Thinking outside the box


I’m an artist.  As an artist and creative person I enjoy constantly learning and reflecting on things. I like to learn from a whole bunch of subjects all at the same time. When I was in high school I chose to do as many different subjects as I could. I did all the sciences: Chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics. I did French because I love to learn languages. I did English because I love to write and read and I was really good at writing essays. I did extension English and maths, people told me that it’s good for your ATAR (score to get into uni in NSW) to do them but really I just wanted to because I thought they would be interesting.

 When I got to uni and started my degree in science, I started the track down specialising, but I resisted it all the time. I continued to do physics, maths, biology and chemistry and I added planetary science and astrophysics to my science knowledge, I even took a philosophy of astrophysics course that was aptly titled philosophy of the cosmos. It wasn’t just the facts that were fascinating, it was the history as well; how humans began to think about the things they could see like the stars in the night sky and that lead to modern physics. I regret that I didn’t take any English courses or psychology courses because I’m also interested in these subjects, and I want to know more history these days.

I don’t go deep into one thing, I go shallow into all things. Thats who I am. Try to put me in a box and I will scream. I cannot stand to just be defined by one thing, that’s not who I am or ever will be. While I was doing my PhD, I was climbing and hiking and painting and socialising. I started an etsy store and sold my art. Even in my PhD studies, I could not be put into one box, I enjoyed learning about chaos, and measurement, and possible experiments, and the connection that chaos has to other disciplines. Is there a link between chaos and gravity? They both emerge in the classical world and are not well understood in a quantum mechanical description of things. I like to find the connections between all things. At the moment I’m thinking about the connections between the work I did in my masters year on random quantum states in quantum information and the work I’m doing now in quantum chaos. At the same time I want to write this blog and I want to write an epic fantasy.

Siri Hustvedt wrote in an essay titled A woman looking at men looking at women that as an artist “I resist every suffocating categorical box that divides content and form, emotion and reason, body and mind, woman and man…”. I feel this and I too resist. One of the greatest problems with jobs in research is the way in which we are forced into boxes in one specialised field or another. Yet its by thinking outside the box that we can start to think creatively and find the connections that link everything together. The most creative ideas I have related to my research come to me when I am sitting in seminars given by people in different areas. I am always thinking, how can I link this to my work? How can I make my own work better using what I have learnt from this talk? 

I get the most excited when I go to well delivered talks in entirely different fields. On the 10th of January I went to the LGBTSTEMinar which included talks by amazing people in all different research fields in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. I got to learn about current research that I would never come across if I didn’t attend the event. My favourite talk was an engineering talk on why its so bloody hard to build a fusion reactor. The answer is really complicated and fascinating! 
Last week I also had the opportunity to attend a writing retreat organised by the Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre. As we went around the room introducing ourselves and what we are researching, I was blown away by how important and cool everyone’s research was! Every one was doing completely different research that I want to know more about. I also had the opportunity to talk to a successful researcher from Imperial college and gain some advice to help my career. I was interested in how to get into research in interdisciplinary topics. I was told to start contacting people now. Places like Imperial college strongly encourage interdisciplinary research but it can be very hard to achieve. The research culture as it stands wants to put us into boxes. 
I’m reading the book of essays by Siri Hustvedt titled after the essay mentioned above. In the introduction Siri describes how after completing her PhD in English literature, she felt her education lacked “the biological piece” and she started reading enormously in the field of neuroscience. I love her writing and I take a lot of inspiration away from reading her book. I’d love to get to the point where I can write like her someday.
I’m also influenced heavily by Sylvia Plath’s The bell jar. I put a quote from it at the beginning of my thesis:

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.
From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.
One fig was a husband and a happy home and children...
...and another fig was a famous poet...
...and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor...
...and another fig was a brilliant professor…
...and another fig was Europe…
...and Africa and South America…
...and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other loves with queer names and offbeat professions.
And another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion.
And beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree,
starving to death, just. because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.
I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest.
And as I sat there, unable to decide...
...the figs began to wrinkle and go black…
...and one by one...
...they plopped to the ground at my feet."

I really feel like I connect with this quote, my inner creative being is ambitious and wants to do everything. Why do we specialise in research when thinking outside of the box is where our best and most creative ideas come from? I see so many creative types in science. How do we survive when we’re being stuffed into a box? How do you cope? Are we supposed to accept it or do we find ways to break out of the box? These are just a few ideas I have at the moment.

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