2020 - Challenging Together

In a year where the boundaries between home and work became less defined, I found it harder and harder to derive any pleasure form sitting at my drawing station. My home desk had become a work desk where I spent 10 or more hours a day of screentime through the week and it was just too hard to extend this into my typical late night/weekend shenanigans. The fatigue was real, and it was accompanied by a sense that I just didn't have it in me to keep ChemScrapes going if this was going to be the new normal. Sketch Chemistry fell behind and I confessed to my partner in crime at c&en (Michael Torrice) that I was feeling the pinch. Then a few things happened to turn this all around.

The first cool thing that happened was towards the end of April. I was contacted by LC Campeau (@DrLCSquare) via Twitter to see if I was interested in collaborating on a cartoon for a perspective that he and his colleague (Dani Schultz, @danithechemist) had submitted to Nature Chemistry. LC suggested a scenario, which I quickly scribbled down and added some dialogue (below). There were a few back-and-forths on the dialogue as the image was refined, and the cartoon was published in early June. We had so much fun playing around with the potential dialogue that LC had this idea we could use the cartoon to engage the community to make up their own versions. So we made a blank cartoon available in ChemTwitter and encouraged people submit their own dialogue which we put up on this site (including some of our early ideas - see here). Great fun and some great laughs too!

Soon after LC contacted me, I was invited to attend the Social Isolation Social, an initiative on ChemTwitter that was started by Stuart Cantrill (EIC, Nature Chemistry) and LC . This gathering of nine to eleven people from all walks of chemistry had already been going for a little bit, and I was initially hesitant because I tend to be quite shy. With the exception of Nessa Carson (@supersciencegrl - who I met in person on a work trip to the UK in 2019), I had never stepped out from behind my avatar to interact on a personal level. Nevertheless, I decided to take a step out of my comfort zone and attended the event - which was awesome! So, when I was asked to attend the 50th Social Isolation Social in September, I jumped at the chance (even though it meant getting up at 3 am to make the chat). It was so much fun - there was also some live drawing on some of the conversation topics as the morning progressed (see below).

From upper left reading across: Drawn during discussion on rubber joints on lab apparatus; gold being annoyed at not being asked to the 50th socialisolationsocial; Stuart Cantrill on a plane back from LA with a stuffed toy lion; chickens testing if humans explode in microwave ovens; Stuart Cantrill unable to decide which is his favourite gin.

Around June, I got a message from my sister on instagram with a screen shot of somebody who had redrawn one of my cartoons and shared as their own on their own social media without an attribution. Not just the idea was redrawn - the style was also copied. Of course I felt this was completely inapproriate and posted something about content theft on Instagram, tagging the offender. What happened next made me feel terrible - the offender was a teenage boy who LOVES chemistry and also wants to draw chemistry cartoons. He apologised and stated that he loves ChemScrapes and was copying the style and wanted to learn what software I use etc. I was suddenly thrown back thirty years when I used to sit down for hours on weekends and copy Footrot Flats and Asterix and paste these all over my bedroom wall. Nowadays we find very few posters stuck on walls, I guess. Social media provides the walls and it is a great place to get feedback and learn from others as part of a community. So instead of berating this poor kid, I decided to encourage him and did a special drawing for him to tell him to keep on going (see below). He loved it and it brought a big smile to my face.

Then, in July I was contacted out of left field by Phil Baran asking if I had some interest in working on some coverart for his group's perspective on Taxol synthesis that was to appear in JOC. I was blown away. Coverart is something I usually turn down (unless it is for colleagues), but the timing of me moving house, having a few days off work to do so and with the deadline for the coverart being the same day as the day I had to pack up my computer for the move - it was perfect! The overlap of timezones between San Diego and Singapore also happened to be synced to the point we could communicate at a reasonable time of day for both of us. We were able to quickly confirm with a quick five minute sketch (below) that we were on the same page with the concept (Phil's idea), after which it took two days to finalise the cover and by the end of the week it was accepted. What stood out for me through this experience was the excitement that we could work on the cover together. Yuzuru Kanda (@yuzururururu, one of the authors) and Phil were both so energetic - it was an incredible experience. The cover and article can both be viewed here.

By now you have probably realised there is a common thread running through these interactions -COMMUNITY. Through the COVID shutdown, when I was feeling at my most exhausted, the interactions with the community energised me and made me understand that ChemScrapes is nothing without the community of chemists around it. It made me realise that I need to play a more active role by injecting some of myself into the community and step out from behind the drawing tablet a little more.

This has seen me make personalised stickers for people in the ChemScrapes sticker deck, send mugs to random people, the ocassional book, follow more people, and generally be a community member as opposed to a community watcher. I certainly feel rewarded for it.