The Art of Science

Do you feel tired after a day’s work on your thesis? I sure do. Writing a thesis is difficult and we seldom count the hours: We can spend days pondering how to make a graph look nice or work two weeks straight to make a model or an introduction section work. Yet the satisfaction of figuring something out keeps us looking for answers to problems that have been left unexplored by others. Those moments when you discover something new and exciting keep us holding our breaths.

Here in Aalto, where arts, economics and tech are supposed to combine, I think we could appreciate the creative aspects of our work more. Despite my engineering passion, I loved, loved, loved arts and writing in school. You know, the stuff that usually gets to be labelled ‘creative’. Yet, I often get labelled as a nerdy engineer without an ounce of originality or creativity. Be that as it may (I am a nerdy engineer after all), I feel that I contribute by being original and creative. Thinking and combining data together in a way that produces something new is creative. Even though the end result is often something only nerdy engineers tend to appreciate.

Last week I wondered why is it that we keep doing something that we perceive as extraordinarily challenging. That’s when the thought of science as creative work struck me. We are so immersed in the idea of science being systematic and analytical that the thought of science being creative seems far away. We have the scientific method to guide us, defined by Webster’s encyclopedic dictionary as “a method in research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data and the hypothesis is empirically tested”.  Scientific method gives us rigor and guidance. However, does it help us when we are trying to find innovations or innovative solutions to our problems?

Actually, I don’t think it helps us much – instead, it keeps us confined to the knowledge that is already there. ‘Think outside the box’ is very good advice here, so why do we insist in keeping to the confines? When our problems are great, we should look outside with our little periscopes all the way into another galaxy.

Academic creativity3 
Depiction of a PhD candidate being creative

In my opinion, one of the reasons pushing us into the confines is the need for scientific community’s acceptance. It often results in fellow scientist labeling her colleagues as “engineers”, “those arts people(!)” or “unimaginative nerds”.

The obvious solution is to keep an open mind. This year Aallonhuiput is trying to improve our network and bring people together regardless of study field so that a platform for multidisciplinary research could be created. I welcome you to be a part of that community.

By the way Webster’s dictionary also gives a definition for “creative” – resulting from originality or thought or expression, etc. Can’t think of a better word to label us all – together.


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