Chad’s been doing a series on non-adademic careers for scientists, and the first in this year’s batch: PNAS: Amy Young, Saponifier
It’s a noble effort , reminding people that there are many options outside of the professor-begetting-another-professor path, which is not sustainable, but the reason I really took notice was that this brought another topic onto some sharper focus, namely my position that everyday cooking/baking — when one simply follows the recipe in the cookbook — is not science. A lot of cooking, I think, doesn’t get past the level of I cooked too long and it’s burned/dried out, which is barely dipping your toe into the soufflé of science. (And Jennifer seemingly disagreed with this position, but it turns out it was mostly semantics — that cooking, done properly, is not about blindly following recipes is something with which I agree. The issue is blindly following recipes.)
Here’s the relevant part of Amy’s soap cooking approach that isn’t always followed in food preparation
If I hadn’t had the importance of keeping a proper lab notebook drilled into my head in my formative years, I would never in a hundred years be able to keep up with all the product lines I’ve got now. (Which colorant did I put in this one, again? And how much? Wait, wasn’t this the fragrance that made the soap seize up on me last time? I should probably try a lower temperature. And so on.) It may be six months or more between making batches of a given kind of soap, so keeping track is vital. Not to mention the product development phase, in which the thing just doesn’t work right, and I have fifteen different things to try varying; I’ve talked with colleagues who run similar businesses, and they seem to operate in a “just change stuff until it works” mode, rather than changing one element at a time (even if I run a dozen or more iterations simultaneously) so as to know which thing or combination of things created the desired effect. It’s invaluable in crafting the more complex items.
This really shows the systematic approach; it’s important to know what cause leads to which effect, and to quantify what you’ve done.