Marginalia Musings

The following is a creative non-fiction writing sample I generated for a Story Collider submission and wanted to share! This concept of “marginalia” has always been one I’ve been eager to explore as it pertains to the life sciences, and I love little tangible moments of scientific discovery like this:

               In my freshman year of college, I met an extraordinary woman whose name was as exceptional as her teaching style: Dr. Giffen Mare Maupin. Toeing the line between a biology major and an English major, I was trying to win over each faculty member in both departments and find my collegiate ‘niche’. In the process, I took a Literary Analysis with Dr. Maupin. Each day, she wore a floral print dress and an unsettlingly stiff smile and asked us to rearrange our desks into a circle to facilitate discussions where we would ramble on for hours and each idea was given consideration and space.

She was obsessed with this idea of ‘Marginalia’. That is, the small notes, creases, stains, and idiosyncratic imperfections that readers leave on a book for future readers to see. She maintained that these little tactile traces of readers past informed our reading of a text and enhanced our experience of the story. Maupin encouraged us to write in our books and I did so gladly. The idea of ‘Marginalia’ was new and strange to me, but I appreciated feeling a physical connection to a book or story. Looking back, I was also drawn to the biological sciences for these kinesthetic experiences, too.

               In the end, though I decided to declare a biology major. But after unceremoniously handing my major declaration form to the university registrar, I remembered a peculiar sensation of loss, feeling as if I was leaving a creative part of myself behind. I was saddened by the notion that I was leaving behind this and other quirky professors, and this tactile connection to text that came with ‘Marginalia’. But, when I began my first year as a PhD student, I discovered that scientists have their own esoteric versions of marginalia too. From mechanistic cartoons on cocktail napkins to protocols on the cardboard backing of a legal pad, my PhD studies have led me to scientific marginalia I love (and sometimes dread) seeing each day.

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