by Aaron Pagan
The perfect way to succeed after college? "Network, set big goals, and don't study for the grade; study for the future," says College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS) graduate Val Altounian (Medical Illustration BFA ’13).
Working for Science magazine in Washington, DC since she graduated from CIAS, her artwork is featured on the cover of a special “Breakthrough of the Year” issue. The issue is devoted to cancer immunotherapy, where the immune system is used to reject cancer. We had the opportunity to speak to Val and she shared what working at Science magazine is like, as well as how the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences prepared her for her current role.
Q: What is your role at Science magazine?
A: I am a Scientific Illustrator at Science magazine, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My primary responsibilities are to create original artwork for various sections of the journal and for the two online-only journals Science Signaling and Science Translational Medicine. Articles are accompanied by either photographs, charts, and/or illustrations; I work with the editor of the article to develop illustrations when needed. The three journals are published on a weekly basis, so there's always something new to work on.
Q: What was the process of preparing the cover like?
A: During our weekly art distribution, my supervisor (also an RIT med. ill. alum, Chris Bickel), assigned me the illustration for the Breakthrough article. It was something different so I was happy to take it on, but I didn't realize at the time that it was kind of a big deal. As I was working on the art, I was told that it would likely be on the cover, being that the Breakthrough of the Year is the special section in the last issue of every year.
I then began working on creating artwork for the cover that went along with the illustration I had been working on for inside the magazine. The program that I decided to create the art in is one that I'd not had the opportunity to learn in school, but I knew enough about 3D modeling from the classes I did take, coupled with training from Chris, to teach myself. Realistically, one can't learn everything in school, but keeping a working knowledge of things related to and outside of your field is important.
Q: How does it feel to have your work on the cover?
A: During the process, I couldn't let myself acknowledge the overwhelming fact that my art was soon going to be on the cover of Science because I knew the pressure I would put on myself might make me lose focus. But now that it's been published, I can feel proud to have been entrusted with this project so early in my career. If someone told me before I graduated that in a few months I'd be illustrating the cover of Science, I wouldn't have believed them.
Q: How has your experience at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences aided you on your journey?
A: My experience at CIAS helped me get where I am by not only giving me a thorough education, but the confidence that the skills I learned would hold up in the workplace. The college has the resources for students to succeed, but it is up to the student to take advantage of them and always be forward thinking. The professors are very experienced and committed to their students. The administration is friendly and helpful. RIT is run by real people, and it shows. The friends I made there were supportive and completed the experience for me. I have felt prepared for the work that I have the opportunity to now be doing.
Q: What advice do you have for students who wish to advance in the Medical Illustration field?
A: The advice I have for students who aim to advance in Medical Illustration is to get into it early. This field is small but it exists because the people who are in it are phenomenal at what they do. You can follow in the footsteps of Vesalius and Albinus as well as the masterminds through the 20th century and today, but it's a lot of hard work. Needless to say, there's a lot to learn, so do as much as you can with academia as your safety net.
As an added piece of advice: while CIAS was my home college, I benefitted a lot from taking classes from other colleges at RIT that had seemingly little to do with medical illustration. Diversifying your education is something RIT easily allows you to do, and should be taken advantage of.
Congratulations to Valerie on her accomplishment! She is the most recent of several of CIAS alumni to work at Science magazine, including Chris Bickel BFA '04 and Yana Greenman BFA '09. If you would like to learn more about Science magazine's "Breakthrough of the Year" issue (and see more work from Val!), click here. To learn more about CIAS' Medical Illustration program, refer to our Undergraduate Medical Illustration page.