Blending science and creative writing
November 22, 2016
Alia Hamdan never would have predicted that her scientific background gained at VCU, and her experiences as part of VCU Life Sciences’ 2013/2014 Panama Avian Field Ecology study abroad program, would earn her a place and fellowship at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Arkansas this past summer.
The return from Panama years ago found Hamdan spending the semester analyzing the data gathered, learning how to effectively present science to wide audiences, and communicating the importance of her work. She believes this, as well as several independent study and research courses she took while in Life Sciences, contributed greatly to her current success as she embraces her role as a first-time novelist. She wrote many project proposals, dossiers, and multiple drafts of scientific reports during her time at VCU. “My skills as a writer would be far less developed if I didn’t know how to communicate effectively to my perceived audience, a necessary component in any aspiring scientist’s work,” said Hamdan.
Hamdan’s experiences in Panama directly influence the shape and message of her novel, recalling the capability and self-awareness she found while in the field collecting vegetation data, handling songbirds, and getting constantly stuck in thoroughfares of sinking mud. This out-of-the-classroom experience made her stronger and more resilient to life’s perceived challenges, however big or small. She learned how to keep going, especially when she had a goal in sight. It also influenced her to change her undergraduate research, focusing on Osprey and Bald Eagles with her research mentor, Dr. Cathy Viverette, who is credited as a great influencer on the course Hamdan has taken as a scientist. This led to her senior thesis project, poster publications, and presentations at the 2014 and 2015 VCU Rice Rivers Center Conferences.
“These events and persons, which I never would have experienced or encountered if I wasn’t a part of VCU and supported by everyone in the Center for Environmental Studies and Biology Departments, gave me the confidence to know what I want and learn how to approach it,” stated Hamdan. “I went to Panama to expand my knowledge base, to engage in the field that I pursued, and prove to myself that I could do this kind of work. I did, and after all these years, I realize that it made me into the person I am today.”