Thinking in pictures

To most efficiently use information in designing experiments and learning concepts I need to draw it out. Paper is the best, but I can deal with PowerPoint if given enough time. Without the visuals I cannot comprehend large concepts and their connections to other topics and systems. By drawing out the experimental design I ensure no details are missed.

I keep my brain between pages and hope those pages never burn in a tragic accident. I find pen and paper to¬† be still faster than typing on computer and more controlled than a touch pad. Also there is the fear that I manage to pour water on my laptop (again) and will have to open up the whole machine against manufacturers recommendations (again…).

This visualization allows me to appreciate the artistic side of science and the true beauty of details in functions and structures of cells. By just looking at ready made pictures I easily lose the intricate detail, which I am forced to draw out in my own notes. After drawing the coastline of Turkey, I appreciate the geography and understand it on a deeper level than by looking at the maps. After detailing the process of protein synthesis in a cell on paper, painstakingly drawing the different nooks of ribosomes, I can find the multiple spots where mutations and deformities in this machinery can cause problems.

Simple depiction of a ribosome making protein. (

Simple depiction of a ribosome making protein. (

In some cases technology can help in finding the details and enhance the learning process. In the field of crystallography, proteins are pictured in extreme detail down to an atom. The level of accuracy when making predictions from these models is far greater than from any of my drawings. On the other hand the structures are not readily available in case of power outages, crashing computers, and when internet connection is not possible.

I would say there is a time and place for writing things on paper instead of relying on computers. Especially when brainstorming for new ideas, I have found paper superior to a screen. But the tools to start up this process we need to use the help of search engines, databases, visualization programs and calculations. We need to be the centaurs Clive Thompson describes in his book “Smarter than you think”. The digital technology available to us should be our extension in a way that helps us reach new heights. Problems arise when we lose focus and allow the technology to lead and make decisions for us.


16 thoughts on “Thinking in pictures

  1. Kayla

    I agree with you, Mari. I wonder — with the rise in new technology and its accessibility — what if we were able to understand our strengths as a learner and play in to those. For you, as you mentioned, it might be best to use a pen and paper to draw out your thoughts. I know (as I mentioned in my blog this week) that for me, listening to articles is the best way for me to learn. With more advances in technology, do you think our students will have a better understanding of things because they are able to cater toward their particular learning style? It sounds utopian, but maybe there is a balance of all types that needs to be in place.

    1. mari Post author

      Thank you for the comment! Students finding their own learning style with the help of technology does sound lovely and very viable concept. Especially with tools like strength quest, we can help learners find ways of learning that suit them best. Some might benefit from guidance from teachers and the TAs, who can nudge them to explore different ways of learning. For example my boss opened my freaked out mind during prelims by asking me to draw the answer to a question instead of just talking it out.

  2. jdt225

    I think we need to remember that each of our students is different and then differentiate our instruction to help them learn how they learn best. If some students are more like you and do better with pen and paper and others really learn by being able to type their notes, understandings, and questions, then we should be open to these differences and structure our classes in a way that allows this. Granted, we should critically consider our uses of technology in the classroom, but we also need to think about the benefits incorporating it will have on our teaching and our students.

    1. mari Post author

      I agree with you, that we need to take all different learning styles into account. Audio oriented and visual oriented styles are the easiest ones to incorporate, but the kinetic (learning by doing) can be challenging one to cater for. Sciences are great when a lab class can be incorporated to allow hands on learning. I wonder if the digital tools actually provide a more hands on take on the subjects we teach. Especially if we can’t hand the students infectious bacteria to play with.

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