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Workshop commentary: Creative Science Writing

Posted by , on 29 September 2022

In June 2022 The Company of Biologists organised an unusual Workshop for creative science writing. For the first time, scientists interested in communication were gathered together to experiment fiction and non-fiction science writing. The outcome far exceeded the expectations of the participants. The recipe for success was a combination of professional fiction and non-fiction writers, a group of motivated students, and the amazing venue of Wiston House (built circa. 1576) in the English countryside.

The Workshop was organised and directed by Professors Buzz Baum, Enrico Coen, Jennifer Rohn, and Mark Miodownik, assisted by the great logistic support of The Company of Biologists and in particular Frank O’Donnell and Jane Elsom. Students from different countries and career backgrounds contributed to the unique multicultural and interdisciplinary vibes. Students were selected and some flew all the way from India, USA, Sweden – just to mention a few. Native as well as non-native speakers had the chance to ameliorate their writing skills or practice their first fiction writing in a supportive and enriching environment. I had the honour of being one of the students in the Workshop and I benefited from this experience beyond words. In actual words, as it is required for writers, I appreciated the attentive supervision from the acclaimed writers, junior writers, and science journalists present at the Workshop. They all had different writing styles and expertise, thus mentoring the students in their own personal and unique way.

During those four days, students were challenged to leave behind the rigor of the scientific method and explore creativity. We discussed literary fiction, writing style, all the way to how to get your piece published and deal with editors. The most valuable resource was receiving feedback from authors with different writing background and styles. Mentees had the chance to share writing pieces with peers and mentors, thus creating a collaborative and supportive environment.

The experiment of the Workshop was as follows: group together scientists with an interest in writing and observe the result. Students came from different disciplines – marine biology, entomology, biotech, genetics – but they all shared a passion for writing. Some of us were interested in fiction writing, others in science journalism. Some had just started drafting, others were about to submit their first manuscript. Everyone was given equal time to share their work and engage in exciting debates about literature. The result was a kaleidoscope of creativity, novelty, drama, and certainly a new perspective on science.

The Workshop was carefully planned to give students time to write, revise pieces and discuss them with supervisors. At every feedback session there was at least one mentor every two students, which meant that everyone received detailed and exhaustive comments.

Another highlight of the Workshop was the dining hall and the meals. During dining time, we had the most interesting and enlightening conversations. Writers have plenty of exciting stories to share. Students have plenty of energy and motivation to give. The bidirectional sharing of resources was simply powerful and enriching.

The glorious historic venue with its vast green certainly played a major role in finding inspiration and focus to write. Finding time and calm is not trivial on the daily life of a scientist. The Workshop created the right atmosphere to truly dive into books, words, and phrases. I would like to personally thank The Company of Biologists and all Wiston house staff for making all of this possible.

Ilaria Chiaradia

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Categories: Meeting Reports

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