Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Once Chemjobber got this meme rolling, I couldn't help but participate...

Happy Halloween, Everybody!

Chem Coach Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned

Here's all the various #ChemCoach days, in chronological order:

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Late Entries

My Excel skillz surely impress no one, but if I were to try to divide all 61 'entries' (59 posts, 2 HM) into 'job boxes':
(Maybe not *quite* as awesome as CD's pie chart)
A few other observations, building on what Chemjobber, Deb, and Rachel have already mentioned...

Introverts? Ha! - I know what you're thinking: sample bias. The folks most likely to write into a blog carnival already pre-select themselves for extroversion, right? Allow me to retort: reading through the posts, many chemists actually seem to enjoy public interaction! Sometimes, they go out of their way to seek it. Chemists quip movie lines, cold-call contacts, give public demos, and even go to metal shows (music, not metallurgy).

Great Work, Team! Next week,
we''ll start two-a-days!
No. Standard. Day. - OK, I hear you loud and clear, guys! No one wanted to be that stereotypical "mad scientist," chained to their bench mixing potions in a dank, dark basement lab. The majority of you reveled in the professional chaos (and freedom!) of living in the moment, with no set agenda to tie you down. Coffee helped.

Demographics - Who says science is just for boys? Who says it's just for girls? The carnival definitely leaned masculine overall (43:18 men : women). Interesting factoid, though: nearly all the female entrants wrote in early, while more men were likely to procrastinate or send late-night emails...

The Times, They Are A-Changin' - I'll echo one last sentiment CJ touched upon - look back at that pie chart. The best-represented slice remains "lab scientist;" however, that block is clearly shrinking relative to where it might have been in the late '90s.

Thanks again to everyone who participated, and thanks to those who helped me get the word out.

See you all next year! - See Arr Oh

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Chem Coach Carnival: Late to the Party, Still Invited

Technically, it's still 'National Chemistry Week' as I write this (in that a week stretches Sunday-Saturday, although I'd guess there's precious few outreach activities still going on!). Thus, although I attempted to "cap" the carnival on Friday, a few (really cool) entries have straggled in. Without further ado, let's give them their due.

Update (10/30/12) - Apologies this didn't go live several nights back, but there was a storm situation that needed 'sorting out' in the interim...

56. MJ, postdoc, East Coast USA. MJ blogs at Interfacial Digressions. I don't really have to tell you how MJ spends his day since he does it himself: "a mix of physical chemistry, biochemistry, and spectroscopy, along with dashes of molecular biology, computation, and misery." MJ finds that sometimes advisors attempt truly ambitious swing-for-the-fences-type work, and leave the details up to the student. He may be the first person I've seen use the expression "honest-to-Buddha."

57. Tom, grad student, Imperial College London. Tom blogs at A Chemical Education. Like most superheroes, mild-mannered Tom can often be found working part-time in bookshops, while Super-Tom cooks up nanoparticles in miniature ovens, builds flow reactors, and troubleshoots MATLAB for undergrads. Coffee and cycling keep him sane. He's got a "...try-anything, get-on-with-it attitude," a must for scientific work nowadays.

58. Sarah, chemist or writer? Sarah blogs at Webb of Science (I get it!). Sarah reminds us that freelance writing - essentially running a small business - means great freedom and great responsibility. For her, that's taxes and paperwork :) Sarah bounced back-and-forth between NYC and LA, in a series of internships, an AAAS fellowship, and museum work at the Griffith Observatory. But which is she? Scientist, Writer? She leans towards "writer," but I think she's still on the fence - that's a good thing.

59. Bran, Organic Geochemistry Technician IV, OK. Bran, a self-described "metal-rocker / sports geek #TechLabLife," clearly wins for best-illustrated post thus far. Her entire entry published below:

So as usual, if this #ChemCoach Blog Carnival was a real life event, I would be late to the party. Not because I think that is hip or anything, I literally find myself having no extra attention to give towards anything. Why? Let’s talk about that. I am a research/lab technician IV for the University of Oklahoma (which has recently turned into the ESPN version of Vegas due to our scheduled Football Powerhouse clash with Notre Dame tomorrow). At this university I work in the department of Geology and Geophysics in the Energy Center as a chemist. Yes. Geochemistry is a term I learned AFTER I got the job. Amazing field of science, rarely spoken about unless, you are well, in the oil and gas industry. Oklahoma is and continues to be a power player in that industry.

