At first glance, science and English specialties occupy very different areas of the human experience. Science uses empirical, experimental, and mathematical reasoning to understand the natural world. Conversely, English is rooted in language, literature, and cultural studies to explore the complexities of human narrative and interpretation.

However, despite these apparent differences, both disciplines are shaped by pursuing knowledge to explore the human experience. Moreover, they are inherently intertwined in the quest to make sense of the world and make meaning for each other.

When I began my science degree, I didn't feel like I was working toward a future I truly wanted for myself. Growing up, I loved reading novels and non-fiction, yet many science articles I read always felt too niche and inaccessible to be interesting outside of my field. I always wondered what the point of doing my research would be when I didn’t even know who would actually read it. That’s when I considered double majoring in biology and English.

Being a double major has allowed me to work through many skills that tie together science and English. When we evaluate work in science, we are supposed to separate our humanity from our ideas. Yet, one of the leading ways of conducting science is to work together to find new ways of approaching new research. This style of researching makes procedures practical but could be more conducive to sharing our experiences. 

That being said, discussions in the humanities disciplines are not always perfect. Most of us in the arts know that one person in our class who can articulate the most flowery argument ever using too many complex words. This is a classic example of style over substance. All meaning is lost in the smug student’s sugar-coated delivery, and in the end, I’m not sure the professor even wants to digest it. The point is, I think sometimes, humanities majors can get carried away in our thoughts, making it harder to articulate concise arguments that students in sciences excel in. 

Exploring science communication is a prominent area of interdisciplinary collaboration between science and English. Effective communication can be challenging to obtain, even in both disciplines. Scientists always strive to convey their findings to a broader audience, while communicators seek to engage readers with compelling narratives to hold their attention.

Did you like reading that? It's not very clear, am I right? The paragraph above exemplifies how I used to write before enrolling in more English courses. It's just paragraphs and paragraphs, chock full of jargon, hard to read, and could be more engaging. But hey, I didn't know any better.

This is why, working together, both faculties can learn a lot from each other. Living on both sides of the fence, I can tell you the grass is never greener. Each degree has its benefits and pitfalls. People with double majors have the advantage of constantly experiencing this. Science majors might be demanding, but English is not a walk in the park either. English majors must be effective communicators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers — not very different from people in the sciences. 

Most misconceptions about double majors are that they are always heavy, hectic, and complex. I mean, it’s true, but every degree can be. We have all been tired and overworked — being a double major just means we need more visits to the academic advisors. 

In an online poll on The Phoenix’s Instagram’s page, when asked about whether they were a double major, 88 per cent of student participants reported that they were not doing a double major, and the other 12 per cent, including me, reported yes.

We asked the participants who responded “yes” why they had chosen to do a double major, and there were no similar answers. 

One anonymous student interested in law school replied, “I chose PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), an interdisciplinary study, because I couldn’t commit to one and three is better than one.”

Other students anonymously wrote in:

“I chose Psychology because I didn’t know what to do at first and history because I fell in love with it later.”

“I chose English and Cultural studies because Cult teaches me what English can’t.”

These comments and the low percentage of double majors made me realize that more people would be interested in interdisciplinary courses even if they only had one specialty. This is why, in the future, more courses should allow for exploration between faculties, maybe through collaboration using faculty resources.

Of course, an example of this type of class can be seen in Biology 420N: Science in Digital Media. This year, I joined the class to experience both aspects of my majors in a safe and fun experiment. The course is grounded in science communication that remains distinct from others by its capstone project. 

The course was created by Dr. Robin Young, a biology professor working on various UBC Okanagan campus courses. This year is the second time the course has launched, and its capstone project relies on real-world trial and error to allow the students to work without a formal grading system and gain experience outside of academia.

In an interview with Young, we discussed the creation of the course and its purpose as an interdisciplinary tool in science. However, before discussing the class, I wanted to understand Young’s experience in science communication. 

Young explained, "I had not necessarily learned communication in science, but rather studied its place in the world since the world was always weary of science.”

“Wearing sunscreen was a misconception,” she said, clarifying what she had seen. “In the past, there was a lot of debate over whether sunscreen was good or bad for you at one point.”

She laughed and added, “It sounds really funny now, but there's always been a bit of mistrust and misunderstanding of what you don't understand. The further you go in science, I think you will see that more and more. The world has only gotten more polarized.”

Contemplating her position on the matter, Young paused. Tilting her head in front of the bright window behind her, sunlight splayed across the wooden desk, illuminating the settling dust as she continued: 

“I had an opportunity as an educator to help students make those connections. I wanted to show them that science does not happen apart from their world; it is ingrained in their everyday lives, and learning how to interact with it is important while being trained in science.”

Young admitted, “The scientists talk about how the journalists never say what they mean and always get it wrong. But you told them the story. So both sides have to work at it. Since I started teaching, I have built that kind of thing into many of my courses. This science communication course is the culmination of that.”

Bringing up past courses, I asked Young to expand on her experience, to which she explained:

“From previous courses, I learned that reading scientific literature is one of students' main challenges. I thought instead of trying to make them write a paper using the articles; we should just focus on the skill of reading the science. So we built a press release assignment.” 

“This was the first assignment I built from scratch, and it was great,” she continued. “In its very nature, it's a science communication format. You have to switch the scientific terminology into plain English if you call it a press release, not an essay. My students had to recognize that you can't use the same terminology.” 

Moving on, our discussion turned to the class project for Biology 420N. The project, which focuses on science communication, had many activities that pushed my classmates and me out of our comfort zones.

Speaking on this, Young expressed, “I think people who already span the arts and the sciences were a bit more open to the activities because science really doesn't talk about your emotions or your feelings. We don't even admit that we're humans.”

The class brings in many guest lecturers. While discussing one of these lectures from Mathew Vis-Dunbar, Young remarked, “I want students to think about their science differently, how science fits into the world as a whole, and what it takes to explain the stuff we know to people who don't know it. How do we break down those barriers instead of only talking to other scientists? How can we bridge those gaps?”

Reflecting on the work it takes to create these processes, Young reminded me, “It doesn't have to be confrontational, right? And maybe they don't believe us, but they don't end up hating us because of it. There's a piece of me that thinks the whole world could benefit from learning how to talk to each other a little bit better.”

This course is specifically for students in the sciences, and so when Young was asked how the course works to keep science from being sacrificed in the style of communication, Young answered, “I think you need both. To do science communication, you need substance, but nobody will watch it if it's not pretty.”

Leaving me with a caveat for the future, Young advised:

“If it doesn't appeal to your audience, it doesn't matter. Attention spans are short. Time is money. Everybody's busy, right? And so you need to think about that. You need to think about how you do this well and make people want to get to the end of your video. You need to get the audience to hear the message because if they don't, it is gone.”

Looking back at the course, I am grateful for the many lessons I learned from Dr. Young. I encourage any upper-year students in the sciences to give it a try if they are looking to expand their skill sets.

Whether more students decide to pursue double major degrees or not, stepping away from their usual studies and trying out new perspectives can benefit their future professional and personal growth.