This is my first post for the “We are the World” Blogfest. (It’s a day late, just like yesterday’s Thursday Doors post on Friday. Time doesn’t always move in a linear fashion in my world.) To participate in this blogfest, join us on the last Friday of each month. As the co-hosts say, “no story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.”
When I was a graduate student at Stanford in the 1990s, I worked with a young professor, Susan McConnell, on growth factors that promoted brain development. She wasn’t my advisor, but she had worked in my PhD lab as a postdoc, and when she set up her own lab, she and my advisor collaborated closely. I still remember that when she left the lab, I inherited her desk.
The story I am linking to, Communicating Science Through an Artistic Lens at Stanford, describes work that Dr. McConnell has done more recently, melding her roles as a college professor and a conservation photographer. She founded a program called “The Senior Reflection” that teaches biology seniors to communicate science to the public through art. I clicked through to the originals of two of the student reflections described in the article and I encourage readers here to do the same. One that touched me in particular was the audio podcast from student Mallory Smith, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and who draws parallels between the way she sees young people treating their bodies, and humans treating the planet:
Many of us think we have all these second, third, and fourth chances and we can do as we please, that humanity and the planet we rely on are like a phoenix, venerable and beautiful and timeless. That the earth is a burning bird, and despite the trauma we put it through, it will turn to ash and regenerate. We can all waste and consume and waste and consume more, using resources like they’re ever-renewable, living like our species is going to die old. Living like nothing we do now is going to change that. But we’re coming to the end of our second, third, and fourth chances. What we do now, people will curse tomorrow and they’ll say I wish we hadn’t this, I wish I hadn’t that, what if we just….. If we’re all birds our choices lead us to burn; we’re not always going to get to rise up untainted, ever glorious, flying free.
Last year Dr. McConnell hosted an exhibit of her own photos of elephants, taken on safari in Africa. Two of the photos can be seen in this blog; others are in the linked article and on her website. Here she advocates on behalf of saving elephants and ending the ivory trade. Visitors were asked to take action on the animals’ behalf, for example to donate to the Elephant Crisis Fund or to sign a pledge not to buy or use ivory products.
I wish a program like this, uniting art and science, had existed when I was a student. My scientific training was very good, and rigorous, but I sometimes responded to the intensity and isolation of high-level technical study with feelings of resentment, loss, and even grief that another part of myself was being devalued and denied expression. I believe that programs like this can help heal our world, one individual at a time.
“We Are the World Blogfest” seeks to promote positive news. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world. This month it is co-hosted by: Belinda Witzenhausen, Lynn Hallbrooks, Simon Falk, Sylvia McGrath, and Damyanti Biswas.