It has been a whirlwind few weeks – and it isn’t going to stop for another few still! With everything that is going on, I wanted to take a few words to debrief on my experiences at two wonderful conferences I’ve attended recently: the Mapping the Landscape, Journeying Together: 2017 Symposium (MTL) and the 2017 Conference on Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology (VMST). I am going to group these two conferences into one post because they were both small, intimate affairs, and both focused heavily on the places where the arts and the sciences meet. In both cases, I was extremely active on Twitter (and at MTL, others were as well!) and as such you can find Storified versions of the conferences:

Mapping the Landscape Storify

Values in Science, Medicine, and Technology Storify

I presented at both of these on the work I’m doing in Graphic Medicine and both times this lead to interesting conversation and greater sharing of information – exactly what you could hope for! At the MTL Symposium, I presented our poster showing our progress on the Graphic Medicine Scoping review being conducted by Len Levin, Suzana Makowski, and myself and funded by the Gold Foundation Mapping the Landscape grant program. For this poster, we decided to partner with artist Kelly Lund to create a comic book style poster to showcase how comic style narratives can help make information more interesting and impactful. Sadly I was unable to string the panels along exactly as planned, but the reception was great nonetheless! You can download a complete version of the poster from the UMMS Institutional Repository. I’d love to hear feedback on it – this was the first time I have ever coordinated this kind of research poster (and one I haven’t seen much before at all), so it would be great to know what could have been better!

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Me, presenting our poster at the #GoldMtg

At VMST, I gave a 20 minute talk (plus Q&A time) on graphic medicine – a more narrow, focused version of the NNLM/NER Webinar I gave a few months back. Titled, “Communicating Medicine through Comics”, I focused on how we might use comics to better communicate with both patients AND medical professionals – primarily on the importance of empathy and mutual understanding. While there is evidence coming out that suggests comics might be a better knowledge acquisition tool than standard text alone, I think there is more to be said for encouraging empathy building with comics than for knowledge acquisition. Primarily, research shows that a lack of information isn’t typically the major problem in health literacy issues – rather, it is a lack of knowing how to contextualize and use that information. Comics can address that. More at VMST than at MTL, I was asked to share lists and book recommendations with people interested in making use of these comics in their classes or studies – something that makes my librarian-soul *so* happy.

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Opening slide of my talk

Presentations and posters aside, I wanted to make sure I put some words down about how these two conferences made me feel. Both were small affairs, with no more than 60 people at either (guesstimate), and that gave them a sense of intimacy that allowed a more open conversation and sharing of ideas than the traditional large-scale conference. In both cases, the conference had a core group of people that have been attending for several years (perhaps not consecutively), yet despite that, it was easy to network and connect with people in the group. This was particularly true for VMST, where a group of us started sitting together and chatting during the breaks regularly – a group that composed of people from at least 4 countries from across the globe. While I think I would attend the MTL Symposium again of my own free will, I know I will look forward to attending VMST again in the future. The truly interdisciplinary nature of the event – philosophy, history, medicine, engineering, all in one place – was an intoxicating scholarly environment. The folks at the Center for Values have truly created something special.

K.S. Robinson gave the one of the keynotes of the VMST conference. It was so powerful that I bought his latest book to have signed – yeah, it was THAT good.
Alice Dreger gave another of the keynotes at VMST. It was great to hear about preserving truth in science and to chat after all the great things I’ve heard!

I want to close with a special shout-out to what has to be the most unique paper presentation I have ever heard – from VMST, “Science: the Moral Secret behind Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn, Jill Hernandez, University of Texas at San Antonio; Allie Hernandez, Health Careers High School”. Not only was the idea to combine Aristotle’s concept of Phronesis with comics brilliant, but the paper is the brainchild of a mother-daughter pair – Jill providing the philosophy and Allie providing the comics! Talk about highlighting the power of comics to cross bridges! In essence, their talk was on a paper (soon to be published) discussing how Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn’s phronesis are impacted (if at all) by their sexual objectification across time. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the paper and will share on Twitter if I can find it once published.

No doubt Aristotle would have been a comics lover!

So what’s next? MLA 2017 is this weekend and then two weeks later is Comics and Medicine – both in Seattle, so expect lots and lots of coffee posts on social media soon! If you’re going to be around, please reach out – I’d love to chat!