In my college introduction to botany, the very first thing we were asked to remember was not a complex chemical equation, or the scientific name of a plant, or any one of the the many, many steps of photosynthesis we had largely forgotten. In fact, it had nothing to do with our textbooks at all.
Before anything else on this opening day of class, we were asked to remember stories.
Our professor told us each to write down a detailed memory of a plant, from as far back as our minds could reach. Slowly, the moments returned: morning races around the lilac trees, listening to wind sounds and the hum of clumsy bee bodies drifting between branches; the damp, pungent smell of tomato leaves and my fingers yellowed from the vines; twisting muddy strawberries away from their stems to roll in my palm and eat.
These memories were a reminder to ground ourselves in the larger picture of what we were studying. Science does not exist in a vacuum. It is the study of the world around us, but too often the world is left out. Whenever I page through the biologist’s field guide that I used that semester in college –a text that aims to teach novice scientists how to approach the literature for the first time –I find tips like these:
Don’t feel intimidated by abstracts containing unfamiliar terms or ideas.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the specialized terminology found in many Methods and Materials sections.
Do not panic if you don’t understand the quantitative details.
Many of your sources may be too detailed or too difficult to understand in a single reading. Plan on returning to them once you have a firmer background and can better appreciate the specific contributions of each paper.
I don’t believe that science should be intimidating, or so specialized that it remains outside the scope of our daily lives… and I certainly don’t believe that it should ever induce panic. Through this project, I hope to make the science of our Minneapolis community more accessible and familiar for all. Here, every Friday, I will ask you to remember the stories.
This blog will explore ecology, environment, human health, culture, and place. It will also focus heavily on community research –right now, the work of the Minneapolis City Health Department, Environmental Services Division.
I hope you will join me!