The case for Creative Writing in a STEMM curriculum

Aifric CampbellSeminar Room 3

Paper One (Dr Aifric Campbell)

Writer, lecturer in Creative writing

The Creative writing program at Imperial College London is one of a range of Arts, Humanities and Social Science courses that address the importance of cross-disciplinary perspectives in a STEMM education. Sixty years after CP Snow’s “two cultures” lecture on the separation of Science and Humanities, I present the argument for the inclusion of Creative Writing in a STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) curriculum, drawing on qualitative data from students and external examiners and nine years teaching creative writing to undergraduate and post graduate students in STEMM. I discuss how Creative writing studies promotes curiosity, collaboration, persistence, problem-solving and critical thinking - the “21st Century skills” for students identified by The World Economic Forum in their New Vision for Education, 2015. Creative writing studies offer an innovative, interactive learning experience that promotes intellectual and personal development, encourages consideration of human factors and ethical issues in STEMM, develops creative perspectives on scientific topics, applies storytelling skills to public engagement strategies in science, cultivates an awareness of the societal context of their studies and prepares them for their future careers as scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and medics. I note the rapid progression and quality of STEMM student writing, explore contributing factors and what this might reveal about creative writing teaching and practice.

Paper Two (Anita Chandran)

Writer, doctoral student in Laser Physics

I became interested in the underrepresentation of women in STEMM fields during my undergraduate studies in Physics. My search for role models who might offer guidance in my career was disheartening and alerted me to the dearth of literature on the life, work and struggles of women scientists. Role models play an important role in enabling young women to picture themselves as scientists: in the lab, at the computer, over the operating table. My creative writing studies inspired me to address the challenge of underrepresentation and erasure through the medium of fiction and provided the opportunity to develop and refine my technical and compositional skills. I now combine my doctoral studies in Laser Physics with a creative practice that includes research-based short stories about women in science whose work has gone unrecognised throughout history as well as fictional treatments of themes in contemporary science. I address the literary representation of women scientists, the challenge of authenticity in creative treatments of scientific research and the frequency choice in fiction to portray women scientists as ‘the down-trodden. I address how being a woman of colour in STEMM informs the process of writing fiction about science and scientists and how my outreach work in schools reveals that fictional narratives appeal to young women and girls and encourage them to consider STEMM careers.

Paper Three (Dr Gita Ralleigh)

Writer, medical consultant in breast cancer imaging, lecturer in Creative Writing

The encounter between doctor and patient is fraught with fears, expectations and competing narratives. Medical training foregrounds factual knowledge, allotting little if any curriculum time to analysing patient narratives or reflecting on these encounters. Including creative writing in the medical curriculum enhances narrative competence and improves communication and reflective learning.

Drawing on my experience as medical consultant and creative writing teacher for STEMM students I discuss how reading fiction expands awareness of the human context behind a patient’s story, encouraging empathic listening. Critical reading also reveals underlying assumptions in different narrative modes.

Creative writing allows students to reflect on and evaluate patient encounters. Sharing this work in the writing workshop builds communication skills, allowing students to nurture the resilience necessary for a medical career.

Sun 2:30 pm - 3:45 pm