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Mariana Oksdath Mansilla

Scientific designer & illustrator

STEAM

Mariana Oksdath Mansilla is equal parts creative and scientific, combining both her strengths to create a one-of-a-kind job

Mariana Oksdath Mansilla has always loved to draw. Growing up with artists as parents, sketching came naturally to the Argentinian-born creative and was always encouraged through extracurricular classes and projects. But her other passion – which she speaks just as fondly of – came a little more out of left field. “At school I became seriously fascinated with science and the human body!”

Assuming – like most grads – that she had to choose between her love of art and science, Mariana (then based in South America) enrolled in a chemistry degree which led to a PhD in neuroscience at the National University of Córdoba, Argentina.

A move to Australia later, Mariana suddenly found herself with a cutting-edge research associate gig at the Centre for Cancer Biology – a world-class institute from the University of South Australia and SA Pathology – where she was championing a novelty technique to grow human mini-brains.

And nope, according to Mariana the whole brain-growing bit wasn’t even the coolest part. “It was actually doing the scientific illustrations!” she says.

Creativity calling

Awesome neuroscience gig aside, Mariana’s creativity was calling. And like any academic she did what came naturally – enrol in another degree. “In 2020 I started a Master in Digital Art online, which was life-changing!” she says. “I learnt all about art, illustrations and the digital software that can help your imagination come to life.”

Now as a qualified scientist and illustrator Mariana has combined her credentials to create a career in both! Working for herself, she creates the sketches that sit in some of the country’s top scientific journals and medical manuals. “It’s my job to transform complex science into accurate and appealing images,” she says. Recently she prepped a glaucoma surgical manual for eye surgery, designing 12 medical illustrations explaining the complex steps involved.

Colourful career

With the ultimate goal of creating her own Adelaide-based science communication agency, Mariana’s now on the hunt for an awesome team that shares her same – and unique – passion for art and science.

And her advice for grads who feel torn between their creativity and STEM? “Know both disciplines! You have to find your way to learn science and art around your possibilities. It’s fascinating to be a part of an emerging area!”

Mariana’s study and career pathway

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Science 2022.

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