HOW MAPPING THE GENOME OF A FRUIT FLY CHANGED MY LIFE – aka how I learned to love mind mapping


aka how I learned to love mind mapping

School always made me anxious. I was doubled over with stomach aches, headaches, mouth ulcers, anxiety. From kindergarten to university, I fretted about tests and grades.

Even though I had been drawing and painting all my life, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Cell Biology at the University of British Columbia. I took linear, wordy notes. I couldn’t seem to choose what was important. I look through my old text books now and, ouch, they are one big highlighted mess. I didn’t learn as much as I memorized. Then I would quickly forget it all. I only seemed to fully grasp concepts in very visual, project-based classes.


Mapping the genome of a fruit fly in 4th year genetics class changed my life. Lectures were delivered visually, with the professor encouraging us to draw in class. I grasped the concepts, I made connections, I took ownership of my learning process and I understood what we were doing and why. I felt empowered.

Some of my fondest memories at UBC in Biological Sciences was mapping that fruit fly’s genome.  I recall the beautiful starfish like chromosome.


In the mid 90’s, my second child was diagnosed with autism and severe social anxiety, as well as chronic debilitating migraines. Their special needs preschool used storyboards to help students predict the shape of the day to help decrease anxiety. I kept a pad of paper and felt pens on me at all times after that, storyboarding before events, appointments, school… It became a habit to visually plan life through drawing and mind mapping.

After attaining my science degree (in 1984), I went to art school, then studied psychology and behaviour evidence analysis. This all led me to work with vulnerable youth within custody and alternative schools using creative engagement. I found mind mapping an excellent tool to communicate better, to teach visual learners and to resolve conflicts. I now use it in all my work– personally and professionally, be it doing creative engagement, project planning, team building, professional development, graphic recording, what have you.

I even used it to plan this bio-post.

Mind mapping is simple, fun and… life changing.

These mind map figures are inspired by one of my favorite illustrators, Maria Hesse


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