April 18, 2016

The Modern Day Superhero: Meet Juliana Leslie, Scientist By Day And Calligrapher by Night

Juliana Leslie is one of those ladies that has a quirky sense of style about her. Perhaps she’s a fashion designer, or designs website. But nope, she’s a badass stem cell researcher who in her spare time she is a Manhattan based calligrapher and hand lettering artist. On April 26th, Juliana will teach us a Calligraphy 101 class in NYC and in the meantime read her story about her journey.

1. Juliana you are a pretty impressive individual, during the day you are a stem cell researcher and at night you create beautiful calligraphy. Do you ever feel like you live a double life? And tell us how you came to be a researcher?

Thank you! Sometimes, I do feel a bit like I lead a double life- like when I’m up until 2am finishing a calligraphy order, and then I go to work the next morning and run experiments all day. On the other hand, I’ve always had various creative hobbies, so the dichotomy feels natural. I like having both science and art in my life, and it’s actually pretty common for scientists to have creative hobbies. In fact, there’s a study that suggests scientists are often more successful in their research if they do something creative on the side. It opens your mind to different ways of thinking and approaching questions. I’m sure this applies to other fields, too. My first taste of life in the lab started during college at Tulane. I worked in a lab that was focused on drug development for cancer treatments. I loved it. After college, I knew I wanted to live in New York, and I got a position at the Columbia University Stem Cell Initiative. I’ve had a unique experience in that I joined the lab right when it started, so I got to work closely with the primary investigator and get my hands on everything.

2. What’s the biggest misconception you seem to encounter as a researcher? What’s a typical day like?

A common misconception is that all important research is focused on curing a particular disease. There are so many basic things we don’t understand about our biology. My lab is considered a basic biology research lab- basic in the sense that we’re not necessarily trying to cure a specific disease or develop a treatment. We’re just trying to figure out what’s what. Our discoveries will, of course, be applicable to disease research down the line, but there are so many questions to be answered first. The reality that no one in the world knows the answer to what we’re looking for is what makes the job so challenging and exciting. I’m working on a couple of different projects right now, so there is always something to do. Each day, I’m essentially juggling multiple experiments for each project as well as working to keep the lab running smoothly.

3. Tell me a bit more about your calligraphy talent? How did you start your business? How do people generally find you?

I’ve always been in love with drawing and lettering. My grandfather was an artist, and he integrated Hebrew lettering into his paintings in remarkable ways. He gave me my first art book and was my first inspiration. I learned calligraphy when I was about 8 years old, and I picked up pointed pen calligraphy about a year ago. I wanted to start a business after I was hired to write thank-you notes to repeat customers of a small business. It wasn’t calligraphy, but I became aware of the market for hand lettering. Since then, I’ve been doing calligraphy for weddings and events as well as some custom projects. Most of my clients come from referrals. I strive to give clients a great experience so they want to recommend me to their friends. It’s been keeping me busy!

4. Do you have any advice to people who have serious grown up jobs and side hobbies or hustles and need a way to figure out the balance?

My first piece of advice would be to make sure your day job doesn’t drain your energy. If you get home from work and have no desire to do any extra-curriculars, there’s little room for balance. Ideally, your day job should get you energized and inspired to work on side projects. Additionally, it’s okay to start saying “no” to things, whether it be a client project that doesn’t fully interest you or a random happy hour on a Tuesday night. I feel as though we’re conditioned to feel the need to say yes to absolutely everything that’s presented to us. Say no to things that steal time and energy from what you’re trying to focus on. Then, when the right opportunities arise, you have the capacity to say yes to them.

5. Now it’s your turn to brag about someone else! Tell me a lady (or two) that you find inspirational and what it is that they do that inspires you.

There are so many! These days, I’m particularly inspired by the women behind Of a Kind (www.ofakind.com): Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo.  It’s a beautiful online store that features limited edition pieces from up and coming jewelry, home, and fashion designers, as well as the stories behind them. Yes, the merchandise is super cool and unique, but what I admire most about them is how they’ve created this great platform for emerging businesses and encourage entrepreneurship. They also have a fun podcast called A Few Things with Claire and Erica.


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