books · discussions · not books · Shar

On science, reading, and why I’ve been getting into more nonfiction of late

^^^ I hope this post lives up to its title hahaha I titled if before I started writing. As you may know, I’m a science student. Most of the book bloggers I know that have been/are at university are doing arts. This post is about why science people often disregard reading (fiction) and why I think this is silly.

Firstly, let me answer a quick question that I sometimes wonder myself. If I love reading, then why aren’t I doing English or Law or History or some degree that is all about reading? The answer isn’t that I thought I’d have a better chance of getting a job; most people with BSc’s still need Master’s degrees and I picked my major based mostly on passion and not job prospects. I love both the humanities and sciences, and I did equally well in both fields in high school. I ended up going for ecology because it fascinates me and feels really relevant to the world’s current dire situation. But while I like maths and experiments and analyzing, I still love reading and literature and essays (and for the record, I did do an arts paper).

a nonfiction i want to read

The most general reason why science people should read is that everybody should read. Reading makes you a better person. It makes you more empathetic and probably increases your attention span and expands your vocabulary and helps you to cope with difficulty.
Another reason scientists should read is to understand the other side. I guess this relates to the concept of a ‘renaissance man’ (a Eurocentric and gender exclusive term, I guess). But it’s good to know about a broad range of subjects, not just the discipline you study in. Not only are people who read widely more interesting to talk to, they’re also able to connect their knowledge and apply it to their field. Reading as a scientist can enhance your area of study and make you smarter in other areas.
Another more general thing about reading that makes it important to everyone but especially scientists is that reading makes your writing better. Yes, it’s a stereotype that scientists aren’t able to put their discoveries and understanding into words, and that people studying science can’t write essays (you better believe I can after that 15 page lab report, buddy), but having the ideas is as important as expressing them in an understandable way. Books are normally edited before they’re published. Reading can help us scietists write better.
The books and ‘fields of knowledge’ I’m talking about seem to refer to nonfiction books, although obviously science students should read novels as well. (Not least to just get out of their heads tor a bit and do something that doesn’t feel like learning. Poor English students have to learn and analyse works of fiction, just like I do for this blog, except I don’t get a grade for it.) I digress. I’ve been reading more nonfiction since I finished high school, although the lion’s share of the books I read is still definitely fiction. I especially like science nonfiction. I think this is firstly because science is real (unlike novels) and relevant and absolutely fascinating. Well written popular science books make me excited about what I’m studying (and other random fields like astrophysics, which I don’t want to do papers in but want to know about) and are like a relaxing form of learning. I love connecting things I read to what I learn. Also, reading nonfiction makes me feel really intelligent.

This was a bit random! Here’s a one sentence summary of this post: I love reading and the humanities even though I study science, all scientists should read, and nonfiction is cool.

Do you study at university? Do you know many science people who read? What are your thoughts on nonfiction?

10 thoughts on “On science, reading, and why I’ve been getting into more nonfiction of late

  1. Hi! Thank you for shining a light on nonfiction! We ( are currently running a nonfiction short story contest to motivate people to share their stories and create an inspirational environment. It is not a literary contest, but it is a nice exercise to get comfortable with sharing stories. And hopefully we can all inspire others and make an impact!

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  2. I’m more into history and philosophy, but as I’ve grown older I’ve found my love for fiction give way to a lot of non-fiction. I still love a good novel, but non-fiction just adds so much more to us! Also, I clean houses, so I don’t have a lot of time to read. But I have tons of time to listen . . . and instead of filling that time with music I listen to podcasts, audio books, and lectures and such.

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  3. This is really interesting! I enjoy both science and the humanities as well, though my favorite science field is biology. I think it’s just fascinating, genetics in particular.

    And agreed! Everyone should read, both fiction and nonfiction in their desired fields. It really helps to expand your brain while (if fiction) often giving it a break at the same time.


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  4. I completely agree! People in all fields should read-widely and often- to help open their minds and improve their characters. I used to be science student but now I’ve switched to humanities for my A levels. Am still taking Math though. Whatever you’re studying, there’s just so much out there that might be unrelated on the surface but could still help you out in unknown ways!

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  5. I studied psychology and social work, but I’m totally with you. For one, exposure to good writing is a benefit in any field. But also, exposing yourself to stories can always help one learn about the human condition. I’m also trying to get more into some scientific non-fic. Most of it is at least partially related to the fields I’ve studied, but learning to look at data (or the world in general) through a more analytic lens some of the time is really interesting and provides a new perspective. Thanks for this fascinating post!

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  6. I have a degree in computer science. I’ve always been a writer, even though I love science and math as well. Although most of the nonfiction I tend to read is history.

    Nothing wrong with reading it all. Novels, history books, science books. At least I’m not the only one.

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  7. I completely agree with you on this. I am a physics student and absolutely love reading. I have always studied Maths and Science more in school but have kept up my interest in reading as a hobby. I also love reading non-fiction books outside my specialist area of research in order to learn about other subjects and hope to read more non-fiction in the future.


  8. I think the bottom line is that all science students (and all engineers, doctors and development professionals) are people. All people have feelings emotions, ideas thoughts, passions…. So reading is relevant to geeky scientists like you Shar because you are a human. If you switched to humanities or dropped out to dedicate your life to picking cabbages you would still be human. Science students and cabbage pickers are inside the “people” bubble o the Venn diagram, and people are congruent with the “beings fiction is good for” bubble.

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  9. I’m a humanities student but I LOVE science! Pop science books are my absolute fave, especially about astrophysics and dinosaurs which are my two favourite science things 😍 I agree that STEM students definitely shouldn’t look down their nose at fiction, but sometimes I despair that humanities students ignore scientific non fiction because “Science hard”, “I’m bad at maths” and so on, even when this isn’t true at all, which means they’re also massively missing out.

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