'Melding' a life of science and art

PHS veteran Janice Findley infuses her work with creativity, attention to detail
Data coordinator Janice Findle in her office
Data coordinator Janice Findley said her 20 years in the Public Health Sciences Division have given her "real satisfaction" in both the scientific and artistic worlds. Photo by Dean Forbes

For a person whose untethered imagination creates surrealistic images like a giant, glowing cone chasing a woman who defends herself with an enormous hair net, and a brunch where the guests eat newspapers and furniture, Janice Findley is amazingly level-headed.

As a data coordinator for the Public Health Sciences Division's Epidemiology Research Unit and an award-winning filmmaker, she's been straddling the worlds of scientific research and art for the last two decades.

Findley began working for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1985 when a friend from college, Jan Kikuchi — now the data operations manager for Findley's unit — told her of a part-time opening in the department. Findley was hired and has stayed with the same work group for more than 20 years, learning new skills and developing strong, collegial friendships along the way.

The early years

She started as a random-digit dialer — cold-calling people and asking them to join one of the Center's epidemiologic studies — despite an admitted "phone phobia" in talking to strangers. Findley's fears decreased as her confidence grew, and she now considers her telephone abilities to be indispensable for her film work, too. "I have to make a lot of calls for my films to producers, actors and all kinds of people," she said. "My job at the Center helped me develop these skills, and I don't think that would have happened if it hadn't been a need at work."

Through the years, Findley has mainly worked on studies led by Drs. Tom Vaughn, Scott Davis and Janet Stanford. She learned to do rapid-reporting — identifying cancer cases before the pathology reports are abstracted — which enables researchers to contact potential trial participants before any treatment has begun or to make early contact with participants who have aggressive cancers.

She's currently helping with Stanford's Prostate Research Study, calling doctors' offices and tumor registrars to gather missing information from study participants' medical records or to obtain permission to contact a patient prior to study enrollment.

"Janice is incredibly detail-oriented, and she has established a wonderful working relationship with the Cancer Surveillance System and with the many physicians' offices that we rely on for accurate patient information," said Berta Nicol-Blades, Findley's supervisor and project manager for the Epidemiology Research Unit. "I have the utmost confidence in her understanding of this complicated process and ability to do her job with diligence, sensitivity, patience and a great sense of humor."

Findley's 'fulfilling' career

Findley said her years at the Center have been fulfilling. "I find real satisfaction working here because I feel like it really means something," she said. "In a world that's filled with things like Enron scandals, it's reassuring to work somewhere where people care about ethics and accuracy and are trying to help humanity".

"A lot of artists feel like the time not spent on their art is lost time. I don't feel like that. I'm really happy about what I do and accomplish, and I feel very appreciated by the researchers I work for. I have the best of both worlds."

Those worlds of art and science overlap for Findley. In addition to serving on the PHS Art Task Force, Findley is buoyed by her colleagues' interest in and help with her filmmaking. Findley's colleague and husband, Paul Hansen — one of the top percussionists in Seattle's music and theater circles — provides the music for her work, while Kikuchi has designed costumes for all of the films and acted in some, too.

She also enjoys her co-workers' willingness to share their artistic passions, which range from photography, writing and calligraphy to music and gourmet cooking.

"I think you see a lot of artistry here because research demands a creative mind along with methodical, cerebral thinking," she said. "Creativity goes hand in hand with successful science."

A self-taught filmmaker since her teens, Findley first worked in live-action animation — filming people and objects frame by frame. Extremely time-intensive, one second of film takes 24 frames. It took her more than a year of shooting every weekend to complete a 10-minute short film.

Given the technological side of her work, she sees filmmaking as "a melding of art and science."

Her films have been shown and lauded at art museums and film festivals. One short, "Beyond Kabuki," is in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent film collection in New York City. Larry Kardish, senior curator of the museum's film and video department, called Findley "one of the most exciting filmmakers to come along in some time."

For Findley, the blending of her life as a scientific-team member and a filmmaker has been a great marriage for 20 years.

"While I love pursuing my art, working here keeps my feet on the ground about what really matters in life," she said.

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