Falling in Love with Biology

by Jennifer Frazer on May 17, 2011

Most readers of this blog are probably biophiles of one sort or another, but it takes a special sort of passion (or lunacy) to start a blog on a subject in your spare time and write about it for hours on end without any expectation of renumeration. Yet I have done it now for over two years.

Why? A feeling, and the burning desire to share it with others. At its heart, my love of life on Earth is a love of shape, form, color, texture, and mechanism (which is why I put such an emphasis on good, large photos, diagrams, and art at this blog) — of the sort that’s put into overdrive by art like Haeckel’s drawings of ascomycete fungi at left, and of course, by seeing and understanding the organisms themselves. There’s also a joy that comes from looking at a pine tree and understanding (and being able to visualize) how that sucker works from root to shoot that I imagine is not far off from the feeling aerospace engineers have while drinking in a Saturn V rocket.

In fact, I recently read a description by a meteorologist of his similar feelings that convinced me I am not alone. The following is from the autobiography of meteorologist Richard Reed, who had an aptitude for science and math when he enlisted in the Navy at the outbreak of World War II but no idea what to do with with his life. He was previously planning to become an accountant when he signed up for the Navy forecasting service:

Freshly minted young ensigns Max Edelstein and Alvin Morris, the latter to become a longtime friend after the war, were assigned the job of teaching the trainees the elements of meteorology. To aid their instruction they suggested that we read a popular— and deservedly so—elementary textbook by Blair. I have never forgotten this experience. Once started on the book I could not put it down, staying up that night until I had finished reading it and feeling at the conclusion that I had thoroughly absorbed the material despite my relatively weak scientific background. If there ever was a case of love at first sight for a scientific subject, I experienced it that day (and night). There are those who view unusual ability in math and physics as the key to scientific success and its manifestation in a particular subject as largely a matter of accident. I have never subscribed to this view. The aesthetic feelings aroused in me by weather patterns and the fascination I felt for weather phenomena as physically evolving entities have always seemed to me inborn facets of my being. I cannot picture any other field of study having had the same emotional effect.

If you find something like this in your life, grab it and don’t let go. I once saw a documentary about a jazz musician (I cannot remember which one) who went through the rise to stardom followed by de rigeur drug- and alcohol-induced crash. At the peak of his fame, he had played in an exclusive jazz club. Now that he was penniless, he sat outside it on the curb, playing the same songs he had done before for free. He could not imagine anything else he’d rather do with his time, whether he was being paid or not.

When I watched this, I was in college and struggling with what to do with my life. For four years after I realized I had no desire to be a research scientist after all, I had no clue. If only, I thought, I could find a career I felt about the way that jazz guy did. Something I was so passionate about that I would do it for free. And eleven years later, here I am, blissfully, unemployed-ly, doing what I love and giving it away. I am thinking perhaps that life has now provided me the cosmic kick in the pants to go for it fully — and maybe even get paid.

So in the wake of my recent job loss, I will be embarking on the grand adventure of the freelance lifestyle. I am excited about this change; it is one I’ve been hoping to make for a long time. At the same time, it’s also terrifying. The mortgage, health insurance premiums, and grocery bills must all get paid each month. And so I will continue to look for part-time work. But I have a deep-down feeling that this is the place, and now is the time. In addition to this blog and to magazine, newspaper, and internet work, I am hoping, one day, to also write books that will also help you fall in love with (and laugh a bit about) some of your planet’s lesser-known co-passengers. And I am hoping you will want to read them. : )

Thanks to all who have sent in freelance contacts so far; more are most welcome. And thanks for everyone who’s advised me to seize the moment. Fortune favors the bold, so the Romans said, and so I hope.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Shawna May 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Wishing you all the best!

Jennifer Frazer May 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Thanks Shawna! Hoping your quest is likewise going well. Write me sometime and let me know how it’s turning out!

