Art in science, and my anti-biology roots

One thing that I love about science is that in order to communicate one’s observations, it is sometimes necessary to make beautiful drawings. Artistic renderings haven’t been part of the research I’ve worked on myself and I am glad for that, because I am far short of professional artistic skills, but I do love to draw as a hobby, so I decided to share some of my recent sketches here.

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Not-to-scale drawing of a Death’s-head hawkmoth.

Lately I’ve used drawing as a way to reconnect with the discipline of biology. I have been working as a gardener, and I am blown away on a daily basis by the amazing variety of plants that grow where I live (Western Massachusetts). There is an incredible amount to learn about all of these plants, but it is a pleasure every day to take it all in.

For a long time, I had a bias against the entire field of biology. I’ve come across this phenomena with other scientists I know too. It’s not always biology, but scientists (or students of science) sometimes have a tendency to become loyal to their own discipline(s) and develop a team-rivalry kind of mentality. I think there are many causes and expressions of this phenomena– some as simple as “I don’t understand that/I was never good at that,” but sometimes bearing greater condescension or disdain, e.g. “XYZ isn’t REAL science.”

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Drawing illustrating the anatomy and development stages of a mushroom. Do mushrooms have anatomy? I’m not sure. I should ask a Biologist.

A combination of factors culminated to make biology the science that I looked down on. I preferred math-centered sciences, where simple equations prescribed all the rules (obviously biologists DO use math and plenty of it, but my stubborn team-physics self didn’t think it was enough I guess, or the right kind, or some other silly hang up). I found biology confusing and messy and there was a seemingly endless amount of living phenomena to observe and somehow that seemed unscientific to me. I say all of this now not because I still believe it, but I know it is how I felt back then. By now I have fully reformed and have an immense respect for the discipline and I appreciate the many ways biologists tackles complex problems.

I suspect that the real reason I didn’t like biology for all those years may have been that I didn’t like my first biology teacher. I felt like she favored the boys. Her communication of the material was confusing. Her grading seemed arbitrary. And I sensed that she didn’t like me personally. It’s bee long enough that I can’t say for sure if this feeling I had was founded, I don’t remember any clear examples of what she did to make me feel that way. It seems ridiculous that one bad teacher (or maybe not even bad, but just not my cup of tea) could put me off to an entire field of study. I’m sure there are plenty of passionate biologists out there who wouldn’t or couldn’t have been dissuaded by one teacher they didn’t like, so it’s not that I think I was born to be a biologist and this teacher ruined it for me. I have, though, been heavily steered towards my current interests by excellent teachers, and inspired teaching has often been what drew me to the fields that I study and love.

On that note, inspired teaching seems like a good topic to explore more another day. That’s all of my thoughts for now. Please let me know what you think of this post– have you also experienced biases for/against certain sciences? Did you ever have a teacher that “ruined” a topic for you? Do you have any drawings you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from anyone who is reading!

About Laura Fattaruso

Science (esp. geology
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