I Want to Be a Scientist. Why Do I Have to Take Writing?
February 1, 2018
by Anjali Nelson, Writing Center Tutor
A common misconception is the idea that the subjects of Science and English could not be more different. In fact, some science majors might roll their eyes at the requirement for taking English 101 or English 205. One such person might ask, "I'll be in a research lab or in a hospital all day. Why on earth would I need to take a class about writing or literature? Was it a huge mistake to join a liberal arts campus?"
I'm here to tell you that I get the struggle. I'm a Chemical Science major, and the requirements for my major are geared to the maths and sciences. However, I intentionally chose a liberal arts college because of the core requirements for humanities. You might think I'm insane, but hear me out. There's so much potential for both personal and professional growth for a science student in taking a writing course.
Get used to reading scientific papers. Whether you want a career in English, business, science, etc., I can almost promise you that analysis of writing will be a part of your future. In science classes, you read papers from researchers describing the nature of their experiments. For students who are pre-med, the MCAT even has a section called CARS devoted to analysis of these papers. Rhetoric or composition classes can assist you, if you let them, in your examination of those papers. Scientists often use ethos (credibility) and logos (reasoning), and identifying those will serve you well in your future careers. For example, scientists often use numerical data to back up their arguments and conclusions (logos). Recognizing a scientist's credibility or reasoning is important to decide whether their research or ideas should be adopted. The rhetorical tools you learn in a class like English 101 will help you in this analysis.
Get used to writing lab reports and papers. You might dread lab classes. Trust me; I get the feeling. Those weekly lab reports seem tedious and unnecessary. However, the presentation of whatever results you find is important for your success in your future career. The English classes you take can help you improve your writing through the understanding of concision and clarity. By assigning word limits on papers, English teachers force us to avoid verbosity and redundancy. In many first-year writing classes, teachers require formation of drafts, outlines, and working theses before the paper is due. This mandatory planning can help you become extremely familiar with the ideas you wish to present, so that you can effectively explain your arguments in the paper. This clarity and concision is necessary in lab reports, as instructors wish to know that you understand the lab and can explain the results properly.
Communication is key. Any job you have will force you to get along with people. Part of establishing a good relationship with the people with whom you work and serve is communication, both verbal and written. With verbal communication, the skills you learn from making arguments and presenting ideas are incredibly helpful. For example, if you know another person on your research team only responds to pure logic, then you can learn to incorporate logos in your communication with them. When you wish for people to believe you or take you seriously, you can refer to those tools that you learned in your first-year English classes to form a written argument and apply those skills to your relationships. Identifying the best ways to communicate is essential for success, and the paper requirements from your writing courses can be stepping stones in that area.
Part of life is learning to do things that do not reflect your strengths and interests. Many people in science majors might be discouraged because they feel that writing does not come easily to them. Personally, I believe that the ability to write is not something that comes naturally or is a gift. Writing is a skill; like any other skill, it requires a lot of practice. English classes allow for a lot of writing practice. As mentioned before, there might be multiple drafts required before the paper is due. My advice is to take these papers seriously and put forth your best effort. Even if there is no draft requirement, write one or two. Come to the Writing Center or attend your professor's office hours to get advice on those drafts. This practice will benefit you in terms of the paper and future success as a writer.
Perhaps these points will help you feel a little better about your writing assignments. My job at the Writing Center involves the review of a lot of English papers, but even I get overwhelmed with the writing projects in my own classes. However, I know that it's important for my future success. Take advantage of these course requirements by being attentive in these classes to learn as much as possible and use every opportunity to practice communication and writing through drafts. My hope is that you allow these course requirements and writing assignments to shape your academic and personal achievements. There are so many resources on campus to help you become a better writer or communicator such as professors' office hours, content tutors, and the Writing Center.