Behind any successful industry is academia and research used as resources to manpower their company and well your life. Cutting out all the confusing political canvas that surrounds this field, petroleum organic geochemistry is the name of my game.  I graduated with my bachelors of science in chemistry from a small town south of here. I didn’t even attend the university I work at. I did undergrad research at a nearby one that gained me some momentum out of college.  It had a downside for me though. That little bit of “undergrad research” drained me, jaded me and made me nervous. I never wanted to put any effort TO THAT EXTENT ever again unless I knew it was in a career that came with a guaranteed return investment called STABILITY. My path to my degree was not easy and detours were made. You can refer to my I am Science post to get a complete assessment of me regarding my now career. Anyways, I refused to apply to any grad schools. I didn’t want to be stuck with some jerk I would have had to literally impress so he could employ me as his Fulltime Failure. I simply was not ready for a scientific version of 50 Shades of Grey in which I got no pleasure out of the deal. Fast forward to my various part time jobs and here we are: lab technician in a research group that is BUSY BUSY BUSY.
Me working after attending Metal Show, 11PM
By busy, I mean not only do we perform petroleum related research, we do environmental forensics and the projects come from ALL OVER THE WORLD. As of right now, we have five labs, four technicians and various numbers of postdocs along with graduate students.
Geochemistry work. Source Rock extract with a surprise. 
Here is a typical work week breakdown. It consists of these various responsibilities:

Instrument care and upkeep (HPLC, GC, HTGC, GC-MS) 
                *I am considered the “in-house expert” regarding HPLC and HTGC.

Creating methods for said instruments depending on parameters/demands of the customer
                *Pleasing the boss and pleasing the lab manager become two very different things. Learn how to do things well in a fast manner without screwing up any equipment.

Training graduate students on said instruments
                *On THEIR time of course because well they are “extremely busy” due to classes and tests and I think something called sleep or whatever.

Data compilation on projects

Anything and everything done in the wet lab
                *Here is where my time is spent. Breaking down crude oil and/or source rock needs a chemist’s touch. Depending on sample, common extraction techniques are employed. Also, if you are a geologist entering chemistry, please respect it as an art. In chemistry, your data speaks volumes to your lab performance. It shows how well you translate the science in seeking answers to the questions asked. People forget chemistry is in the details. On a molecular level, if you messed up, it shows. Those who wear rubber gloves and handle source rock will understand that statement. Not including my PI and one grad student, I am the lab go-to chemistry person.

Emails, Emails, Emails!!
*Boss is in demand which means boss is gone. Boss emails. YOU MUST ALWAYS ANSWER. This includes when he is 4 timezones away. Being computer literate and efficient means you can communicate project progress via email. I get 110 emails a week.

Culture Troubleshooting
*Ha. New additions to the group need help with apartment hunting, DMV registration, HR paperwork, travel between sites and an American who can deal with our awful customer service to internationals. I am that chick. I get -ISH done for them. I do paper edits for those whose English is a second language. This includes everything from rental agreements to their PhD dissertation to their latest journal submittal from another lab. I still do this for postdocs who have since left the lab but trust only me to edit their English. I don’t mind. I sometimes get methods in their language and then translate it to save their time.  Oh and yes, I introduce them to Oklahoma culture which so far basically involves ranch dressing and home game tailgates. I’ve made the best friends out of foreign postdocs who I keep in touch with. They are dear to me.

Time management
*Priority means priority if you want your lab to have money. Science takes time when you are breaking down long chained hydrocarbons. Sometimes sleep is not part of that. You will run into problems and how you work around them quickly determines the chemistry you have with your chemistry skills.

I love my lab because of its diversity depth. I love hearing other languages and learning new things. After living in Italy, I can use that experience at work and I HAVE MANY TIMES. I did get co-authored by my Brazilian postdoc in last project. They have all been and continue to be great mentors in my chemistry career transition. She and other postdocs constantly push me towards my PhD. They regard me as an equal to them and only want the best for me. I get it. I know.

I have no time to myself. I applied to graduate school and forgot to turn in papers because of my schedule. I decided to be unclassified to utilize staff discount on tuition, benefits AND stay close to my projects. As of now, I am not even ready to do that. I think I owe myself more time to enjoy life. My chemE postdoc told me the other day “You are always funny. It’s a good thing despite us working so hard. You remind me that life is short and sometimes this [insert sample] isn’t what life is about. It’s good I can do this every day but we need balance.”  Want to know the real reason why graduate students hate their lives? They know they have a choice to walk away and they accept that *this* project *may* or *may not* make up for everything they sacrificed to get there. Being a technician gives me a privilege. I have to be trained. I am not thrown to the wolves. I may not know what is in your fancy textbook but I guarantee you that classroom work is fantasy land. You read and almost always pseudo diagnose already solved scientific problems. I see my data passed out in classrooms.  On a daily basis I am handed some WTH-object and expected to come up with the right answer by the end of the day using the resources we have. It’s stressful and time-consuming but I operate best under those conditions. The more I succeed at, the more I get.

Me and "mi tesoro" Polish Physicist
Until I have the need for my PhD, I will gladly respond to the chemistry mysteries that surround us with “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.”

Work Hard, Play Harder.

PS. I have gotten no sleep at all due to work deadlines and the common life setbacks, but I WILL STILL SPEND ALL DAY DOING OKLAHOMA SOONER FOOTBALL. I promise you that. BOOMER SOONER.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chem Coach Carnival, Day Five

The sun's slowly setting on another great (US) National Chemistry Week. It's been a blast hanging out with so many different flavors of chemists this week, and I hope to stay in touch with all of you through the magic of online social media. Best of luck to all involved.

