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Telling a Story

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Today, I thought about some advice professors have given me in the past while doing course work. Several have told me when giving a presentation or doing research that you should tell a story. But yet, they never go into detail about what that actually means. This can be very frustrating for a learning student! Every time I have heard that, I always think, “Yeah, I get that. I can make a story no problem.” It turned out to be more difficult the more I thought about it.

What does telling a story mean?

Over time, I’ve gotten a sense of what telling a story means when doing research. Several years ago, I had a class project for my introduction to bioinformatics course. Our professor assigned each of us a gene to study and to “tell a story about it” using the tools we’ve learned. We learned about analyses such as: using BLAST to perform sequence alignment; performing multiple sequence alignments using MUSCLE to find homology; and a network analysis of our assigned gene and it’s expressed protein interactions with other genes products.

Let’s make a story

Now this is some great bioinformatics being done on this gene but when I first completed the project, each analysis felt disconnected and just put together with duck tape.

If I were to redo the project, I would make it into a mystery story because all I was given was the gene with no context. It reminds me of the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close where the main character, Oskar, discovers a key in a vase he broke and is curious enough to make it his mission to find out more information about this mysterious key.

Similar to Oskar’s situation where he was given no information about this key, I should have taken the mind set that there should be a “story” or background of how this gene came to existence. Did it evolve from another gene? What other genes are similar to this gene? Maybe those other genes can create a larger lens through which I can see this gene in?

These questions come a little more naturally to me now that I am a bit older but it is still a work in progress. But the one thing I have experienced and tend to forget is that your attitude about your problem will entirely change your motivation and how your solve the problem. Plus, it might even be fun if you can make it into a game.