure making, again) even though it’s split between two aspects of my life. You would think as an engineer, be it mechanical or neuro, I wouldn’t have to worry about the arts, but the truth is, I really think any engineering student should be required to take at least a few art classes to help with figure design.
Not that I haven’t talked about this extensively in the past (here)(or this one). It comes up a lot! Because writing is important, but you need to make something visual to help describe the work you’re doing. Over the years I’ve experimented with different ways of making things and I’ve learned some good practices and some bad ones.
As a hint, a bad practice is rushing! But there’s always deadlines and things you need to hit, so when push comes to shove, you do it anyway. That’s actually why I’m here writing and not working. I like to step away when I’m working so I can come back to something I’ve made with fresh eyes before I send it off. Tomorrow I will need to make up six different figures and while I already have an outline of what we’re looking for, it’s up to me to bring them to life and make them something people will remember.
Figure one in particular is hard. It should cover the experimental setup and some of the experiment highlights. To me it’s probably one of the most important figures in a paper because it explains to the reader what the heck is even going on. In fact, the first time a co-author saw “last paper,” he specifically commented on how good my figure one looked.
So yeah, in case it isn’t obvious, not a lot of time and I’m stressing out. That said, I think this has been a long enough break for me to get back to work.
In parallel to your “I’m an engineer, not an artist” I have often wanted to yell “What do you think this is, a children’s book?!” Because it seems like whenever I write a paper or document, other people tell me that there aren’t enough pictures in it. It doesn’t happen as much now (because design documents for work follow a standard template and I know which figures are expected), but I really noticed it during my Master’s degree. I’d even start anticipating it and try to put more figures in, and my adviser would still ask for more yet.
It makes me wonder if I’m more linguistic and less visual than average. I leave the figures out because they don’t seem necessary – I often find it easier, and maybe even clearer, to explain things than draw them. But other people want the figures because they have different communication styles.
Which I guess is one reason why we need reviewers … and, where possible, varied approaches. It can be hard to predict what other people will or won’t understand.
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April 3, 2022 at 6:39 pm
It’s wild how many figures go into a paper. I still don’t get it when we have to write it all out, but it seems to be a theme.
I agree with the reviewers point. I’ve gotten good feedback from coauthors and reviewers. Some bad feedback, but mostly helpful lol
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April 4, 2022 at 6:44 pm