45. Piper, inorganic grad student, UC Berkeley. Piper blogs at Berkeley Science Review, Science Exchange, and maintains a really replete website which I'm sure will one day garner her a high profile science + media job! She says Twitter and Facebook help her plan "conference submissions" (that's what I'll tell my boss). Piper relies on to-do lists as tools to help maximize daily efficiency. Her lab buddies include a guy best known for Veritaserum and bezoars.

46. Mystery postdoc, MedChemBlog. This scientist knows that two things make work easier: coffee (huzzah!) and switching between lab and desk work to reduce monotony. MCB came into synthetic chemistry via pharmacy, which seems to be a common corridor I've overlooked. Remember how high you jumped the first time you heard an LN2 tank vent?

47. Doctor Galactic, postdoc, UK. Doc blogs at Doctor Galactic and the Lab Coat Cowboy. He has great fun doing bench chemistry, and blames "two Scots" for instilling his love for science. Somehow, he manages to tie Gollum and "brain madness" into his post. Doc doesn't recommend trying to finish a Ph.D. in just three years...

48. David, Synthetic Chemist, RTI International. David blogs at Chemical Space. He stresses the importance of networking; his current job came from a slew of former contacts: "being bold with contacting people got me here." Adaptation and flexibility are David's secrets to an enjoyable career. And a story about exploding Grignards? Always good for a laugh.

49. Rich, Chemist / Software Developer, Metamolecular. Rich blogs at Metamolecular and Depth-First. He owns a small business, and has yet to rely on government funding - no small feat in today's economy! Rich's post, like much of his writing, wins the #ChemCoach Pragmatism Prize: "How to Get a Job Like Mine." He's working on getting o-chem into your iPad in app-form, no small feat for a former med-chemist-turned-programmer. One of his major goals? "...Making life easier for those who work in labs." A noble calling.

50. Phillip, Science Correspondent, Chemistry World (He blogs at their eponymous site). His witty title might win the #ChemCoach "Pure Pith" award. Holy cow, he's also decorated blogger Tot Syn's former flat mate! (small world, this chemistry community). A simple collection of 'gerunds' from his post shows you all he gets wrapped up in: hunting, picking, writing, ticking, meeting, researching, specialising, editing, teaching, training, oxidising, clearing, alkylating, everything, anything! Want to know what it's like to move a truckload of chemicals cross-country? Phil's your guy.

51. Chris "Ziggy" Zeigler, Editorial Associate, ACS Undergrad Office. "Ziggy" blogs at Reactions. Chris apparently "partitions" himself professionally: 1/4 salesman, 0.25 customer service, a dash of editor, part admin. He plans National Meeting activities - including the always-popular demos - and maintains the Office's Twitter and Facebook presence. He almost became a pastor (really!). Chris worked with a former Bills linebacker...installing chromatography equipment.

52. Ash, Molecular Modeler / blogger, small biotech startup. Ash blogs at two different versions of the popular Curious Wavefunction: one at FoS, and one at SciAm. He loves models, organic chemistry, and can tell you anything about R.B. Woodward. Ash points out (correctly) that everyone "from the intern to the CEO" hears your views in a small outfit, and you end up filling many roles. Ash strikes me as well-versed in just about everything, a view shored up by references to Greek philosophy, French verbs, and complex algorithms. 

53. LabMonkey4Hire, Lab Monkey / Process Chemist. LM4H = also the name of his eponymous blog. A pharma guy, he knows how to move bench -> pilot -> kilo, and how to make data come alive: "No one wants to see 200 HPLCs in a presentation!" The main goal, LM explains, is to simulate reactor conditions on much smaller scale, and tweak variables accordingly. He compares full PPE for lab decon to "...being in a bizarre '90s rave video." 

54. Organometallica, grad student. OM blogs at Colorblind Chemistry. I've published his full entry below:

Your current job

I am presently a PhD student (not yet candidate, but soon!) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I am an organic chemist presently working under the supervision of an inorganic chemist, meaning that my training is about as organometallic as one could hope to engineer into their degree program, I suppose.
What you do in a standard “work day”

By this point, I'm completely done taking classes, and so the largest devotion of my time is to research, which often keeps me up to the wee hours of the morning. My research is very young (I am my advisor's first and currently only student) and so in a broad sense I am trying to prove the idea that first row transition metals are not condemned to single electron chemistry with the ultimate goal of both emulating and superseding palladium using iron catalysts.

What I didn't appreciate when I applied to graduate school is how much time each day (in the early years at least) is devoted to things outside of research. Twice a week, I teach a graduate level advanced inorganic chemistry class, which comes with its own share of outside responsibilities. I also have to give seminars and am required to attend them, too. On top of all this, I supervise three undergraduate students in the laboratory, meaning that no two days are the same and that I spend large expanses of time discussing chemistry with scientists of all sorts of levels of experience. It's somewhat gymnastic in how often I have to think-and rethink-all of my ideas and reiterate them in pursuit of a larger goal.
What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?

