Otters, electronic keyboards and the educated mind


It is not often I pay much attention to videos of cute animals doing something that anthropomorphises them, that is, makes them look like humans. For once, I’m going to make an exception because the video, whilst most definitely being exceptionally cute (I would bet that at least half of you will end up posting this on your Facebook page – let me know via the comments section), also tells us something relevant to research and to the PhD student. First, though, here’s the video. Its only 32 seconds long and I promise its very, very cute so please play it now.

Enjoyed that? I bet you did! Its a video of otters playing a keyboard and on the original blog we are told ‘The Smithsonian National Zoo knows that animals in captivity need constant stimulation that somehow replicates the stimulation they would get in the wild; experiences that help with their “sight, touch, and hearing senses.” So to help activate the brains of these adorable Small-Clawed Otters, workers at the zoo decided to give them an electric keyboard!’

So, what’s the morale? Its this.

When I saw the video, I though to myself, “‘Who on earth thought of doing this? What kind of deranged mind would think, ‘Ah. There’s some otters who are bored with life. Perhaps they’d like to try playing an electronic keyboard.'”

Think about it, who would have that sort of thought-pattern?

The answer is someone who can think laterally, someone who can think across contexts and put things together in a new way. A genius maybe? Or a researcher, because that’s the way researchers think and that’s the way PhDs are put together. People putting things together across contexts. Taking two familiar things and making something new, in this case happy otters.

So, when you’re researching, think across and widely as well us just deeper and deeper. Read widely. Soak up the unusual and the plain quirky. Be ready to make mistakes (perhaps the otters didn’t like the first instrument (bagpipes maybe?) they were offered, and be ready to learn from those mistakes. Learn from probably the first person in the history of the world who put together otters and electronic keyboards.

Now that’s what I call innovation and original thought!

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