July 24, 2023
Ask SLAS members about their pursuits outside of work and you will get a diverse list of answers about activities, hobbies and pastimes. Read on for some inspiring ideas for the next time you hit a roadblock in research, need a wind-down from work life or just want to cut loose from the lab.
How do you refresh your creativity?
SLAS2024 Keynote Speaker Erin Welsh, Ph.D., a scientist and science communicator, spends most of her days creating – "whether that's thinking about new episode topics, coming up with quarantini and placeborita cocktail recipes in the theme of an upcoming episode, researching a new disease, or writing up my episode notes/website posts/social media shout-outs," she says. Welsh produces and co-hosts the globally popular podcast, This Podcast Will Kill You, with Erin Allmann Updyke, M.D., Ph.D. Each episode explores the biology, history and current status of a particular disease or other medical topic – several episodes of which have even been selected for inclusion in the David J. Spencer CDC Museum COVID-19 Web Collection.
"At the end of a day, I can sometimes feel in need of a refresh," Welsh continues. "And my favorite way to do that is to immerse myself in someone else's creativity! For me, that means listening to an audiobook, which I do while cooking dinner, going on a run, tending to my garden, or walking my dog. Losing myself in a fictional world and following characters along their journey is a vital part of my relaxation and helps me to draw a line between working hours and resting hours. Murder mysteries, historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary literature, classics - I love it all!"
“This is what I have always noticed – when I’m in the thick of a project, and nothing is moving, I start to get this churning feeling in my stomach that makes me anxious,” says Mahrukh Banday, D.V.M., Ph.D., executive vice president / general manager of product, marketing and operations for Curiox Biosystems (Woburn, MA, USA). “I get up, drink a cold glass of water, and go give my giant, 150-pound Great Pyrenees and Golden Retriever mixed-breed dog, Zeus, a tight hug. Then I play silly with him and walk around in the yard or our neighborhood. Sometimes, I’ll take a break and enjoy a few mindless episodes of Seinfeld, Friends or something that needs no brain for like an hour or so and then come back to work fresh.
“If you keep your mind open and settle into a state of stillness, if you just sit still and just let the universe distill itself from noise and information, there will be a clarity in your brain when everything settles down and only what is relevant and creative will come up. Sometimes you have to do something meditative – whether that is disconnecting and washing your dishes or playing with your dog – and that period of non-excitation in your neurons will settle into an even calm. You can let go and let the creative peaks start.”
Banday, who also presents some solid advice for mentors in an upcoming SLAS Electronic Laboratory Neighborhood article, “The Two-Way Street of Mentorship,” adds a bit of caution to this approach. “If I have to finish something by a deadline, I don’t disengage. If my mind and body are tired, I will at least try to get the project to the finish line and then later come back, revisit and re-edit. I do not give up executing, but I give up forcing creativity because you cannot force creativity. It's just not going to happen.”
“To recharge my creativity, I take a walk in the woods,” says Mike Tarselli, Ph.D., chief scientific and knowledge officer for TetraScience (Boston, MA, USA), who also endorses meditative activity, such as picking up trash as he walks the public trails in his community. “It's a mindless, numbing task that doesn’t require me to think about the actions, and my brain can be doing something else which is great.
“I sing to myself, too, and do reflective things – I sit with a blank piece of paper and doodle on it. Or I give myself permission to goof around. Sometimes, I go into a library I've never been in, and I go into a section I deliberately have no reason to be in – such as electrical repair or graphic design. Then I pick a book off the shelf and contemplate, ‘Do I know anything about this?’ It is really interesting because it expands the world for you,” says Tarselli, who – like Banday – participates in the upcoming mentor article, in which he will share how to make mentoring sessions more powerful.
“I have been a drummer since the age of 12 and played in many bands throughout my life,” comments Robert M. Campbell, Ph.D., senior vice president, biological and translational sciences, Redona Therapeutics (Watertown, MA, USA), and SLAS Discovery editor-in-chief. “I find that either listening or playing music is a great stress reliever and seems to refresh my mind. At the end of the day, I’m either listening to music or playing my drums (or tapping on everything in sight!).
“When creating new parts, drum fills or jamming with my band, there is an exhilaration when something new and cool emerges. After playing, I find myself more creative scientifically the following day(s) and relaxed to face the challenges ahead,” Campbell continues.
“I think it is helpful and healthy to have other interests outside of work. I have worked quite hard over the years to achieve better work / life balance. I enjoy spending time with my family, working out periodically (elliptical, treadmill, long walks) and playing drums for several hours – which can also provide good physical exercise. These days, I still play drums with a talented group of musicians, write periodically for two drum-related magazines and have become a serious collector of vintage snare drums.
“As I get older, I am less able to do some of the more physical and technical aspects of playing drums, so I have adapted by trying to be more of a ‘pocket player’ – a drummer who just gets the groove and timing right so that the band is locked in and sounding great. It’s not about drum solos but performing what’s best for the music. I am inspired by the drummers that are masters of this, when previously I focused on the technical acrobatics of drumming. I’ve also been writing for drum magazines, not just scientific journals, as I think drummers need to know more about their roots and ‘drum history.’ If someone doesn’t capture this knowledge, it’s gone forever. When I lost my father to vascular dementia, my interest in preserving the past was renewed. In the end, our legacy is our impact on others and the memories we leave. I am inspired now by those who work to help others and strive to do more of the same, be it through writing, mentorship or charitable works.”
ICYMI: From SLAS Social Media Posts
SLAS first asked the question about recharging creativity on CONNECTED, The SLAS Online Networking Center, and on the SLAS LinkedIn site. In case you missed these posts, other SLAS members shared inspiration motivation that included taking a play break with the children in your life, getting some physical exercise and even doing a little car karaoke!
There was also this from Silvio Di Castro, M.Sc., principal scientist at AstraZeneca R&D (Gothenburg, Sweden), who discussed how hobbies keep his mind sharp and fresh.
“On the analytical side, I am a keen genealogical researcher, have indexed over 1.6k old records (from the 1800s), and have built a tree with over 2.3k connections. It's amazing the amount of information you can find online, and by indexing old records more information becomes available all the time, for the benefit of the research community.
“On the creative side, I am a self-taught artist (digital and traditional medium) with a predilection for cartoons and ‘mashups’ (artistic creations combining elements from multiple franchises and characters). This is a mere hobby, no commercial side to it, I just create for my own pleasure. I do share my work on social media, and people seem to like it and find it fun for the most part. So long as I can raise a smile through my work, that will be mission accomplished,” says Di Castro, who also participated in the SLAS ELN Community Q&A about the books he is currently enjoying.