I hold a BSci in Chemistry, and that's the extent of the schooling that I had. Interspersed with this, I held three jobs in pharmaceuticals in the years leading up to graduate school. I became interested in organometallics as an undergraduate in Tobias Ritter's lab, where I got a taste of practical catalysis. After a winding first year at UIUC, I decided that my skills were best suited to fundamental research identifying and elucidating new modes of reactivity, the training for which was largely physical chemistry and was primarily self-taught.
How does chemistry inform your work?

Obviously chemistry pervades my research, but I find that general principles of chemistry have been most useful in my teaching assignments. Often in the research lab we get absorbed in technical details, but one of my favorite things to do is quiz undergraduates informally about why HCl, AcOH, and Cl2 share very similar smells, or why adding salt to an aquarium doesn't change the pH. Seeing the light bulb go on when they realize that a simple chemistry principle applies to their day-to-day life is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career

My (short) career has been littered with various fires, explosions and similar ilk that are probably not worth discussing here, but one interaction with a biologist strikes me here.

When I worked at a small, now defunct, biotech where I was the only lab chemist. Tasked with setting up synthesis facilities, I went about ordering chemicals. My first solvent order was turned down and I was promptly called into the big boss's office. He, a biologist, pointed out a 4L bottle of ether and exclaimed, "this is what they used to use to anesthetize mice, is this an absolutely necessary risk?" 

55. Dr. LC Square. LC's full entry published below:

Your current job.

Associate Principal Scientist, Process Chemistry, Merck. I currently work in a group which interfaces Discovery Chemistry with Process Chemistry. This assignment has broadened my view of pharma beyond “typical” process chemistry. Gaining experience collaborating with discovery teams and a keen understanding of the interplay between medicinal chemistry SAR processes and various preclinical study designs. Before that I focused on development, scale-up and application of chemical processes for the synthesis of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API); A more “typical” process chemistry role, supporting kilo-scale deliveries under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).

What you do in a standard "work day."

Currently my typical day is a ~50/50 mix of lab-work and various administrative responsibilities. These could include on any given day:
- discovery core team meetings
- larger therapeutic area presentations/meetings
- coordinating external (outsourced) projects
- meeting with reports to assign & discuss projects
In the lab, I typically work from mg to 500g scale with most reaction performed on multi-gram scale.  We have the odd larger batch but for the most part we define routes to API for the first pre-clinical studies or key intermediates for Med Chem, developing key SAR diversification-point reactions and then scale-up. Big enough to want to be as efficient as possible, but small enough to resort to chromatography and sub-optimal processes if need be. It’s all about finding the good enough line! Though I still take pride in developing crystallizations to extract a nice white solid from dark brown goo!
During a typical day I almost always collaborate (phone, email, or physically meet) with people in other functions (MedChem, Pharm Sci, Safety, Biology and DMPK for example).  This assignment also includes playing the role of connector between the discovery and development phases of development ranging from lead-ID to First-In-Human clinical trials.

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?

I did my undergraduate studies in Biopharmaceutical Sciences (Medicinal Chemistry Option), a multi-disciplinary program which included 2-3 years of biology and biochemistry.  Though I didn’t realize the potential at the time, my understanding of biochemical processes has served me well. Many chemists end up there because they didn’t care for bio… I’m glad I stuck with it.
I obtained my Ph. D. in organic chemistry specializing in transition metal catalysis. More specifically, I had the great opportunity to work on Direct Arylation (also known as C-H Activation, though I hate that term) with Keith Fagnou, just when the field was taking off (2003-2007).  This made it a very exciting time to be a graduate student.  Though my graduate training in organic chemistry is at the core of what I do as an applicant of organic chemistry in my day to day activities, I find that I learned a plethora of other vital skills I leverage every day. Here’s an example:

Keith always believed that establishing a collaborative research environment was more important than work hours and expected us to be productive during “regular” work hours. He never demanded anybody work late at night and weekend hours were optional.  If you were in the lab late or on a weekend, it’s because you wanted to be. We were all expected to support each other and help each other succeed.  This ultimately led to a group culture where the success of the team was more important than individual success.  From this incubator that was the “Fagnou Factory” I learned and developed:
1)   Teamwork
2)   Leadership & Mentoring
3)   Giving & Receiving Feedback
4)   Motivation Through Autonomy & Ownership
All of these things are essential for drug discovery & development. One of my mentors at Merck on told me “these halls are filled with great scientists, but science alone is not enough” for drug discovery & development program to succeed.

How does chemistry inform your work?

It’s at the foundation of it. I see the world through chemists’ goggles. It also affects my perception as an experimentalist. In chemistry, you can have an idea in the morning, test it in the afternoon and get your answer in the morning. That type of “just try it” attitude is how process chemists innovate. My personal rule is that if you have less than 3 steps to get to test your hypothesis, you HAVE to try. You can’t be afraid of failure.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career

In grad-school, my friends and I were notorious for pulling the best pranks for April fools. My contribution to this went as follows: We placed an ad in the Saturday edition of the paper listing Keith’s relatively new Saturn for sale for “$1999 or best offer. Must sell fast!” Giving only his office # to call back, he returned Monday to 83 phone messages with the phone ringing about the car every 1-2 minutes all morning. Surprisingly, it took him most of the day to figure out we were to blame, as we were able to deflect his accusations convincingly. Finally after, eliminating his father-in-law or other faculty members, he broke one of us and we all had a good laugh at his expense over beers that night!

