Jury member interview #4: Mala L. Radhakrishnan, chemist and poet

Today, 18 July, the winners of the Science Haiku Competition 2019 were announced. In this lightning blog series, we asked our jury members to share their impressions of this year’s entries.

Dr. Mala L. Radhakrishnan holds the title of Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, and is interested in computational biophysical chemistry and drug design. In addition, she explores how to teach chemistry in a more creative way. She is the author of two collections of science poetry: Atomic Romances, Molecular Dances (2011) and Thinking, Periodically (2018). 

Mala introduced the Science & Poetry theme with the column Put back the “I’ in science – a poetical plea.

Photo by Sohil Parekh.

Hi Mala! What is your general impression of the 41 science haikus?

I found them fun, very diverse in topic and tone, and rather educational.  I ended up looking up definitions of a few technical terms and gained just a glimmer of insight into some fields of study somewhat “orthogonal” to mine.  The poems therefore made me both think AND feel!

What kind of entries are you most fond of, personally?

I enjoyed all the poems for various reasons, but in the case of a haiku-specific context, I most enjoy entries that attempt to adhere to the 5-7-5 traditional haiku (though they call it “poetic license” for a reason, so I am flexible…), and I also like entries that appeal to some metaphysical or magical aspect of science, be it the mystery of discovery, one’s feelings  — positive or negative — during the scientific journey, or the use of personification when describing seemingly nonsentient things or processes we study. I also especially appreciate when the three lines have somewhat of a continuous flow.  

How does your poetry writing help you as a scientist and teacher?

As I mentioned in a Crastina Column back in April, it helps my students and I understand not only the science better but also our relationship to the science and our journey as scientists better.    

What are your three pieces of advice to the participants of Crastina’s next science poetry competition?

  • Keep writing — and be true to yourself first when you write!  
  • The old adage really is true — “write what you know”
  • Be supportive of both your own voice and the voices of others.


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