The business of creative endeavors (including science)

When I was reporting my most recent article for Science Careers– about the financial end of setting up a new academic laboratory– I couldn’t help but think about the parallels to the day-to-day nuts and bolts of my own work. Though I never set up an independent laboratory, it’s clear to me that both freelance writing and scientific research are “businesses” and that cash flow (and the management of it) is key to creativity, productivity, and progress.

Traditionally academic scientists are reluctant to talk about the management of their labs as “business” and starving artists are beyond cliche. But both groups face the challenge of finding a niche where you can find assignments, gigs, or grant support that achieve a delicate balance between paying bills and pursuing passions, teetering somewhere between the practical and the high-risk– and the adrenaline rush that comes with living in that space. Money clearly isn’t the only part of a creative endeavor, but if you have a creative career, it has to be part of the puzzle.

What comes back to me from my conversations with scientists about setting up their laboratories was this question: “What do I need to be successful?” And sometimes they have to be creative when negotiating that answer with the institutions around them. But as an independent writer, I need that question on my front-burner, too. No, I don’t need five- or six-figure equipment to do my job. But I do need a careful plan– and balance, of collaborative-time vs alone-time, project types and more. I have to remain in-tune and honest with myself about what’s working,  in terms of my personal goals, my clients’ needs, and an ever-changing media landscape.

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Exploding Color

NYC fireworks July 4, 2008 by Barry Yanowitz via flickr
NYC fireworks July 4, 2008 by Barry Yanowitz via flickr

Yesterday, we plotted how best to see the NYC fireworks display tonight with the least amount of inconvenience. In other years, we’ve had friends with roof access and good proximity. And a few years ago, we lived in an apartment in New Jersey that sat on a hill facing Manhattan with a bay window vantage point of much of New York Harbor.

That view was my favorite feature of that apartment, which we paid for in sweat equity– a climb up narrow stairs to the third floor. Any time of the year, but particularly on summer evenings, we might hear pops and crackles and head to the window to see where the colored bursts might appear next. Though we usually had no idea of the reason, the sky exploded in color just for us.

As a chemist I know that the palette of those bursts is all about burning different metal ions to produce fountains of shimmering color. And there’s a downside: some of the chemicals– such as perchlorates– in traditional fireworks can cause health and environmental problems. While researchers are working on greener solutions, conventional pyrotechnics are still cheaper.

Even if it means fewer displays, I hope more fireworks shows will “go green”– and red and blue and purple. Even if fireworks occur less often, the “added color value” would be worth it.

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MotW: Acetaminophen (and House’s Vicodin habit)

Acetaminophen structure via Wikipedia (benjah-bmm27)
Acetaminophen structure via Wikipedia (benjah-bmm27)

More FDA warnings for cold sufferers– and really anyone who takes pain relievers– to keep in mind. Acetaminophen– the molecule at the left– is found in Tylenol and a whole host of other pain relievers, cold medicines and prescription drugs. At lower doses, it’s safe, but at higher doses can cause liver damage and even liver failure. The tricky thing? The molecule is included in so many different medications that it’s possible to take too much without realizing it. If you’re sick and have a headache, that Tylenol combined with acetaminophen in a cold remedy might have just tipped the dose over the recommended levels.

An FDA advisory committee issued the warnings, but  it will be interesting to see what the agency decides to do to help prevent further problems. It’s possible that some prescription painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin, which mix acetaminophen with narcotics, might be taken off the market.

I must admit that the Vicodin tidbit led me to more frivolous thoughts about Gregory House, the fictional doctor from the TV series. Considering everything else that has managed to go wrong with him, I’m a little surprised that the  producers haven’t written liver failure into the plot line considering his Vicodin problem. Or did I miss it? Will the writers have to find a new painkiller addiction? Will he finally kick the habit?

So– I guess I’m wondering out loud– could the FDA wind up changing both our pharmacy shelves and the plot lines of TV? My brain is lurking somewhere in that nebulous space between pop culture and medicine today.

The practical stuff, news stories and FDA info:

The fun stuff: I couldn’t find a good video clip about House’s Vicodin habit, but this video/song montage was the next best thing. Enjoy!


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