*Honorable Mention Section*

Thanks to Deborah Blum, Science Writer / Author, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Deb writes amazing stuff like The Poisoner's Handbook and blogs at Discover's Elemental and PLoS's Speakeasy Science. Deb featured our little blog effort on Knight Science Journalism Tracker earlier today. Thanks!

Not to be outdone, champion Editor Rachel Pepling, she of the C&EN blog community (and a chemist-by-proxy), featured us on Grand CENtral. Most appreciated.

Stay tuned for a roundup post later this weekend...or whenever I get on it. (Zzzzz...)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chem Coach Carnival, Day Four

Throughout this carnival, I love hearing stories about folks finally giving in to that urge to blog. For some of our entrants, this was their very first post! (Honored, really). For others, today's post serves as a milestone of ups-and-downs in the sci-comm universe. Today we have executives, grad students, directors, 'instrumenticians,' and metallurgists. Read away...

33. SoS, UK-based graduate student. In this context, "SoS" means Sounds of Science, not (luckily) "save our ship." SoS specializes in organic materials, one of those coolio new "green" technologies I'm sure we'll hear more about soon. SoS had a close encounter with the always-tricksy DIBAL, which resulted in a decent-sized fireball and full building evacuation.

34. Chemerson, Analytical Chemist, Research Institute. Chemerson blogs at The Collision Cell. Instrumenticians, represent! He actually gets into the nitty-gritty of analyzing designer drugs and tobacco. To tease out components, Chemerson has a buyer's choice of fun instruments to play with. Ask him about the time he tried to analyze a 'Lazy Cake' by mass spec.

35. Susan, Executive Director, CSU Biotech Program. Susan blogs at CSUPERB. Susan was kind enough to prod some other scientists into answering the #ChemCoach call (Grazie!). She spends her days serving as the "glue" for a disparate group of folks - scientists, VCs, academics, etc - who wish to go into business together. Susan spent some time in a "white-knuckle" pilot plant, and knows what cryofills and GCs are - still a chemist in my book!

36. David, Director of Sci Comm, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. David, another blog stalwart, scribes at Terra Sigillata and now a high-profile gig at Forbes' Take As Directed. From professorship to writing to sci-comm, DK's done it all, and this post's no exception. From a great hook inspired by another "David" (Byrne), he wends through his career with a philosophical eye, stopping to turn down two tenured faculty positions, run a department, jump into blogging and outreach, and just generally serve as a positive force for public chemistry awareness. David closes out with a "Sunscreen List" of advice for chemistry n00bs out there.

37. Mags, Chemist / Metallurgist / writer. Mags blogs at Philosophically Disturbed. Her entry ushers in turns of phrase like "cranial stretches," "work in uncertainty," and "patchwork quilt career" (all sound familiar). Mags points out that passion should be the underlying factor in everything you choose to do. This may be the first time I've ever heard chemistry compared to Paris Fashion Week...

38. Chris, Senior Director, TB Alliance. Chris comes to us through intrepid reporter Lisa Jarvis (thanks, LJ!), and posted his entry at The Haystack. He's been all over the pharma landscape, from Ciba-Geigy to Pfizer to BMS, and now directs a global initiative to research new treatments for tuberculosis. The existing 'standard of care' cocktail combo just turned fifty, so it's time for some fresh blood! Chris reminds us to constantly tend and care for our extended professional network; he encountered an old colleague by complete chance on the cobblestoned streets of France, 25 years later.

39. Matt, Asst. Prof, American University. Matt hosted the last carnival (Toxic!), and blogs primarily at ScienceGeist. Matt reminds readers that, when applying for professorships, "...faculty can't read, but they sure can count." He's busily building an academic group, lecturing, and serving on recruitment committees, so he probably has an inside scoop. Why is his nickname "Smokey," anyway?

40. John, Physicist, Engineer, Rheologist, and "polymer guy." John blogs at It's the Rheo Thing. Another blog champion, he provides we Organickers with perspective on how material and bulk properties change based on groups hanging off main polymer chains. John's a "Big C" Chemical engineer, not "Big E" like many others in his field. His work in contract R&D ensures he never sees the same day twice (quite a common theme, eh?). Spoiler: "How many Ph.D.'s does it take to lock themselves in the oven?"

41. James, Online Chemistry Tutor / small business owner. James blogs at Master Organic Chemistry. He spends between 8-11 hours a day tutoring folks via Skype; when not teaching, he "spends a lot of time in ChemDraw" to construct learning materials. James actually started M.O.C. on the side, while a postdoc in Jerusalem. His current site was 'inspired' by Tenderbutton, Not Voodoo, and...Chatroulette (presumably the non-sketchy part). Ask him about life in the Old City.

