Last week, I dragged myself out of my Honours-induced, orange-highlighter-on-unending-lines-of-text haze to listen to some amazing scientists and writers talk about their craft – and they did not disappoint. I was inspired, angered, and excited, often within the course of an hour.
I was angered at the ignorance of some in the audience – a medical doctor, while asking a question of the science writing panel, insinuated that science equated with “reality”, while the ‘so-called humanities’ met its match in “fiction.” At another event, where some scientists who were doing incredible work had the opportunity to tell their own personal journey into and within science, there were some people behind me who snarked, “those scientists are a little bit full of themselves, aren’t they?”, only to hear the reply, “but you know, they kind of have to be.” I am angry at the stereotype of the nerdy, insular, unsociable, arrogant scientist that for some reason seems to still be stuck in some people’s minds.
Now I’ve gotten all of that off my chest…
The festival as a whole was absolutely wonderful. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to forget that there are other people out there who are just as, if not more excited about the same things you are. I wandered past street science on Saturday, but I didn’t venture out for too long, as it was as hot as Satan’s ass that day and the tents were absolutely flooded with children. Even though I didn’t get to see many of the displays, I thought it absolutely terrific at the number of children that were there, enjoying themselves, and having fun.
I attended three events – and all of them had something to do with creativity and art (who would have thought, right?) I learned about the power of music – of sound – and couldn’t help but be astounded at the beauty of it all. Poetic justice, in a way. Music has and will always have a very special place in my heart, but it also makes me very happy that it is able to help others, even if it is on a subconscious level. I’ve watched documentaries, read articles, listened to people on the radio talk and write about all manner of things – but it really is something else to sit just rows from someone who is recounting their experience of having watched something truly miraculous happen.
And that – that sense of wonderment, of amazement, of the realisation we really don’t know that much about ourselves, let alone the other flora and fauna with which we share this planet – that is what science should be. We need people who look out at the stars, out into the ocean, and across the empty plains of the Australian desert, and to ask weird and wonderful questions about how the world works, what it means to be human. I remember learning about the structure of DNA in grade 3, and being instantly drawn to the majesty of this spiralling structure. And the more I’ve learned about genetics, the more fascinated I have become, and continue to be.
Of course, a great number of challenges still lie ahead, in each and every scientific field – scientists, out of all people, will be the first to tell you all about them. But this – also – is one of the wonders of science. There will always be problems, whether they be naturally or artificially made, and it is up to scientists to solve them (and isn’t that just fucking wonderful!?)
On my bad days, I feel like I’m losing an uphill battle when it comes to my writing, and breaking into the fascinating world of science communication. I feel like I’m not writing enough, that no one will take me seriously – either as a scientist or a writer.
But these past few days, these few events, have taught me that the best and most exciting things in life are not necessarily planned, and that there is a sparkle of magic in everything – yes, even in science. These people and their stories have taught me that you really have no idea where you will end up, and it really is all right to dream a little bit bigger.