One of my high school teachers told me that you’re either a “lumper” or a “separator.” Separators tend to sort concepts and ideas by their immediate differences, whereas lumpers notice overlap and parallels between ideas which are usually perceived disparately. I used to be a separator because it was easy, but learning how to be a lumper helped me become a critical thinker, and consequently a better writer.
I noticed that an emphasis on lumping did not end after high school. In fact, it followed me throughout my entire academic career at UW Bothell. In my first Discovery Core class, “Art, Biology, and Creativity,” I quickly became inspired by deep connections between science and art—two fields which are often isolated from each other. Making connections across disciplines helped me to think and write innovatively, and fill a gap of knowledge between two seemingly different subjects.
When it comes to cross disciplinary studies, I have a feeling that our friends at the Quantitative Skills Center often struggle with stringing together the words in a Shakespearean sonnet. But, the lumper in me wonders if we are really as imbalanced as we think we are.
The QSC and Writing Center often work together to support students. In a training session last year, tutors from both of our centers discussed the similarities and differences between quantitative reasoning and the writing process. Surprisingly, our inner lumpers shined through, and we found a lot more similarities than differences. For example, an equation is like a sentence. Just like an equation is organized with mathematical symbols, a sentence is organized with punctuation. If the organization is inaccurate or unclear, your mathematical proof or thesis may lack sufficient support. Additionally, just as there are formulas and theorems to help you find that elusive x, there are accepted writing structures to help organize your ideas in a paper.
Think of the general structure of a paragraph; you have your topic sentence, evidence, and commentary. In this way, a math genius can easily write an eloquent paper if they think like a lumper, instead of approaching a writing task as separate from their quantitative talents.
Thinking like a lumper allows you to draw upon your strengths and use them in an unexpected context. It also can mitigate the fear of an unfamiliar assignment. By challenging yourself to build relationships between academic disciplines, you may begin to construct fresh and original ideas When you explore the overlap and connections between interdisciplinary concepts your claims, thoughts, and questions are supported and answered clearly and profoundly.
So, is it better to be a lumper or a separator? I conclude with my claim that l > s, where l=lumping and s=separating.