42. A surprise entrant! Click here to find out more...

43. Mike, Professor, small liberal arts college. Mike blogs at I Heart d-Orbitals. He's part of the continued trend (Adam, Michael) of profs who realize their time is best spent educating others. His wife jokes that he "...walked onto a college campus [and] never left!" Mike's an organometallic chemist by training, so I'm sure he still thinks 'metal-centric' (like me!) Sage advice: "Sometimes you have to listen to what the world is trying to tell you."

44. JustAddEther, graduate student, "Mysterious Midwest College." (Perhaps where Dr. Bodwin works?). Just chimes in with more graduate perspectives, including why high school counselors shouldn't sell you short of a STEM career. She actually returned to school later, having worked previously as a stylist and bartender (Good training for chem, bartending). Wish JAE luck, as she attempts to join a very sought-after research group - against ten other entrants!

Jeff, Chemistry Historian

This special entry, #42 (secret to life, the Universe, and everything, coincidence?) in the #ChemCoach blog carnival, comes from a personal hero of mine. Please put your hands together for...
My favorite "profile" of the series:
John D. Roberts, engaged in debate
Source: ACS Publications | Jeff Seeman

...Dr. Jeff Seeman!

Jeff currently works as a Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the University of Richmond. Perhaps you know him from his long career as a chemist at Phillip Morris. Or perhaps from his interviews of famous organic chemists for the ORGN Centennial Symposium. But I know Dr. Seeman best as the editor of the ACS autobiographical series Profiles, Pathways, and Dreams.

Ever read it? Through PPD, Jeff compiled and edited autobiographies from eminent chemists over ~20 years. Bill Johnson. Carl Djerassi. Arthur Birch. Ernest Eliel. Andrew Streitweiser. Bruce Merrifield. Koji Nakanishi. The list goes on and on.

In addition to recounting their scientific careers, the scientists' charge involved telling stories about how they became chemists - a perfect fit for this carnival!

On a more personal note, I had found a treasure trove of these books, sitting in a gleaming blue row in a corner of our science library, during the darkest days of grad school. Paging through, I developed a kind of confidence, a realization that many of these famous folks had once been in my shoes. If they could do it, so could I. If you haven't read the books, I'd highly recommend them to any prospective young chemist.

Ever humble and pragmatic, Jeff has decided that I can best tell his story through his work (lightly edited):

Dr. Jeff Seeman
Credit: ACS local section
"...You ask about me.  And I would much prefer to tell you latest big project.  I also believe your followers will find a blog about this far more useful and interesting! [snip]

The Chemical Record is a Wiley-VCH journal published with the Chemical Society of Japan.  It has a rather substantial impact factor of ca. 5.

[snip] A more complete description of the project and a rich discussion of autograph books can be found in an essay* that I've written along with the first segment of this project:  It is open-access, as is the entire project for at least three years.

The actual issue in TCR.

As for me, this project follows my heart in encouraging our chemistry community to go beyond great science and think about science as a human endeavor and to cherish our rich participation in this wonderful community of ours. (emphasis mine)

I hope that my "submission" to you more than meets your anticipations."

(SAO here) - Thanks again, Jeff. It really made my day.

*Here's an introductory essay Jeff wrote for the Nozoe Autograph Books Project. I hear through the grapevine that Ash will soon write about them on Curious Wavefunction, so keep an eye out!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chem Coach Carnival, Day Three

Chemists everywhere! It's not too late to play. Send an email along to seearroh_AT_gmail if you still want to take part.

Day 1

Pushing ever onwards. Just after posting the round-up last night, a fresh new batch of recruits showed up! (Not that I'm complaining). Apparently, waaay more folks than I ever thought do Raman spectroscopy for a living. Today, we hear from self-acclaimed 'super-villains,' postdocs, IP counsel, Lecturers, a very familiar Fellow, and two in-silico dudes.

21. Dr. Bodwin, Prof. and Dept. Chair, "Mysterious State U. Midwest." Dr. Bodwin blogs at Everything Under the Copper Sun, Science of Cooking (hmmm...), and maintains electronic lab notebooks at Dr. Bodwin's Electronic Notebook. Call him a faculty leader, recruiter, teacher, budget-maker, just don't call him an "administrator." Dr. Bodwin's story of a grad school "mistake" led him to a whole bunch of unexpected papers...and half his thesis. 

22. Chad, physical chemistry graduate student. Chad blogs at The Collapsed Wavefunction. He claims, like many, that there's no "standard day," and his hours seem to run to grad school extremes. Chad, like many, did a two-year stint in industry before returning to grad school. He plays card games while the laser warms up. Chad recommends learning how to pronounce names of famous chemists before you have to speak them aloud at oral presentations (Good advice!).

23. Dr. Rubidium, Evil Genius / Supervillain. Dr. Rb blogs at JAYFK, Thirty-Seven, and maintains a rockin' Twitter feed. I'm fairly certain she has the henchmen claimed in the post, somewhere deep underground. Dr. Rb walks us through the convoluted world of villains: hierarchy, daily routine, and career objectives. Oh yeah, and forensic science appears in there, somehow. BWAHAHAHA!