Kenn Amdahl May 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Not many people write about science with your pleasant conversational style. Easier to monetize a book than a blog– you should consider putting one together.
Good luck

Jennifer Frazer May 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Thanks, Kenn! I am already in talks to get that process started. I’ll update to the blog when I know something formally.

kati May 18, 2011 at 11:37 pm

whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. boldness has genius, power and magic in it. – goethe

my favorite quote and quite applicable here! wishing you the best! a friend of mine at the smithsonian told me, when i asked him if he’d heard about anything that might work for you, that freelance was probably your best plan. so there you have it :)

Jennifer Frazer May 19, 2011 at 7:40 am

Wow! Thanks so much for checking. And thanks for the words of inspiration. Always welcome. : )

Alan June 2, 2011 at 12:42 am

Great to see you moving forward. They say part of entrepreneurial success is trying and failing. Though they don’t say too much about the failing again and again until you hit what works part.

Kenn is right, you have a wonderful writing style. Though there are shorter paths to success such as e-books that might be more profitable for niche content than publishing houses. Unless you can write a textbook and force students to buy it for an outrageous price :) Or you hit sorta-mass-appeal like Ridley’s Genome book. Or go the Hawking route and write it sufficiently above average understanding and hype it so that everyone will buy it to be cool, but never read it. Probably best to play up the biological disaster angle. That works for everyone else. Fear sells. See I have lots of ideas :) Need a manager? 40%. I’m thinking movie rights – “attack of the bleeding fungus from hell” Ah, the movies of my youth…

But seriously, I have some experience with the online sites and monetization. I love chatting with free thinkers about getting things off the ground. Feel free to email if you want to brainstorm.

Jennifer Frazer June 6, 2011 at 10:29 am

Thanks, Alan! I actually have an agent now (yay!) but thanks for your generous offer. : ) More news coming soon . . .

Alan June 8, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I was just joking about the manager thing, not looking to sell my services. :) I’m self employed and live off affiliate revenue and ecommerce now. With luck I’ll never be drawn into corporate again. Downside is the boss never leaves me alone.

I’m considering e-books myself. Better than a blog for income if you hit it right and a lot less up front work than a book. You can test the water with a smaller effort, self publish thru Amazon, and release multiple books if things go well.

You know you’re there when you stop worrying about where the next paycheck is coming from.

You’re blog is pretty well ranked now and you’ve got a community going, which is more than some can say. Keep us posted. I love a good grass roots success story.

Jennifer Frazer June 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Thanks! I admire your ability to make a living off of it. Sadly, there’s not very many people who want to advertise on biology blogs compared to tech blogs. : ( But I have some news coming up that will help with things a bit. Will definitely keep you posted!

Alan June 10, 2011 at 9:31 am

Aww, that’s inside the box thinkin’. I never had much luck developing tech blogs. Too much competition. Yours is better ranked than mine ever were.

Advertisers don’t usually hunt down small bloggers. That’s what adsense is for. Give it a try and see how relevant it is. They miss the mark completely sometimes, but are usually on target. I’m thinking more along the lines of affiliate programs. Zero entry cost. Ten minutes to set up. Try a few and see if it works.

There are quite a few options for promoting textbooks and genre books as well as science related items that might be of use to readers.

But I prefer to promote items that readers might like. Such as t-shirt affiliate programs. A quick look finds:
“Support Bacteria, they’re the only culture some people have”
“I (heart) amoebas”
“Adios Amoebas – amoeba, amoeba, ondalay, ondalay” (despite the phoentic spelling)

Give the reader something to buy and make 5% in the process. You’ll get a couple complaints here and there about ads from purists (or maybe academics), but most people understand that the income helps you make a better blog. As the song goes, you can’t please everyone. One or two ad blocks on a page isn’t disruptive.

You could even offer your own artfulamoeba gear thru CafePress. Sorry, I couldn’t find a custom dinoflagellate fascinator affiliate program right off the bat – give me some time.

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