When I was a high school student, the message being broadcast by my science teachers was that as a student you need to somehow “pick a side” between the “sciences” and the “humanities”. Of course, in their view “the sciences” were the superior subjects for the intellectually minded, while “the humanities” were airy-fairy stuff for the weaker element (and, subliminally, girls). I found this especially upsetting because as a teenager I was a huge fan of literature and art. I’ve always been a complete bookworm and I love to draw (poorly) and to learn about other people’s art. But I was never under the impression that these were the sort of things I should be spending my time on – and so I didn’t.
Fast forward the better part of a decade – I am now an actual scientist and not only do I still love art but I find it very useful in my day-to-day science job. Writing in particular is an art form that is an essential part of what it means to be a scientist. Discovering something cool is of absolutely no relevance if nobody else knows about it. In fact, failing to explain what you’ve discovered or to convey its relevance to others will end the brightest scientific career very quickly. The idea that scientists are ivory-tower academics who never need to explain themselves is based more on the popular-culture stereotype of STEM professionals than on scientists themselves. In fact, it’s often the case that those who get the more coveted faculty positions are not necessarily the brightest minds but those who have a gift for convincing others that their research has value. And that is done through speaking and writing.
As it turns out, loving art has its advantages. Reading great writing is how great writing develops. More importantly, art is a wonderful thing. Beauty is in everything – especially in science. Art makes life (and science) much more enjoyable – and that in itself is a great reason to not let your love for it fall by the wayside.