Interview with Gaius Augustus

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Gaius Augustus Interview

PhD candidate & Freelance Multimedia Science Communicator

Tell us about yourself

I’m Gaius, a visual storyteller and PhD candidate at the University of Arizona. I started my adult life pursuing training in the fine arts as well as video production. In 2010, I change trajectories and returned to school for science. I got my bachelor’s degree in Integrative Studies with a focus on Chemistry and Biology in 2014 and immediately jumped into a PhD. I’m almost done with my graduate degree, and I will continue creating multimedia science communication for people who love learning about the world around us.

In addition to loving science and art, I’m a queer trans* person. I live in Tucson, Arizona, USA with my partner of 16 years and my 2 cats (Hikaru and Lost). I watch old forensic shows for fun, as well as play video games, create novels and comics, and dress up in cool fashions (like steampunk, lolita, cosplay). My newest challenge is making my own games!

What is your PhD about?

I’m a PhD candidate in the Cancer Biology Program at the University of Arizona. My project focuses on colorectal cancer in African Americans, who have the highest incidence of colorectal cancer in the US. My research is primarily in silico (on the computer), and I use bioinformatics, biostatistics, and epidemiology to learn more about population trends, environmental influences, and the molecular basis of how cancer grows.

As part of my PhD, I helped in the discovery that African Americans have more of a certain type of bacteria in their colons than Whites. These bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide (a potential carcinogen), and may explain some of the racial differences we see in the development of colorectal cancer. I also discovered that although colorectal cancer incidence has been going down over the past 20+ years, early stage colorectal cancers are being prevented much more than late stage colorectal cancers. This is especially weird because preventing cancer early in its progression means it should not advance to a late stage. Lastly, I’ve been part of a study that found that colorectal cancers from African Americans tend to have a different set of genes, and possiblydifferent set of mechanisms, driving cancer progression than what has been established in Whites. As with all research, more studies are needed to fill in the blanks of each of my above projects, but I hope that the research I have done will be one tiny step toward reducing colorectal cancer incidence and death in an at-risk population.

What is your side hustle?

I divide my side hustle into active income and passive income. For the passive part, I draw science-inspired images that I put on t-shirts and things. It’s fun to create random designs, but the active income part of my side hustle is my favorite part! I work freelance creating infographics, illustrations, and animations about science. I’ve even taught the first of many workshops on how to simplify science and create infographics. Most of my clients have been interested in creating something for potential donors, but I think that this kind of multimedia project can be tailored to any audience. My hope is to work with more scientists and journalists to communicate amazing science into beautiful and engaging multimedia science communication pieces. Ultimately, I’d also love to extend my work to creating comics and games.

An example of Gaius Augustus’ work

Why did you start your side hustle?

I missed art! During my undergrad, I completely stopped creating. I went to school from 8am to 8pm every day and was involved in everything from research to running an organization to advocacy work to being on student government. It was crazy, and I have no idea how I did it! I promised myself that I would have betterwork/life balance in grad school. I generated a lot of excitement from other students who saw my art, and a friend of mine who is a professional animator inspired me to push further. So, I started creating infographics and animations.

The next thing I knew, I was being hired by the University of Arizona Cancer Center to create these multimedia projects for them. I had so much fun with it that I decided to push forward with it. It’s been a little over a year since I started, and it’s so challenging and so rewarding that I wish I had started sooner.

How does you PhD help you in your side hustle?

Simplifying complex topics is hard. It’s especially hard when you don’t know much about the topic. My PhD has been incredibly useful in honing many skills that I need: problem solving, logical reasoning, reading scientific literature, finding gaps in knowledge, data-based skepticism, and more. But even more so, my PhD gave me access to amazing scientists doing exciting work that inspires me every day! It’s given me the opportunity to create content in a supportive environment and has allowed me to network with scientists and communicators that I never could have otherwise.

How can readers find out more about your company?

You can find out more about what I do at my website, https://gaiusjaugustus.com. Feel free to follow my blog to learn more about me and what I do, as well as how you can be a better science communicator. If you want even more Gaius, feel free to follow me on social media. I’m the most active on Twitter and Instagram. Last, if you’d like to contact me, you can DM me on social media or email me at gaius@gaiusjaugustus.com.

Twitter: @GaiusDiviFilius, Facebook: @ProcessofInQUEERy Instagram: @ProcessofInQUEERy

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