I’m a biology major—the quintessential science major, literally the study of life. In many of my required classes, the professors give out more exams than As and I use so many flashcards that when I shut my eyes and listen close, I can hear the whir and thwack of thumbing through a thick pile of flashcards. Half of my hair ties go toward securing different flashcard stacks rather than toward securing my hair. It’s probably all falling out from stress anyway.
When friends of mine in the sciences see my course plans, they ask me why I have random English classes scattered in among things like anatomy and organic chemistry. Without them, I could go most semesters with only 13 or so credits a semester, and yet time and time again I register for 18 credits. This semester, if I didn’t take any English classes, I would have had only 12 credits. So it really seems like I’m screwing myself over by taking creative writing and English classes—or at least that’s how it seems to everyone else.
I know that my creative writing classes offer a break from the mind-numbing memorization, and force me to actually step back from the constant push toward good grades and post-grad plans, and think on a level that doesn’t involve that type of motivation. It’s a different kind of challenge, in between reviewing flashcard decks, to sit down and have to write a short story or analyze a poem. Scientifically—you should have known I would bring science into this—it seems that stretching your mind in this way can improve brain function. There are even some overlaps in which parts of the brain are used: creative writing has been shown to stimulate the visual centers, speech centers, and even the hippocampus. Similar areas are used for things like memorization and concept grasping. I’m not into the whole brain side of science so I won’t try to go into any more depth than what I was able to find out with some article scanning, but it’s common sense to understand that doing the same thing all the time isn’t always the best thing for you or your sanity.
But why creative writing? Couldn’t any random elective fulfill the same purpose, by making you think in a different way?
Creative writing and English overall are more important for science careers than many seem to think. Communication skills are extremely important and being able to speak/write for the general public to understand is an underrated skill. If you have something important to tell someone and you can’t get it across in a way that doesn’t make people fall asleep, you’re going to run into problems. There’s a reason why one textbook can be enjoyable to read, and another can be like a tranquilizer dart. One book’s author knows what the hell they’re doing, and the other’s doesn’t.
Whether you’re interested in careers that involve directly interacting with the general public, like being a physician or a teacher, or if you’re interested in research careers, you’re going to have to write and talk to other human beings, and it’s going to be a bummer if nobody wants to listen to you or read what you’ve written. Even a research publication can be interesting to read if it’s written well, and being able to create a sentence that’s grammatically and structurally correct is a pretty helpful skill.
I wouldn’t be saying all of this without some form of proof that people in the sciences tend to blatantly ignore the merits of English—almost all of my science exams have embarrassingly bad grammar mistakes, were obviously not proofread, or are just written in a way that makes no damn sense.
Taking a few classes in creative writing definitely won’t hurt you, and it might just help you, so why not register for an intro class?
Rebecca Nelson is a sophomore studying Biological Sciences at the University of Connecticut. She is on the fiction panel of Long River Review.