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Diverging from the Dogma: A Call to Train Creative Thinkers in Science

Published on: May 15, 2020

Science is creative

Science is an inherently creative process at each step, from synthesizing literature, identifying knowledge gaps, designing robust studies, to troubleshooting in the field (Osborne et al. 2003, Hadzigeorgiou et al. 2012). Creative thinking in the context of science has been defined in many ways, but we use Hadzigeorgiou et al.'s (2012) definition for the purposes of this piece – scientific creative thinking is an imaginative process that incorporates content‐based knowledge to generate novel ideas. Divergent thinking, or the ability to generate multiple unique solutions to a problem and to connect disparate concepts in unique ways, is an inherent component of creative thinking, and is often considered the foundation of creative ability and complex problem solving (see Fig. 1; Guilford 1950, Wallach and Kogan 1965, Dym et al. 2005, Silvia et al. 2008, Shah et al. 2012). Further, divergent thinking is a catalyst of transformative science, since it encompasses the generation, adaptation, and evaluation of many novel ideas and solutions (Hadzigeorgiou et al. 2012, Shah et al. 2012). Convergent thinking differs from divergent thinking, in that it results in a correct or best answer, idea, or solution from a selective number of concepts (see Fig. 1; DeHaan 2009). The practice of science as a whole is an iterative process involving trial and error, and at each step of project development, execution, and analysis, some combination of convergent and divergent thinking is required to arrive at a tenable and high‐quality solution (DeHaan 2009). New directions in science are grounded in accumulated knowledge, using largely convergent principles (Boden 2001, Hadzigeorgiou et al. 2012), but brainstorming and project development hinge upon generative processes wherein divergent thinking is exercised (DeHaan 2009).

As products of R1 universities and liberal arts schools, we feel that the current state of undergraduate STEM education does not accurately represent the frequent use of divergent thinking in science, in that science is often presented as inordinately rigid, memorization‐based, and lacking creativity (DeHaan 2009). As graduate students at an R1 university, we challenge this narrative since we find that creative processes drive a large part of our routine work, and because, at a larger scale, scientific creative thinking has allowed for some of our greatest scientific advances that benefit society.

To read the rest of this article in The Bulletin, please click here.