24. Michael, grad student / blogger. He blogs at The Organometallic Reader and Cheersical Education. Michael's interests lean heavily towards pedagogy, as one can see from his fantastic organometallic lectures (online). For those who want to teach? "Start early; there's a tired old fogey out there waiting for your youth and enthusiasm." He enjoys long walks on the beach, being recognized on campus solely by voice, and anthropomorphizing chemical events.

25. Marcel, Research Prof. / Computational Chemist, University of Girona. Marcel blogs at Trends in Science. He's an "excellent scientist, performing breathtaking research." Marcel inherited a love of numbers from his accountant father, and feels his postdoc(s) taught him a lot concerning project management. Ask him about how chemistry miraculously 'cured' him of mono...

26. Derek, Research Fellow, Vertex. Derek blogs at In the Pipeline - we consider him the "blogfather" for the chemblogosphere. Derek provides a fantastic med-chem primer, touching briefly on the joys of bench work, project management, binding pockets, and what it's like to bounce around multiple companies. Some of his reactions still form sticky maroon tars; not just yours and mine. Some caveats? "Never talk yourself out of an easy experiment," and "never assume your future grad advisor won't call you in the middle of the night." ; )

27. Darren, Patent Attorney, EIP Elements. Darren blogs at The IP Alchemist (catchy!). He shows us bench types a different aspect, namely examining prior art, and how new ideas become patentable. He's fluent in Japanese; a fringe benefit of the trade (and a postdoc spent in Japan!). Darren's frequent travel to fun and exciting locales makes me dream of a career in the IP office.

28. Janet, Science Philosopher, SJSU. Janet blogs at SciAm's Doing Good Science, as well as Scientopia's Adventures in Ethics and Science. She helps people who are "scared of science" learn about where it comes from. Janet's actually a "double Doctor" - chemistry and philosophy - which you certainly don't see every day. Have a peek at her Philo 133 syllabus, quiz her about the importance of lab safety, or ask about rubbing elbows with Nobelists (twice!).

29. Mark, Applications Scientist, Rigaku Raman. Mark's full entry is published below:

Your current job: I’m working as an Applications Scientist for a portable Raman instrument company.  I’ve enjoyed spectroscopy since graduate school and this position is a good fit for my scientific interests. Because my company is a small startup, it will be a great learning opportunity to develop business skills. The company has a unique product offering for their market, and I’m confident that we’ll be successful. 

What you do in a standard work day: My current position is new, so most of my initial activities have involved training on our equipment and software, sharing insight with coworkers into the c-GMP environment, getting to know our sales force, and learning key marketing messages for the product.  I’ve also begun writing an application note and trade publication articles, as well as helping to edit the user manual.  Because I am a field based employee, I participate in a lot of teleconferences.  I’ll also travel to visit customers, help to train the sales force, and work at trade shows. My position will involve product marketing and seeking out business development opportunities.

A position like this requires soft business skills in addition to technical knowledge.  The ability to network and collaborate with project teams, organize work activity, communicate with customers and coworkers, and frequently delegate without authority are all key to succeeding.

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there? I went to graduate school at a small university and earned a terminal Master’s degree in physical chemistry, specializing in FTIR and Raman spectroscopy.  I’ve held a variety of industrial and pharmaceutical R&D positions as an analytical chemist and also have prior experience as an Applications Scientist with a large analytical instrumentation company. My current position will draw upon that experience base.

I’ve learned that networking is critical career development, not only in finding a new position but also building collaborations to accomplish business goals.  Also, participation and volunteering in professional organizations, such as a local American Chemistry Society section provides opportunities to develop soft skills.

How does chemistry inform your work? I use my understanding of chemistry to help customers select the best solution for their problems or processes.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career: I’m part of a dual chem-career couple.  My wife is a PhD chemist and is currently manager of an analytical group at a specialty chemical company.  We’ve found that geography is critical for dual chem-couples; there really needs to be enough industry where you live to support both careers.  Early in our careers, we worked at the same company.  Seeing the “writing on the wall” we found new positions and relocated before facing a dual lay-off situation.  Altogether, we’ve been really lucky with our jobs so far and work to be supportive of each other’s career growth.

30. Nathan, Computational Chemist. Nathan's full entry published below:

Your current job.

For the past 5 years I’ve led the In Silico Medicinal Chemistry research group at the Institute of Cancer Research in London. I started off as a computer scientist in my undergrad days but moved into chemistry (chemoinformatics) when I joined Prof. Peter Willett’s lab in Sheffield. I’ve had a bit of an unorthodox path to where I am today.

What do you do in a standard “work day”.

My job is now very reactive, which has changed since my time before joining the ICR when my day job was mainly programming. I support both my group and oversee support for our therapeutic projects. This involves lots of computational methods, such as: virtual library design; multi-objective prioritization; docking; pharmacophore searching; building and validating predictive models in QSAR approaches. Much of my work involves assessing the vast space of virtual compounds we could make, but we are unable to in resource-limited academia.

