The artistic doctor
On a doctor's doodles, why accountants should read "Babbitt", and the need to keep STEM separate from STEAM -- while making sure STEM-centered people still appreciate the humanities
The University of Iowa Children's Hospital is already widely-known thanks to the five-year-old neo-tradition of the "Hawkeye Wave", during which fans at Kinnick Stadium pause after the first quarter of a Hawkeye football game to wave at the wall of windows looking into the stadium from the hospital next door. It's a lovely and sentimental practice, and perhaps it does just a little to ground the passions of sports fanatics in things that are more important -- like the well-being of sick children.
■ It's also lovely and worth taking note that Dr. Sarah Scott, a resident physician at the hospital, decorates some of her patients' doors with hand-drawn pictures of Bluey and the Paw Patrol. It's certainly nice as a first-order matter -- she's to be applauded for doing nice things for children in tough situations.
■ But it's a particular delight -- and a thing well worth celebrating -- whenever people who are advanced practitioners of the STEM fields also show that they have well-developed artistic sides.
■ On one hand, people probably take it too far when they try to shoehorn "arts" into the middle of STEM to re-brand it as "STEAM". The whole reason we cluster science, technology, engineering, and mathematics together is because they are widely acknowledged to be hard topics, and ones in which society has historically under-credited and failed to nurture the latent talents of big parts of the population. When we dilute the focus, we risk failing to take long-overdue action to make sure that women and girls aren't driven away from the STEM fields, and that racial and ethnic minorities aren't left out.
■ But on the other hand, the humanities are good for everyone. A CPA who appreciates the nuances of Sinclair Lewis's "Babbitt" and its critique of life in the middle class ought to be a better accountant for that well-roundedness. An engineer who develops an artistic appreciation for period designs stands a chance of better integrating a thoughtful approach to the human factors of how their products are used in the real world. And it would take eons to document just how important it is for technology leaders to understand how people are affected by their work.
■ It may be going too far to say there's nothing new under the Sun, but people have been pondering and documenting human nature for a whole lot longer than anyone has known about magnetic resonance imaging or splitting the atom.
■ It's important to keep pushing the frontiers of what we know all across the STEM fields, because progress there often has huge consequences for how we live materially. No group should be left behind, and nobody should receive a diploma from high school or beyond without gaining thoughtful STEM-related education along the way, no matter their emphasis or major academic discipline.
■ Likewise, nobody should emerge from a STEM-intensive education without also gaining a well-considered education in the liberal arts and humanities. Whatever we do, in personal or professional life, is ultimately for the good of people.
■ Well-roundedness isn't just good in the abstract; it is essential to ensuring that we have access to the full range of tools we need to make sure that our work, no matter how sophisticated, remains humane at heart. The humanities are to the STEM fields much like a seat belt is to an automobile: Using them doesn't slow down the rate of travel, it merely helps to keep us safer should we find ourselves starting to steer wrong.