Marrying Academic and Creative Sides

How do people with interests in analytical fields keep their creative passions alive and intertwine them into their careers?

by Lily Ferguson / Garnet & Black

College starts with an interest and ends in a degree. Life after graduation starts with a degree and ends with a job: a doctor, scientist, writer, lawyer, painter, dancer, surgeon, filmmaker, business owner, researcher, etc. When a person looks at their future ahead of them, they often see a straight line. In their mind it is a single road to walk down, when in reality, there are so many paths unfurling in all directions. 

Oftentimes, they overlap. 

Because what if you are an engineer who loves playing the piano? What about the lawyers who can’t help but be fascinated by poetry? A stem cell researcher who has a passion for dance? How do these people keep their creative passions alive while still pursuing their analytical career goals? How do they not let the spark die? 

UofSC Senior Kaitlyn Speiser has been balancing these two parts of her brain for the past four years. And she has gotten pretty good at it. 

Speiser is a psychology major, but also serves as President of Cockappella, UofSC’s Co-Ed, competitive a cappella Group. She has been performing her entire life, and for a period of time considered pursuing the arts as a career. While she decided that wasn’t for her, it isn’t something she wants to give up. 

“Wherever I have been able to use my creativity I have,” Speiser said. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted in my life because it's a happy outlet for me versus the stress of school.”  

Junior Maya Thille, a neuroscience major and member of Cockappella, agrees with Spiezer that music serves as a “brain break” from her academic work. 

“For me, music is definitely where I release a lot of my stress,” Thille said. “I go into Cockappella rehearsal, and if I’ve had a bad day, I just lay it all out there and use that rehearsal as my outlet.” While Thille does not plan to pursue music as a career, and instead views it only as a hobby, the neuroscience research she hopes to do has been influenced by her musical childhood. 

“There is already a lot of research on the effect of music on the brain, but I would love to go a little bit deeper into that because it is something that has been such an integral part of my life since I was like seven,” Thille said. “I really want to see how far we can go.” 

Aside from research, Thille hopes to become a doctor; specifically, a neurosurgeon. She brings up the point that being musically inclined can actually influence performance in the operating room (OR).

“I know a lot of surgeons listen to music in the OR, and they say a lot that musicians are better neurosurgeons because you use your hands and your feet and you have more fine motor skills in your fingers,” Thille said. “You even have foot pedals and stuff in the operating room.” 

Although she won’t be in an OR, sophomore Claire Smith hopes to bring her creative skills to a different kind of setting: a courtroom. As a political science major, Smith plans on attending law school with an open mind, bringing her English passion along for the ride. 

“Hopefully my love for writing will help me transition to more legal writing when I write briefs and memos and contracts in the law field,” Smith said. Aside from technical skills, Smith also knows the importance of valuable lessons learned from niche interests and applying them to your field. 

“I played violin for seven years…playing the violin, having solos and being in front of a crowd really gave me the confidence to take a public speaking class my freshman year of college,” Smith said. 

Public speaking is an integral part of law and political science, and this demonstrates how Smith’s creative experiences have informed her academic ones. 

While freshman Katie Wilson isn’t specifically intertwining her creative skill sets with her international business degree, she is instead focusing on finding a balance between her love of dance and business. At home, dance was a way for Wilson to discover a new side of herself, and she has been looking to find that again at college. 

“I’m still looking to find that kind of improv or that part of dance that is completely void of thinking or planning where you just get to exist in the music,” Wilson said.

These creative sparks incited by improv in dance have helped Wilson’s “type A” personality relax, especially in contrast with her intensive international business major. Her academic goals are very structured, and so she enjoys being able to develop as a person without the rigidity.

“I feel like I’m a more whole person if I let myself fully engage in being creative and loosy-goosy and not planning anything out in dance,” Wilson said. 

At UofSC, she has been able to find some of this through Zumba classes offered through Group X at Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center. She has even been able to teach a few, which overlaps with her love for teaching dance privates. Wilson particularly loves the one-on-one connections she makes with students. 

“I’ve prepped them for their middle school tryouts or I’ve prepped them for some auditions they have coming up,” Wilson said, in regards to the students she taught at her hometown studio. “As long as I keep those relationships with those kids that I’ve met, I mean I couldn’t imagine myself really stopping.” 

Likewise, Speiser hopes to infuse connections with kids into her career in Speech Language Pathology. One main reason this field draws her interest is because of the innovation required while working with kids, especially those with special needs. 

“That requires a lot of creativity as far as coming up with different games to play with them or different activities and things like that,” she said. 

Dr. Sabrina Habib, a professor in Visual Communications at UofSC, agrees that a creative path can be found in a myriad of fields.

“Creativity can also be problem-solving. I think the medical professionals that are developing your vaccines are having to be extremely creative in their thinking and their approach and their speed,” Dr. Habib said. She herself is a creative researcher who has intertwined her love of storytelling with teaching and scientific research.

“My research area is creativity. I look at the creative process, how to teach creativity, how do students learn, creative leadership, and things like that,” she said. She also explains that she chose a profession in teaching creative courses on purpose, and so this marriage of artistic passion and academic work happens organically. 

“I chose a field where I’m encouraged to practice what I like and what I do, but that’s not a coincidence. That’s by design,” Dr. Habib said. 

People sometimes expect that creative work and analytical work are completely separate. But that is not the case at all. Oftentimes, they are intrinsically intertwined. 

“Creativity is a part of our life no matter what we do,” Wilson said. “There is not always one answer. The way you can approach problems can always be in different ways. The way you live your life can be influenced by your hobbies and based on what things make you happy and creative.”

The path your life takes is not defined by a single major or interest or goal. Life is the mosaic of everything a person is passionate about. Musicians can be surgeons and poets can be lawyers and business-women can dance. Life isn't a straight line, but a path with curves and branches that allow for overlap. If a person makes an active effort, they can find a way for all of their passions, both creative and analytical, to co-exist.