I love music and science, and my training in both has significantly shaped my development.
We often think of music as art—creative, free-flowing, emotional, and so on. And we often think of science as, well, logical, structured, and mental—making art and science distinctly different.
However, training in music develops coordination in the brain—skills and habits like the ability to concentrate, to sharply focus, to memorize, to take time on drilling practice, to repeat hard work until you get results, and to not be afraid to learn new things.
These are all the same qualities required to do scientific research well.
I started training in music early. My parents signed me up for piano lessons at age three, which didn’t work out (I was busy showing my toys to my piano teacher instead of following the lesson). At age five, they tried again with a very kind local piano teacher.
Music is my passion and my hobby. It allows me to speak with a different voice. It allows me to communicate with any audience (no matter where you go, people love listening to music). It was an integral part of my childhood. I remember feeling very special when asked to accompany the older kids in school choirs and musicals. I had a “special” position as a pianist! Everyone wants to feel special, so I didn’t mind the time and energy it took to prepare for all of these responsibilities.
Four years later, after winning a piano contest, it was recommended that I audition for the Preparatory Department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I was one of the oldest applicants, and I remember being so scared of having to play in front of the department chair. Fortunately, I was accepted and stayed with my assigned piano teacher until graduating from high school.
Both my piano teacher and my science mentor Michael exerted great influence on me. They were both wonderful, supportive, truthful, and honest. I was extremely fortunate to have this kind of support.
My piano teacher often gave me awesome advice. He used to say that there might be a million people out there playing the piano (or doing anything), but to remember, “There is always room at the top for those who strive for excellence.” I believe this is true of anything.
There might be a million people out there playing the piano (or doing anything), but to remember, “There is always room at the top for those who strive for excellence.”
I also learned that time and patience are required to do anything well. Early training in piano helped me learn the importance of practice. This had many parallels to learning the importance of “re-search” in science. Rather than seeing practice or a setback as a burden, a challenge, and a mountain to overcome, I was taught to see these things as a parts of the process. You work hard to find solutions to tough problems, and you feel gratified and proud knowing you have done something of value that no one else has done. So much of dealing with the challenges and intricacies can be traced back to one’s attitude. If you see everything as a problem and impossible, it will always be a problem and impossible to you. If you choose to see opportunities where hard work can eventually pay off and create rewards, that is exactly what will happen.
Music is an important part of me. No matter who I’m with or where I go, I can use music as a universal language. I can play something to bring people joy and bring them together. I take this as a lesson—we should all do as much as we can to bring people together despite their differences. We should do this on a daily basis.
Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 2012 from Boston University School of Medicine. She holds a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erika is the Executive Director and Founder of Science from Scientists, an award-winning, National non-profit which sends real, charismatic scientists into classrooms to improve the attitudes and aptitudes of 3rd-8th-grade students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). She is also the CEO and co-founder of Ixcela, a biotechnology company aimed at developing tests and interventions to improve gut microbiome efficacy and health.