Last September, four other graduate students and myself were given the opportunity to think about science from a different perspective. During a scientific communication workshop organized by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Pittsburgh, PA), we learned how diverse media forms enable scientists to translate their work to the public. Blogging, visiting schools, judging science fairs, and participating in community organized events are just a few examples. Interestingly, none of us had really considered creative forms of communication, such as art, music, or video. At the end of the workshop, all of the graduate students parted ways feeling that scientists should be afforded more time and resources to communicate their work and feeling grateful that this workshop allowed us to do so.
Once the workshop ended, I started thinking about how I could integrate art into my dissertation, while also incorporating my research into a creative work. Two thoughts stuck me. First, I realized that scientists are artists. Scientists produce works of art everyday, from colorful graphics describing results to beautifully crafted phylogenetic trees. We spend hours toiling over R code trying to create the most accurate representation of our results in an aesthetically pleasing way. We want other scientists to see our work in a paper and quickly understand our results without having to wade through extra information. In addition to producing graphics, we use creative solutions to both solve problems and answer questions. During college, I spent a whole week crafting individual shade umbrellas for plants. For our research project, we needed a way to reduce sunlight on a subset of plants inside a greenhouse. With a glue gun and wire in hand, my mentor and I came up with a way to make hundreds of shade umbrellas. In other words, scientists love solving problems and sometimes they do so in the most creative ways possible. The second thought that came to mind was that artists are scientists. They start with raw materials and mold it into something beautiful and thought-provoking. Scientists and artists both start with an idea or observation. Using imagination, creativity, and a carefully planned methodology, they transform their ideas into something physical- a graphic representative of a result or a piece of artwork. What I took away from the science communication workshop is that everyone is both an artist and a scientist, we just need to take the time to find and integrate both aspects of ourselves into our everyday lives.
As part of this science communication workshop, each Botany-in-Action fellow was asked to create an illustration that represents their scientific research. I am broadly interested in how two species of spring beauties (Virginia spring beauty and Western spring beauty) will respond to climate change. When I think about my systems, I often think about them as two separate worlds although I am testing the same theory in both ecosystems. Therefore, I decided to draw my two focal species side by side. Although I don't claim to be an artist, I know that I have the capability to enjoy and make art. In the same way, anyone can be a scientist. It doesn't take formal training to ask questions about the natural world. Take the time to appreciate your environment, both artistically and scientifically.
About this blog:
I created this blog as part of the Phipps Botany in Action Program, 2015 - 2017