TFW your side-hustle takes off

What a year.

While unsavory in nature, I often find that stepping outside of my comfort zone is the only way I continually push for growth. And if I’m honest, my ability to thrive when feeling my most awkward is how I cope with the persistent Impostor Syndrome that affects me and many marginalized communities in STEM disciplines.

Each time it still takes a while before I start to feel ok with the tumultuous environment set before me; but reminding myself of the potential to be seen, validated, and praised is more than worth that initial risk.


I don’t know if it was a newfound confidence in our work, a shift in science communication culture in what’s visible, or the loving encouragement of friends (or all of the above), but 2018 had us diving into the deep end of the uncomfortable unknowns. For example, I wrote a self-nomination letter for the Mindlin Foundation Science Communication Prize. While mortifying to write, it was such an honor to be chosen as the 2018 recipient and receive $5000 for my scicomm to use however I see fit (if you do scicomm, I encourage you to apply!). Similarly, we were able grow our writing abilities by writing a business proposal for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Art – Business Competition. Led by Khoa and Bayleigh to victory, we’re now able to complete an amazing project, Gaining STEAM!, where we’ve taught scientists how to communicate their science as a story then translate that story into a comic book storyboard. We’re currently making eight wonderfully diverse scientist spotlights that we’ll compile and release as our first anthology next year. Thinking about the fact that we’re making a book still amazes me.

Even when we don’t come away with the prize, the responses to our work have been amazing. Khoa has courageously made comics for and become a finalist in the Bioethics Cartooning Competition and National Science Foundation Vizzies competitions. People are becoming excited for what we do and it’s thrilling. But what I’ve learned the most from these experiences is that if we, or anyone, want their side-hustle to take off, presentations at conventions and conferences can dramatically increase your visibility.


Khoa has already discussed what it was like at Keystone Comic Con in a previous blog, but this year I submitted abstracts and was selected to give talks at the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) in July and most recently, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) three days ago; thanks to the opportunity I’ve had to integrate our science making style into the high school research program I teach in, the TRIP Initiative. Focusing on ASCB, this is a wonderful inclusive scientific conference where it is fully embraced to have wide and varied interests and backgrounds. As such, I was able to not only present a poster on my postdoctoral research but also present in the education symposium; and the response to my talk was surreal.  

I met educators and scicomm enthusiasts at the professor, postdoc, graduate student AND undergrad levels that were dying to know more. I’ve now been encouraged to publish what I do in the classroom so educators can cite me, gauged for my interest to be a panelist about science communication to retain underrepresented groups, invited to be on a podcast, and may have the opportunity to run a workshop doing what I do with my students with scientists at a future ASCB meeting. Is this what it feels like to be a celebrity? At least a low-key one? In the very least this is that feeling when your side-hustle takes off.

If you’re reading this blog (around the time this is posted), it’s most likely that you’ve personally met one of us in JKX Comics and continue to give your support. Thank you so much for being on this amazing journey with us. Our success is rooted in being surrounded by wonderful people like you. If you haven’t met us before, thank you still for your support and I hope our paths will cross in the future.


Have a wonderful holiday season from all of us at JKX Comics,