Working Women: Meet Dr Nina Burrowes, Cartooning Psychologist

Working Women: Meet Dr Nina Burrowes, Cartooning Psychologist

Working Women month is all about celebrating diversity. With that in mind, meet Nina Burrowes, who has the World’s Most Interesting Job Title: cartooning psychologist. This means she gave up a more traditional role to dedicate herself to using her drawings to help people face up to difficult things: anxiety, guilt, doubt. She also celebrates the good bits of humanity that we sometimes forget: love, creativity, authenticity. Basically, she helps us understand each other. We asked her to tell us a bit more about what she does.

Why did you become a cartooning psychologist?

I became a cartooning psychologist because I wanted to start talking to the general public about the things I’m interested in. Up until that point I had spent most of my time talking to fellow academics, policy makers, and practitioners – but now I want to speak to the person on the street.

Has your female identity shaped your career choices?

Not that I’m aware of. I think I identify more with some of the other aspects of ‘me’ more. My age feels more relevant than my gender. But psychology is a female-heavy profession – so perhaps there were influences that I’m not aware of.

Can you tell us about a typical working day?

I tend to thrive on variety so I try to spend a little bit of each day writing, a bit of drawing, and the ideal day would also involve having a meeting with someone (preferably with some great coffee too). My work tends to move from intense moments of isolation when I am hard at work finishing a book, to intense moments of exposure when I’m on a stage talking to people about it. But I love the contrast in that.

One of your blog posts, ‘The Art of Reflection’, appeared on the Guardian. How important is self reflection for professional growth?

It’s massively important. Reflecting on where you have been, and where you are now, is the only way of making sure you’re still heading in your chosen direction. Looking back helps me notice the growth, it helps me to notice the distance travelled, but most importantly looking back is also about looking ahead – reflecting on who I want to become as much as who I have been in the past. Having this awareness helps to guide my choices and to make sure I’m still being pro-active about where I’m going instead of simply reactive to the things around me.

What does fulfilment mean to you?

For me it means being the person I aspire to be. I’m very interested in the choices I make with my life. I’m less interested in whether or not they work out. For me fulfilment comes with making the choice – choosing to be me. Whether or not that choice results in success is of much less significance. 

What’s the biggest challenge of being a working woman?

I’m self-employed and I think that anyone who is in that position faces a number of significant challenges. It comes with a lot of freedom but freedom is a double-edged sword. There is no one around to guide me, to tell me if I’m making a good choice, to reassure me, to give me a nice safe looking career path to walk. I'm very conscious that I am literally making it up as I go along – that’s one of the best and hardest bits of what I do. 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I’m taking it now. I had managed to get to a place where I had a good reputation and a solid work diary as an independent research consultant. But I stopped all of my paid work a few months ago and am now a full time cartooning psychologist. It’s a huge personal, financial and professional risk. Which means it feels both wonderful and very scary.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

A smile.


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