When I grow up, I want to be….happy.

January 18, 2012 - Posted by LifeLearn

From BMC to here

When I meet clients for the first time (and they get over their initial surprise that I’m female because with a name like Desmond, I’d probably be expecting a man too!), they are often curious about my education, especially when I’m introduced as a Project Manager with a background in Biomedical Communications.

No, I do not do phone sales for medical equipment companies. (Seriously, I’ve been asked that.)

When I graduated from high school, I had to make a choice: pursue my childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian or follow my artistic interests into fine arts. Scared of becoming a starving artist, I applied into the pre-vet stream in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba.

With high marks, good references and lots veterinary volunteer opportunities available to me, including some in the university barns, I figured vet school was a sure thing.

My allergies thought otherwise.

Cats, dogs, rats, horses, cows, pigs, chickens, dust, dander, mould and mildew all resulted in sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. Vet school was out…now what? I knew I still wanted to work with animals but how? Finishing my Bachelors degree in animal science and doing a Master’s degree was a start, but it sure wasn’t vet school.

So I did what everyone should do when they are in a rut. I took a two-week vacation to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and did something I hadn’t done in seven years…I picked up a paintbrush.


For the next two weeks, I traveled around the city with my India ink and watercolors, capturing local images, being inspired and smiling more than I had in a very long time. Through my travels, I realized three things:

  1. Despite not being visually creative for a VERY long time, I hadn’t lost my talent. (Was I rusty? Absolutely. But could you tell what I was drawing? Definitely!),
  2. Life was too short not to do something that you loved every day, and
  3. Just because I wanted to focus on art should not mean that I had to throw away a perfectly good science education.

So the big question was, what could I do that would combine science and art into a career?

Enter Biomedical Communications (aka BMC), a graduate program at the University of Toronto that offers self-proclaimed science nerds (like me) a chance to use the other side of their brain and take their artistic skills, whether they be acquired through professional training, self-teaching, or God-given talent, to a new level. Often called medical illustrators, we take complex information, mainly in the areas of science and medicine, and create visualizations that not only hold an audiences’ interest, but help them understand difficult concepts and retain the information.

Two intense years later, I graduated as a “BMCer” and was offered a job as a Project Manager with LifeLearn.

I may not be a vet or a stereotypical artist. But I think I’m pretty lucky because on days when I’m trying to figure out the best way to explain the heartworm life cycle to a pet owner, while making sure my illustration of a mosquito actually looks like a mosquito, I feel like a bit of both.

And most importantly, I’m happy.

About the author:
Desmond Ballance is a Project Manager with LifeLearn Inc, whose responsibilities include everything from project organization and content development to scientific illustration, interface design, and video shoot direction. In her non-working hours (which, as a mother of a toddler, are few and far between), she likes golfing with her husband, swimming at the cottage or curling up on the couch with a ball of yarn and some knitting needles.