The paper titled “Human Narratives in Science: The Power of Storytelling” was published in the research journal Trends in Molecular Medicine on January 28, and its co-authors also include Jessica W. Tsai, MD, PhD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Lakshmi Ramachandran of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. The article draws on their experiences running The Journal of Stories in Science, which publishes personal narratives written by scientists, students, university staff, and laypeople who have encountered science in their daily lives.
They co-developed the journal as part of the nonprofit STEM Advocacy Institute (SAi), which develops tools and programs that increase access between science and society. The Journal of Stories in Science is one of a growing number of science communication projects that hinge on personal stories. However, some researchers are still conflicted on the value of personal storytelling in communicating science.
“Science is not just about the data,” Muindi explains. “It’s not just about the bench. Science is done by humans. They are part of the equation. And they feel, they think, they are affected by things…Their human experience affects the way they do science.”
Muindi hopes the new paper will raise awareness of how pivotal sharing personal stories about science can be. In the paper, the co-authors cite evidence showing that stories of personal struggle and failure help non-scientists learn to care about science and the concepts unearthed by researchers. Muindi and his colleagues also recommend collecting more data on how sharing stories about the people behind the scientific process affects audiences and propose holding a conference of science storytellers.
“That aspect of human nature in science needs to be captured, and I would argue it needs to be studied,” Muindi says. “Not sharing it actually deprives us of fully understanding how discoveries are made, the people that are involved, and how they come about asking those questions…Most of the time it is a hypothesis that is driven by the experiences they have.”
In fact, the Stories in Science project itself grew out of a personal discussion Muindi had with his friend Jessica W. Tsai. Back in 2015, they started having conversations about their respective journeys in science. “In those discussions, we slowly realized, ‘My god! We should totally compile our stories into a book!’” Muindi says. But as they started writing the manuscript that would become their 2017 book Journeys in Science, they realized that many other people have equally important and interesting backstories to share. So, they decided to launch Stories in Science as a journal.
Since then, the journal has published over 160 stories, written not only by professors and researchers but also by high school and college students, parents, staff members at scientific institutes, primary school teachers, and artists. “When you have such diversity, then you allow readers to experience the full breadth of the humanity that is in science,” Muindi says. “Science is not done by one type of people. There are different types of people from all walks of life that are doing science, and all of their paths and experiences are so unique.”
The journal continues to publish new stories every month. New pieces can be submitted directly through their site, and Muindi says they are especially hoping for more international perspectives.
Stories in Science isn’t officially affiliated with MCB, but a few MCB faculty and alumni have contributed stories. Muindi adds that he is currently collaborating with the online learning platform LabXchange that is managed through MCB. Now, the personal accounts from Stories in Science are available to everyone on the rapidly growing LabXchange platform.
Recently, Muindi and the Stories in Science team have begun experimenting with other ways to tell stories, such as gallery exhibits which convey stories via spoken word, literary art, and dance. Last year, Stories in Science showcased their work at the Cambridge Science Festival, MIT, UCSF, Brandeis University, and New York Institute of Technology.
“Using non-traditional storytelling venues can help draw more diverse people into science,” Muindi says. “The important thing is to show people that science is full of success, failure, fear, discovery, serendipity, collaboration, inspiration, mentorship, career transitions, and so much more. Ultimately, each story matters.”