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Dr Sue Pillans

Science illustrator

When I was younger I had dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, a fighter pilot and an artist but as I got older my heart belonged to the ocean so I wanted to be a marine biologist.

Discovering my career path as a science illustrator

As a marine scientist, visual artist and writer my pathway to where I am today has been quite the journey! I started with a science degree in environmental science then an Honours degree in marine science followed by a PhD marine science.

I found my ‘dream job’ combining my science, strategy and art to become a graphic recorder and science illustrator, and now run my own business, “Picture your ideas”, specialising in creative and visual communications.

Up until three years ago I didn’t even know my job as a graphic recorder existed! I was reading through a magazine one day and saw an article about a woman who used her artistic and strategic skills to ‘draw out’ people’s ideas, and straight away I thought, “I could do that”, so I did!

Above: Some of Sue’s illustrations from her upcoming picture book.

Love your work

One of the joys of my work is that everyday is different and everyday is creative. In any given week I could be creating unique infographics for fact sheets and reports, visiting schools to talk about our oceans as my alter ego Dr Suzie Starfish, writing kids picture books or presenting workshops on science communication and visual storytelling.

I am so grateful that I have turned something I love into something I live! As a marine scientist, visual artist and writer, I’m living my life with ESTEAM (Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths), so I really do have the best job in the world!

Illustrating my own picture book

The most ambitious project I have worked on so far has to be writing and illustrating my first children’s picture book, about the challenges facing our Great Barrier Reef (due for release in late 2018). My debut picture book illustrates the impacts of climate change on the reef which is based on the latest reef science.

I think people are under the impression that kids’ books must be easy to write because they are for kids, but creating an original story for children that will excite, entertain, educate and engage through words and pictures is quite challenging.

My advice

Always follow your heART, try new things, don’t be afraid to fail, find your tribe and think outside of the box. Just because you haven’t found your dream job yet doesn’t mean you can’t create it!


The University of Sydney Engineering and IT redefines what’s possible
What’s your creative STEM career?
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