First Year Reflections in LSC with Nan Li

LSC assistant professor Nan Li

This past academic year was unlike any other! However, LSC assistant professor Nan Li did not miss a beat and enjoyed her first year as a faculty member at UW-Madison.

Li joined LSC as an assistant professor in visual and science communication beginning in the fall of 2020. Having received her M.S. and Ph.D. from LSC, Li was no stranger to Madison and campus; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she spent her first year back at UW-Madison teaching and conducting research virtually. Li taught LSC 350: Visualizing Science and Technology during the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semester, and LSC 650: Risk Communication during the Fall 2020 semester. Additionally, Li spoke to our LSC 700: Science Communication Colloquium during the Spring 2021 semester about some of her recent research. Since joining the department, Li’s timely research has been focusing on studying the content and effects of visual representations of science and has done some of this work specifically related to visualization representations of the COVID-19 virus.

Recently, we sat down (virtually) with Professor Li and reflected on her first year as a faculty member in LSC.

LSC: Reflecting on your first year, what accomplishments are you most proud of and why?

NL: I have been studying visual communication of science for quite a few years, and I feel fortunate to be able to continue this line of research as a faculty member in LSC. During the past year, I examined how exposure to various visualizations of SARS-Cov-2 may influence viewers’ emotional response to the disease. I also explored the relationship between individuals’ awareness of the “Flatten the Curve” charts that went viral at the beginning of the pandemic and their perceived benefits of preventative measures (e.g., social distancing). Conducting and writing about these projects makes me think a lot about the so-called “post-text future” and how scientists should be using simple, appealing, and non-biased visuals to communicate the broad strokes of their work. 

LSC: What were the courses you taught with LSC? Do you have a favorite (virtual) classroom memory?

NL: I taught LSC 350: Visualizing Science and Technology in the fall and spring semesters; I also taught LSC 625: Risk Communication in fall 2020. My favorite memories are the “Visuals of the Week” presentations when LSC 350 students shared science visualization examples from their own disciplines. For example, an engineering student explained how the Perseverance rover lands on Mars by showing an interactive animation. A hydrologist introduced how streamgaging works using data visualizations. LSC students shared numerous visuals regarding COVID-19 and offered critiques as science communicators. It has been a fulfilling experience seeing students with different backgrounds teach and learn from each other. 

LSC: What kind of research are you focusing on with LSC? What research groups are you involved in/collaborating with?

NL: At LSC, I work primarily with students at various levels to study the content and effects of visual representations of science. Most recently, we have been developing comic strips regarding COVID-19 vaccination in collaboration with a cartoon artist and examining their effects on college students’ attitudes and behavioral intentions. 

LSC: How did you prepare for your first year as faculty in LSC? What is your trick to success?

NL: Online teaching and learning during the pandemic can be challenging. I make it a priority to stay connected with students and save ample time for breakout room discussion during live sessions. I found it important to infuse teaching with ancillary compassion and leniency to accommodate my students during these unprecedented times. 

LSC: Now that you have been here a year, what is something you wish you would have known before coming to UW-Madison?

NL: Nothing that I can think of; the campus, the town, and everything that resides in them never felt unfamiliar to me as an LSC alumna. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to be back at UW-Madison. 

LSC: What is something you are excited about getting more involved with in LSC or at UW?

NL: I cannot wait to return to the beautiful Hiram Smith Hall and reconnect with friends, colleagues, and students in person. I am excited to further the research on visual communication of science through a broader collaboration with students, other LSC faculty, as well as researchers and artists across campus.

LSC: Any advice to an incoming faculty member at UW?

NL: Take a walk along the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path when you need a break at work; seeing the Mendota waves and rustling leaves will always bring you inner peace and a sense of joy.


After such a busy and eventful first year, we cannot wait to see what the future holds for Professor Li here in LSC!