STEM: Science, Comedy, Eloquence

With STEM presently in vogue across the nation, it has quickly become the case that a student’s proficiency in just one or two of these letters is insufficient for him or her to stand out among similarly-schooled peers. Exceptional students who display an aptitude for one of the STEM fields now find themselves awash with competition. Luckily, this dilemma is not a new one, and recent cases show how one can overcome and outshine the competition.

Consider the following prominent scientists: Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. What sets them apart from the thousands of other intelligent and qualified astrophysicists, engineers, and academics?

What allowed them to rise to the top of their respective fields, and what delivered them to the forefront of education and public discourse? The answer to these questions is clear: These men are not only brilliant scientists but masterful communicators as well. The following excerpt is from one of Sagan’s undergraduate essays and serves as evidence that mastery over the English language allows for one to escape the obscurity of the scientific community:

“There is a wide yawning black infinity. In every direction the extension is endless, the sensation of depth is overwhelming. And the darkness is immortal. Where light exists, it is pure, blazing, fierce; but light exists almost nowhere, and the blackness itself is also pure and blazing and fierce. But most of all, there is very nearly nothing in the dark; except for little bits here and there, often associated with the light, this infinite receptacle is empty.” (Carl Sagan, The Sagan Papers, 1950)

Above, Sagan describes our universe; his eloquent, poetic writing reads more like refined science fiction than an academic foray into the field of astrophysics. There’s the rub. It is precisely this mastery over English composition which elevated Sagan well above his peers and, further, would keep him at the forefront of American discourse for the remainder of his career.

While earning his degree in mechanical engineering, Bill Nye worked as a comedy sketch writer for the television show Almost Live! The experience Nye gained as a creative writer allowed him to seamlessly fuse comedy and science into Bill Nye the Science Guy, one of the most recognizable shows of all time. It was Nye’s understanding of and proficiency in creative writing that allowed him to secure underwriting for his TV show amongst a host of competing science educators.

The last noteworthy science communicator I'd like to mention here is Neil deGrasse Tyson, a man who began his career in astrophysics with a deliberate mind to follow in the footsteps of Sagan. Tyson achieved this goal by writing books, such as Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which explore complex physics topics in a graspable, entertaining fashion.

Aside from writing science books for laymen, Tyson demonstrates a preternatural comprehension of American pop culture and frequently uses Twitter to interject science into the public discourse to great effect.

By our present emphasis on STEM fields nationwide, we will create a glut of qualified math and science majors who will be competing for a finite number of STEM jobs. As has been shown to be true in the past, the only thing which separates the competitive STEM student from her peers is the degree to which she is able to effectively communicate her ideas in innovative and, I daresay, down-to-earth ways to the public at large.

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