The power of stories (a call for arts-science collaboration)

beta-life-websiteIn my previous blog post I put out a call for collaborations to adopt a citizen science approach to studying mimicry. I’m delighted to say that is going very well (thanks, everybody!), and I’ll provide an update soon. However, there is another area of collaboration that I thought might be interesting to discuss. I lecture in the School of Biology, and I am interested in broadening the scope of my MSc research projects. In particular, I’m becoming more and more interested in cross-faculty and interdisciplinary projects that expose students to different ways of thinking about their research topic.  I came across the Comma Press science-into-fiction concept through Martyn Amos from Manchester Met (a computer scientist and public engagement lead). SiF uses a model that runs (approximately) as follows:

  1. A discussion between short story authors and scientists
  2. The identification of an interesting and topical scientific concept
  3. The production of short, science fiction stories based around that concept by the author
  4. The production of accompanying “afterwords” written by the scientist providing a popular science description of the scientific topic.

Comma has published a few anthologies of such stories around topics such as artificial intelligence, and I think a pared-down version of this format might make for a fascinating collaborative research project. The basic model that I envisage is a combined piece of work that contains two or three short stories. Each story is based on a concept in ecology/conservation biology and is followed by an “afterword” that describes the scientific concept in more detail.  The final part of the project would involve an evaluation of the effect of the short stories, compared to standard popular or technical scientific writing on the same topic, on the response of a group of readers. We might predict that a narrative-driven description of a scientific concept might engender a deeper emotional response and personal connection to the concept (important in conservation biology!). The final submitted work might be the short stories, the evaluation, and a critical reflection on the process by each student separately.

I have an MSc Biodiversity and Conservation student who is interested in pursuing this idea, and now I am on the hunt for a writer. This could be an undergraduate or postgraduate student looking for a creative writing project for their degree, or an academic who is interested in producing the stories themselves. I would also be more than happy to discuss the idea with any other authors who are happy to contribute time (I cannot pay, which is why I was focusing on students who could use the work as part of their degree). This could be a very exciting interdisciplinary project and a unique learning experience for both sides of the collaboration. Our MSc projects run from mid-May to mid-September and I would like to have something nailed down by the end of March if this is to go ahead. If you are interested or know someone who might be interested, please get in touch!

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