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Excitable Cells and Endocrine Systems

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My Alma Mater La Trobe University’s Institute for Molecular Science: A state-of-the-art facility for molecular science, biotechnology and nanotechnology research. (Photo credit : La Trobe University)

I have got a story to tell. Many years ago during my second year of university one of the units I was studying was a subject called Excitable Cells and Endocrine Systems. It was a deeply fascinating and engaging subject. The unit basically dealt with intricacies and different functionalities of the many individual and functional systems of the human body. It also touched on the relationship between those systems and the different chemicals found in the human body. Excitable Cells and Endocrine Systems helped foster an appreciation in me of the amazing integrated functioning of the human body. Despite all these fascinating aspects that is not why this particular unit left an indelible mark on my mind. The reason I remember it so much even after all these years is because this was the first and only time in my life I got pulled up on plagiarism charges. And yes I was very much guilty of the intellectual crime I stood accused of.

Having left it till the very last minute to research, let alone write up my major assignment for that unit I took the easy route and basically googled my assignment. Even worse still I then went out on to just copy and paste what I had googled. I made no effort to alter it in any way. I reasoned that because I was copying and pasting from different sources I was doing ‘research’. I was lying to myself. What I was doing was plagiarism. I was stealing other people’s intellectual property and unashamedly presenting it as my own. In case you live under a rock and are not aware this is unacceptable in both academic circles in most endeavours that entail intellectual property. If you are going to use someone’s intellectual property at the very least you have to credit your source. I didn’t do that either.

Besides my outright laziness and procrastination one of the other reasons I had no qualms was because of the educational system and learning culture I was raised in. High school education in Zimbabwe, long regarded as one of the ‘best’ systems in Africa was examination/test focused. To my knowledge that is still the case even today. Everything you did and all that you learned was with a singular focus in mind, excelling in your final exams. It was as simple as that. Homework, coursework, sport and other extracurricular activities counting for nothing when it came to assessing your development as a student. The only measure of how “educated’ you were was centred on testing your academic knowledge. Any other skills that did not lie in academia were irrelevant to that assessment.

As such like most students I learned to cram what I was taught. That was a guaranteed way of excelling during exams. There was no focus on independent cognitive development and my mental faculties were hardly stimulated. Even with subjects like English Literature you got higher marks for quoting a Shakespeare soliloquy verbatim than for actually displaying any understanding of what the premise of the play was. Luckily I was an avid reader of all kinds of books outside of school so my minder often got a chance to wander outside of the confines of the classroom. But even then I often got chided for wasting valuable study reading on things I wouldn’t be tested on during exams. Anyway suffice to say I quickly figured out how to be a straight A student. By replicating what I was taught word for word on the exam pad. This is what I was taught was ‘intelligence’ and academic excellence. It is no wonder then that I didn’t think twice about plagiarising. In my naive mind my high school teacher had just been replaced by that know it all Professor Google.

Old habits die hard. It took me well into my second year of university to adjust the way I learned things. And it was only after I got summoned by the university disciplinary committee that I saw the light. That hearing doubled as both a warning and an education on why plagiarism is not OK. The year was 2005 and all the software that picks up plagiarism that is now readily available online wasn’t as prevalent. At my university only the lectures had access to it. So there I found myself sitting across the room for a panel of white male professors and one female lecturer my assignment projected on the wall behind them with all the plagiarised content circled in red. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Looking at the stern face of these esteemed academics that were set to decide my fate I feared the worst. Surely I would be kicked out of university and put on the next plane home because of my plagiarising ways. Oh the shame.

As I later found out that was my imagination running wild. The worst that could have happened was getting an automatic fail for the unit. And I managed to escape even that. But still I had gotten the message loud and clear. Plagiarism. Not OK. At the end I got away with slap on the wrist and got a fail mark for the assignment only. The irony of that whole situation is that my ability to cram served me well come the exam as I went on to ace that and the practical component of my assessment. I avoided failing the unit altogether. Everything worked out in the end. I passed the unit, stayed in university and learned one of the most important lessons I have ever learned in my life. I eventually adapted my learning philosophy accordingly and this has over the years translated into the way I present information I have learned.

The more I have written the more I have wanted to read. And at times the lines seem blurred as to what words are mine and what words belong to others. On pondering further about this I have slowly started to have a more nuanced understanding of intellectual property. All creative’s on the most part are intellectual property developers. We are often inspired by other people’s intellectual property and most times we use that as a foundation to develop our own. Creativity does not exist in a vacuum. It is in fact a beautiful ecosystem in which we all inspire each other to ‘create’ something of our own. That something though is hardly ever created from nothing. There is a caveat to all this though. Each and every one of us has a story. A story that is unique to us. Our unique experiences are not something we can ever be accused of plagiarising.

What is my point? I am not entirely sure. Sometimes I just want to write and share my story which is what I did in a long winded way today. In all honesty I just felt compelled to write about that one time I thought I was going to get kicked out of university. Make of this what you will. Or even let my intellectual property inspire you in some way to develop your own

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Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Still I Write

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They said there will be days like this.

I usually feel like I have so much to say and do not enough time or space in which to do so. On most good creative days I usually have a rough idea what I am going to write about by the time I am done with my morning workout. Today was not one of those days. Finding something to write about on this blog today wasn’t easy. Before I drafted my first sentence I spent hours searching for an idea. Most of what I had come up with during my morning workout felt uninspired, mundane even. Perhaps mirroring the lethargic and mechanical process that was my morning workout today.

The ideas I had weren’t necessarily bad ones.They just didn’t feel like the right ideas that I could run with. That was until I read this …

The paradox is that the more proficient we become, the easier it is to notice gaps in our knowledge—the closer we get to our goal, the more unsatisfied we will be.

It’s funny how a random word, sentence or a passage can spark an insight that will bring me back to my computer, eager to share my idea. Such is the creative process. It’s a constant tug-of-war between saying something fresh and meeting a goal, originality versus practicality. We want to sound novel, but we know that true novelty is impossible, so we settle somewhere in between. And yet, even though our creative ideals might be unattainable, we’ll keep striving to bring them into reality.

As I have continued on my writing journey I have wanted everything I write to be better than the last thing I  wrote. That isn’t always the case though. In fact I am learning that the more I write the more critical of my writing I become, the more aware I am of my shortcomings as a writer. But still I write, because when I look at the bigger picture I see that I am gradually becoming a better writer even if I am not always my own favorite writer.  When I started writing I had no idea that a consequence of that process would be becoming more aware of the gaps in my skills as a writer whilst actually becoming a better writer. And that is the unknown unknown that I have discovered for myself today.

Here’s to discovering more unknown unknowns, on the blank page and in all areas of our lives.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Few Notes On Creativity

Ray Badbury

The intellect is a great danger to creativity … because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth — who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads “Don’t think!” You must never think at the typewriter — you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway. … The worst thing you do when you think is lie — you can make up reasons that are not true for the things that you did, and what you’re trying to do as a creative person is surprise yourself — find out who you really are, and try not to lie, try to tell the truth all the time. And the only way to do this is by being very active and very emotional, and get it out of yourself — making things that you hate and things that you love, you write about these then, intensely.

Tom Bisell

To create anything … is to believe, if only momentarily, you are capable of magic. … That magic … is sometimes perilous, sometimes infectious, sometimes fragile, sometimes failed, sometimes infuriating, sometimes triumphant, and sometimes tragic.

Steve Jobs

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

 Malcolm Gladwell

Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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