A Day in the Life: Summer Undergraduate Research

A Modern-day Monet

A creator—that is what I want to be when I grow up. I have always hoped to engage others with a  novel, creative idea that has yet to be understood by others, some sort of uncharted territory that has yet to be explored; to start with nothing and construct something, as if the matter itself has a mind of its own.  I have always aspired to be an artist.

When you think of great artists, you think of Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso. Maybe you think of Mozart and Ansel Adams or even Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare. These artists have inspired generations of people, redefined decades, and created great works of their own.

I work in a studio. The first thing you might notice when you walk in is that it’s a little cluttered, as any true artiste’s place is. Nevertheless, I know where everything is found and where it belongs, regardless of how unorganized it may look to the visitor’s eye. In the back there are three easels, where I place my canvases when I work. And by the easels there are rows of paintbrushes and dyes. On the side there is a coat rack piled with aprons. There are two long workbenches in the middle with shelves overflowing with supplies. Most dear to me are my sketchbooks, filled with sketches of my initial ideas as well as photographs of the final results. However, my canvases are living cells, instead of paintbrushes I use pipettes, my easel is a laminar flow hood, my dyes are drugs, the aprons are lab coats, the supplies are chemical reagents, my sketchbooks are lab notebooks filled with charts and diagrams and data and procedures. I work in a scientific research lab.

Art is defined as the expression of human creativity, but art is described as paintings, sculptures, poetry, dance, music, etc. My experience in undergraduate research has shown me that a large amount of creativity goes into scientific research. I think that there is a lack of appreciation in the beauty and creativity of science as an art. Laypeople go to museums to admire pieces of art which are created through techniques they do not understand. I think that they should just as well browse scientific journals or scientific databases for pieces of art. You can spend the day admiring discoveries in science, even if you do not understand the specific methods with which they were discovered. By refusing to picture scientists as a kind of painter, we forget that they too use creativity, that they too represent a generation of people, that they too are artists. Scientists lose recognition as leaders of society and revolution. I believe that you can define time periods in art movements as well as in scientific movements. By redefining the way science is seen by laypeople, we can generate a newfound interest in research and bring further value to the work done by scientists. So I challenge you.

When you think of a great artist, you might think of Stephen Hawking, Frederick Sanger, Jane Goodall. Maybe you think of Edward Witten and Craig Venter or even Jack Szostack and Richard Dawkins.