Scientific Training: Curating Creativity, or Culling It?
If you’ve recently visited the Validity Science Communications website, you likely read the line, ‘science can feel cold, clinical, and be difficult to understand.’ This is an unfortunate truth for the mainstream public. Those un-aficionados of science are likely unfamiliar with the throws of exploration, undying curiosity, sleepless nights, and sense of wonder that overwhelms most scientists.
That is not to say that those outside the field of STEM cannot have an appreciation for scientific discovery, but there is often a sense of bewilderment or misunderstanding about what it is to be a scientist. Consequently, we see this archetype of attributes thrust onto scientists: anti-social, calculating, sterile, with poor communication skills. The reality is far from this.
When I launched Validity Science Communications, it was not because I saw this challenge and felt hellbent on capitalizing on this significant gap. Far from it, my experience in the lab, on the bench, in research, writing, studying, reading past literature, and commiserating with my lab team has shown me that there is more life – and light – in the lab than the public seems to realize.
The lab is far from sterile – although certain areas by default should be… We’re looking at you, cell culture hoods.
However, the belief that scientists must have exhaustive IQs and function within the rigid confines of technical theory is one of the greatest and most persistent misconceptions from the public to date. As a scientist - and as someone who loves the field and all those in it – I’ve dedicated my life and livelihood to rectifying this.
And that starts with understanding what actually defines a scientific mind.
Persistence, Discipline, and Out of the Box Thinking
What is the saying? Ah yes, ‘You must know the rules in order to break them’
Although a significant portion of scientific academic training is dedicated to complex theory, few concepts come naturally. To those that think that the most successful scientists are naturally gifted (though they do exist), you would be grossly misinformed. Though memory can play a contributing factor, most scientists in training must resort to the same mechanisms of study we all employ – keep working at it until you fall asleep and dream about it.
I have interviewed many impressive scientific minds who told me similar versions of the same story starting with, “I wasn’t a very good student.” Simply put, science is hard. But for those that pressed forward despite academic trauma, as I did, they were driven by something more than getting a good grade.
Some things are worth exploring even when the road is fraught with rubble, sharp objects, and maybe even a few poisonous threats in the way.
To champion science – as every master relayed to me on my own journey – you must have perseverance and an undying sense of curiosity.
The truth is, the academic trials and tribulations for scientists aren’t exclusive to them. Pursuing any field requires fascination and dedication to the field. If this is the case, why classify these professionals as separate or different? If anything, the wealth of knowledge scientists must carry to know which scientific rules to break makes them just as creative as artists.
Certain protocols require rigidity, as are taught. And yet, review any experimental protocol in any lab and you’ll find variances and unique differences specific to the team. One scientist may have found that the smallest change in order or reagent dose equates to improved results. Others may have wandered off the trail substantially, creating their own unique formula and blazing the way for labs across the world.
Even in the finest details, scientists must cultivate a creative, flexible mind – constantly questioning past research, analyzing their data, and fine-tuning their next experiment.
In many ways, the STEM fields are bursting with more creativity than many other fields. Conversely, I’ll have you know that other industries typically classified as rigid, boring, and lacking creativity also contain far more resourcefulness and imagination. For example, although the field of accounting is often considered complex and boring, many successful accountants find unique solutions to everyday problems, assuring that their records properly reflect the company books but allow for creative solutions to address regulatory changes, growing budgetary needs, or even new tax laws.
Unjust or Just Poorly Communicated?
Behind closed doors in STEM organizations around the globe, it’s not hard to see creative, scientific minds at work. Those inside often disregard these stereotypes as their collaborative work environment is full of dedicated, creative minds like their own.
Thus, it can be easy to see why so many fail to see the significance of adjusting outside mindsets. After all, how could it possibly benefit their own scientific endeavors to spend time and energy changing their public misrepresentation?
Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of reasons to interact with the public, change misconceptions, utilize branding in STEM organizations, interact with customers (even potential ones), or engage with the general public despite your products and services never reaching them. However – for the sake of this editorial, let’s stick to the importance of rectifying public perception of scientific minds in regard to creativity.
1. Think of the children
Yes, I went there. The truth is that the STEM fields are facing increasing needs for new students and talent. We’re entering a modern age where science and technology are at the fingertips of more and more, especially with trends in healthtech, biotech, and fintech. We’re seeing the very early stages of the big bang in these fields. It won’t be long before the young minds of today will be generating the new innovations we’ll need to pivot our world toward improved medicine and sustainable technology.
If we’re not properly representing the excitement, exploration, sense of wonder, and creativity involved in STEM to the public – how will we promote it to children?
2. Think of the money
I admit that is a significant jump from #1 to #2, but research, discovery, and innovation require funding. Unfortunately, our economy has some interesting limitations at this time, and though our current climate may change we’ll likely face some new challenge in the future. If we’re not properly representing the key figures and minds in science, and building trust and belief in their creative ability to pivot and improve, how can we motivate others to support it?
Not to mention, the search for funding is also starting to engage in creative thinking for the STEM fields. A number of Life Science and Technology organizations are tapping into the power and impact of general public investment, looking toward crowdfunding to help raise money. Though not new, the Life Science industry has been very slow to adopt crowdfunding – but we’re beginning to see this change trickling in. I, personally, am very excited to watch this adoption occur. But this also requires transparency – and engaging with a wider audience. Tapping into the hidden truths of scientific minds will only lend a hand in building improved rapport with the public.
3. Think of yourself
If the prior reasons didn’t quite hit you right, the reality is that the public does in fact look to engage with scientists more than ever. At a time when the world has been rocked to its core, vocal scientists have a new platform. For scientific minds looking for their next greatest impact, you – your company – your innovation – your technology – your voice – is being sought out.
You have a unique opportunity to break through the noise of poor understanding and media misrepresentation to lead a new movement of credibility. Lend your voice to this mission. Speak directly to those who suffer from these assaults the most. Show the world that scientists are neither cold nor clinical – we’re humans, we have creative minds, we are full of warmth and lust for life, and this drives scientific discovery.
Speak to the public in terms they understand: empathy, excitement, and wanderlust.
Dial in your language, simplify your goals, and most importantly – represent the field in a more accurate light.
And if you don’t know where to start – that’s okay.
The team at Validity Science Communications is here to guide your hand behind the scenes and give you and your company the platform you deserve.