Not that I have an over-abundance of time on my hands, but a hobby I have taken up recently is painting. It is a very cathartic process that allows me to be completely immersed in a single task, and it’s meditative as well. I’ve also come to realize that though we are very scientific, much of what we do as researchers is art.
In March and April, I was involved with several presentations:
- Together with Marwan, I taught tutorials for Criminology undergraduate students and facilitated a discussion/debate on the use of DNA and other biometric databases
- I presented my research for the same Criminology undergraduate module and spoke about the future of forensic anthropology and 3D data
- During my secondment at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), I made a presentation to graduate-level students in Dr. Tracy Rogers’ forensic anthropology lab about the need for forensic research to be rigorous, and how a basic understanding of mathematical principles as well as computer programming could facilitate such an approach
Public speaking is an art, to some degree – there is a creative process involved with engaging an audience, gauging their attitudes and reactions, and adjusting your approach to suit the audience. There is also the visual aspect to consider – creating Powerpoints is most definitely a creative endeavour where images, font type, and colour schemes play an important role.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from painting, however, isn’t about the aesthetics or the visual result – painting has taught me to appreciate the process of what I’m doing. I was recently told, there are no mistakes in painting – there’s just more paint. Metaphorically, this is a philosophy that we can apply to everything we do.
Difficulties arise in research (and of course in daily life too), and it’s easy to want to give up and move on to something else. It’s just like in painting, when you have this idea of what the finished product should look like, but then you make a mistake and put paint where you aren’t supposed to. Like huge blobs of white paint on what is supposed to be a dark night sky:
I tried to use a paper towel to remove the excess white paint, but I ended up with white smudges.
At this point, it’s tempting to want to get a fresh new canvas and start over again. But what I’ve learned from painting is that you really can make the most out of your “mistakes”. You just need to use more paint and do something with it. It’s the same with research. You can always do something with whatever current situation you feel stuck in, even if there are obstacles, barriers, or mistakes. Learning how to work in non-ideal situations and making the most out of it is an important skill in research, painting, and life.
In the end, it’s hard not to see all the mistakes or imperfections when looking back at a painting, or recalling a particularly difficult situation in research. A common pitfall that researchers experience (including myself) is to be so caught up with the details that the initial sense of purpose is lost. To this, painting has taught me to take a step back and to take a broad look at the whole thing. In doing so, you will see that you have accomplished something a lot more meaningful than you thought you did. Painting is about perspective, and in a similar way, so is research.
The finished painting – I ended up turning some of my mistakes into shooting stars!