Category Archives: creativity

What’s in an idea?

Image: Idea by Alexas_Fotos, CC-0, via

This is a guest post by Quinn Webber, a 2nd-year PhD student at Memorial University (MUN) in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Quinn is an avid science blog-reader and has begun writing for the MUN Graduate Studies blog. His post there on the origin of ideas struck a chord with me, and I asked him if he would adapt it for Scientist Sees Squirrel.

As a 2nd-year PhD student, I seem to spend most of my time coming up with ideas and plans for thesis chapters. As of now, the plan is for five chapters: a conceptual review that integrates the ideas underlying the rest of my thesis (currently in revision), followed by four ‘data’ chapters. Some of the ideas that make up these chapters have been rattling around in my brain for a few years, while others were conceptualized and refined in recent months after reading new literature and chatting with colleagues, lab-mates, and my supervisor. It’s the process of conceptualizing and acting on ideas that I’m interested in and excited about. Ideas become the blueprint that guide data collection, analysis, and ultimately the thesis or manuscript. Continue reading


Creativity, play, and science

Photo: Mushroom arrays on the forest floor in a “play” experiment (S. Heard).

Much of science is a craft: doing it well involves the application of practiced skills, which can be honed (if never completely mastered) by anyone with time and experience. In an experiment, for example, we have powerful experimental design, meticulous repetition and recordkeeping, appropriate statistical analysis, and clear writing to report the results – all things we can become objectively better and better at with practice.

But there’s creativity in science too, and it lies in the source of our ideas. This part of science is more mysterious. Continue reading