Prasanna Kumar / Unsplash
Prasanna Kumar / Unsplash

A science student’s guide to literature

Starting university is the perfect opportunity to pick up old pastimes. Manpreet Kaur looks back on her first year as a science student at Warwick, discussing how re-discovering literature has impacted on her studies so far. 

Reading used to be one of my hobbies. I’d often read thrillers by Jeffery Deaver, perhaps inspired by my (now dormant) desire to become a forensic scientist. My favourite book of Deaver’s was The Bodies Left Behind, and I still thoroughly recommend it. However, reading as a hobby took a back seat once I started my A-Levels. Since I was particularly interested in science, there was pressure to read textbooks and subject-related material as part of my “extra reading”, rather than reading for pleasure.

All of this changed in the summer before starting university, when I came across a tweet in which somebody compared the sense and sensibility of a person, to their levels of pride and prejudice. I was so touched by these titles that I decided to invest in half of Jane Austen’s novels, alongside plenty of other classic novels.

The switch from my science-jargon world, to the language of literature took me a while to digest. 

Bringing these new books to university with me, I gave myself the time to work out the balance between reading for fun, and reading for my studies. Starting to read again was tougher than I had expected. I had to read the first page of my first classic novel three times to be able to swallow the sheer amount of information provided in each sentence, which were sometimes five lines long! Siri came to my rescue for words that I was unsure of, providing both the definitions and the pronunciations. As a scientist, I can pronounce words that others perhaps wouldn’t even attempt to say. However, the switch from my comfortable science-jargon world, to the language of literature took me a while to digest.

Slowly, I became more familiar with the prose in these novels. Not only has it helped me with my own style of writing and vocabulary, but it has also taught me to become more evaluative, and to question everything. I’ve developed my skills as a reader by analysing the characters and putting my own perspective forward, engaging with their lives. Whereas evaluation is a key part of the science sector, evaluation in literature involves putting forward a perspective, or rather a qualitative argument, based on instincts rather than evidence. It is not about proving you are right, but being able to convince others that you are right.

The emotions experienced when reading these books has helped me to keep my passion for chemistry alive. 

Since my term-time life as science student is a balance between lectures, tutorials and labs, taking the time to read for pleasure allows my brain to switch off all the other processes in my mind. It serves as a way of escaping the molecules of the science world, by instead conversing in a world of words. Re-discovering reading has changed me in various and rather astonishing ways. It’s been pivotal in terms of the change I’ve seen in my personality. Whereas at school I was one of the most outspoken and open individuals, I now find myself much more composed. It feels like the narrators in the books have seeded their qualities of thorough contemplation into my mind.

Reading is effectively building a world with words where you become fully invested in the character’s lives. You desire to travel with Gulliver, to open Gatsby’s eyes, to show Esmeralda what she’s neglecting and indeed to become Mr Darcy’s Lizzy. I had never known what shedding tears of joy felt like until I read my first classic novel, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The emotions experienced when reading these books has helped me to keep my passion for chemistry alive.

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Comments (2)

  • This is really well written manpreet! While I’m not an avid reader myself, I prefer to study languages to access the molecular world so I do understand that reading literature or having a hobby that greatly differs from chemistry really does help to continuously ignite the love for chemistry!

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