For the last 2 1/2 weeks I have been back in Hobart at the nation’s marine science hub. For the last 2 1/2 years we have been trying to do some rather fancy measurements on my coral samples to unlock secrets from that part of the planet we know least about: the deep ocean. However, this has proven to be not so easy. Was I given the wrong key or is it to do with the instrument being more temperamental than I am (which is quite). After 7 or 8 trips, my data set is still …erm…. small. Until now.
This trip I have not only completed the ‘top priority‘ list, I’ve completed the ‘this would be great but not entirely essential‘ list, and the ‘now that’s a PhD‘ list. Today I started processing the ‘you’ve got to be kidding the instrument is still running?‘ list. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. The clock struck ‘9 months’ a few days ago and it’s time to start thinking about how to deliver this thesis with as little medication as possible. I have the data, now it’s time to get creative.
Science and creativity are not often associated with one another. The former being grounded in objectivity and the latter more often associated with the subjective. However creativity is not just rooted in imagination, but the process of forming original ideas. And this, for me at least, is the most thrilling part of the scientific process.
The presentation of a paper, or thesis, is bound by certain conventions. We have a question we are trying to answer. For many this is a tough one; what is my question? What is my purpose? (Or at least the purpose of my study if we want to be less philosophical). You open with an introduction discussing the literature that provides the context to your question. What do we know already, and what knowledge gap does my study attempt to fill? Your methods describe how you went about answering your question, and the results describe your data. But it is the next section, the discussion section where you show your ability to be a researcher. It is in this section that you interpret your results and tell the audience what it all means. And it is this section, your interpretation of the facts, that the novice often fears, and finds the most difficult to write. There may not always be a straight forward answer and if there is, you’ve not been trying hard enough!
I started thinking about the importance of creativity recently when I watched the TED talk below. The speaker makes an excellent, and VERY humourous argument that public school systems stifle creativity. While I totally agree with his message I think an equally important point to make is that creative thought, as in original thought, is also the cornerstone of great science. That and a healthy dose of perseverance.
If you have 20 minutes, this guy is hilarious.