Julie Butler Makes Fish Research More Accessible Through Storytelling

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Julie Butler, a PhD student in Biological Sciences and TEDxLSU 2018 speaker, is working to help illuminate the social lives of some of the ocean’s most interesting creatures and how humans are affecting those interactions. She shares her research by combining her love for her art and her knack for research by employing compelling storytelling techniques on her blog. She hopes that her own work will shed light on the changing world of underwater ecosystems.

We recently chatted with Julie to discuss her life and work. Read some of the highlights of the conversation below.

What inspired you to study fish?

When I was an undergrad, I joined a fish lab and fell in love with it. I was on the Texas Gulf Coast collecting fish, camping on the beach, and doing science. I was working until 2:00 a.m. learning about different fish and appreciating how awesome they are. It was an accident, but it was a happy accident.

Why do you share your research through storytelling?

I take a storytelling approach to my science by putting it from my fish Burt’s perspective. I have a blog called Burt’s Blog. It’s more fun to talk from his perspective because it keeps it simple. When I talk about it as myself, I over-explain things or use too much jargon. When I’m writing as Burt, it’s easier to understand. It’s more relatable as a story than as data and numbers.

What inspires you to do art?

My grandmother taught art on at the college level, and both of my parents are designers so I grew up around art. I don’t always like talking to people, but I’m good at painting and drawing. It’s how I express myself.

What kind of painting do you do?

I do acrylic painting because it blends really well, and I love painting landscapes and animals. I am a fan of order and neatness, so I go for the type of paintings that are more realistic and structured.

What’s your favorite place in Baton Rouge to recharge?

I like being outside. I live close to the lakes so I can walk and sit there. I even have a backyard with a bunch of oak trees, so I lay on a blanket and stare up at the trees.

If you could switch jobs with another TEDxLSU speaker, who would it be and why?

Madelyn Smith. I’m looking forward to Madelyn’s talk because she combines her coastal sciences research with storytelling.

What’s your favorite fish?

I’m partial to the fish I work on. I work on a small African cichlid fish called Astatotilapia burtoni, which is where the name Burt comes from. I also love seahorses. They’re cute, and it’s awesome that the males are the pregnant sex.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

Most people are shocked when they find out that I used to act because it doesn’t match who I am otherwise. I was into drama and performance in middle and high school. I’m not very outgoing, but put me on a stage and I’m fine. I turn into another person.

What are some tips you would give to people afraid of public speaking?

The biggest piece of advice is to just do it. I went into the Three Minute Thesis competition last year on a whim, but it made me understand my project more. Particularly in science, we get so caught up in the analytics without thinking about the people side. My research on how noise impacts fish doesn’t mean a whole lot if it’s not communicated with people that are in a position to do something.

To learn more about Julie or about TEDxLSU 2018, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to listen to his talk, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2018 speakers.