We are a post-graduate college of The University of London so a lot of my time is devoted to supporting our PhD students and PostDocs advising them on tools and techniques to apply in their projects. I also spend a lot of time writing papers with my colleagues, from basic computational methods right through to our teamwork on drug discovery programmes. I am also currently editing my second book, Scaffold Hopping in Medicinal Chemistry, following one that was released recently: Bioisosteres in Medicinal Chemistry.

This year we’ve also had quite a few external visitors, which has led to a few TV appearances on British television on BBC Horizon and Newsnight. You can see the programme on ‘Defeating Cancer’ here:

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?

I have a first degree in computer science, which was followed by a PhD from Prof. Willett’s lab in Sheffield. In my undergrad life I focused on evolutionary algorithms, particularly writing software to simulate adaptive artificial life models. It was this initial interest in ‘writing software that writes itself’ that led me to work with Peter in Sheffield. I followed this with a Marie Curie Fellowship at Avantium Technologies, Amsterdam and Prof. Johnny Gasteiger in Erlangen for two years and a Presidential Fellowship at Novartis in Basel for another three years.

I never really wanted to work in IT but wanted to use computers to answer questions in other disciplines. I think the most useful experiences I’ve had is working with colleagues from other fields. I find these interactions very rewarding, particularly if you’re unafraid to ask questions that might seem silly. An orthogonal viewpoint has put me in good stead.

Throughout my career, my academic mentors have instilled the clear importance of the scientific method. It is so important in computational sciences to ensure that we do not become beholden to our own ideas because a computer will tell you what you want to hear. At least in real chemistry Mother Nature will give you a slap and say, “No!” The computer often says, “Yes!” This can lead to what I term the ‘pretty picture’ syndrome in some computational work. I always advise my students accordingly to clearly state the hypothesis and how they’re going to test it.

How does chemistry inform your work?

I use mathematics a lot to try and explain chemical phenomena. This is not all that different to scientists in the 19th century who used mathematical representations of molecules with the advent of atomistic theory. One of my mentors referred to a chemical reaction as a context-dependent mathematical graph transform, and in the abstract this is true. I like to look back over old papers and not taken common methods for granted. It is always important to understand how different computational algorithms work: with understanding comes control and can only contribute positively to our work.

There is a famous quote from Feynman: "If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong." This should be the mantra of the computational scientist in whatever field. Our models and predictions must be reduced to practice often to both test our hypotheses but also provide a feedback loop into the system. Therefore, chemistry is fundamental to this. If I suggest a compound that does not fulfil my predicted potential, I have wasted substantially more of someone's time in the lab than in my blase prediction. Due to this, I spend a lot of time doing my best to validate my methods as often as possible.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career.

Although I’m an in silico medicinal chemist, I have been tempted into the lab on occasion. A few years ago I spent a day in the lab working on a halogen dance rearrangement. On my way home that evening I came off my bike, breaking my arm and dislocating my shoulder. Irrationally, I blame working in the lab and that was the end of my synthetic organic chemistry career to date. I knew synthesis was dangerous, but didn’t expect this to be the result.

31. Mike, Technical Editor / Webmaster, AATCC. Mike's full entry published below:

I morphed into science writing unexpectedly, and late in my 30+ year career. I have a BS, Chemistry from the University of Virginia and an MS, Chemistry from Colorado State University, and have been an ACS member since 1980.

Someone once told me that chemists can do practically anything. I didn’t believe them then. I do now!

My loves are natural products/synthetic organic chemistry, astronomy, and meteorology. Was a research chemist primarily in health care products industry. Got swept up in the lure of computer-aided chemistry tools, especially molecular modeling. Learned Unix on my own back in the 1990s. Discovered what “gophers” were, and then, hearing about the Web, realized something big was coming. Got out of the lab and became a webmaster contracting with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for two years. I then rode out the internet boom and bust, until landing my current gig as technical editor of scientific articles and webmaster for the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists in 2003.

Adaptability is the key to success in today’s world. I would have never guessed ten years ago that I would have enjoyed being an editor and writer. These were “hidden” talents, until the opportunity presented itself. Even more surprising was finding out that I could write for the public! I had long desired to do this, but didn’t think I had the ability. Two mentors at AATCC convinced me otherwise. As a result of their encouragement, I won a Gold Tabbie Award in 2011 for one of my newsletter articles.

I write articles for AATCC News, the association’s newsletter, relating to textile science. This includes chemistry’s intersection with the larger world of textiles: including fashion! Can you imagine: science on the runway! It’s both fun, challenging, and there is so much to learn!

Most recently, I’ve been an active proponent of social media as an engagement tool. Our Association’s LinkedIn site has become a major textile industry resource. I have little time to blog, but love microblogging (Twitter).

My advice: Do what you love, no matter what, but don’t hesitate taking opportunities to test new skills that broaden your experience. If you want to write, start on Twitter. It’s a great place to meet like-minded people and get your feet wet. Finally, be sure to keep a sense of humor about yourself and what you do-it helps when times are tough.


32. Late Addition, just under the wire: B.R.S.M., postdoc / blogger, UK (and soon to be in the US of A!). Blogs 'eponymously' at BRSM. A true synthetic chemist, he's proud to "wear the white coat" and work at the bench. I'm jealous amazed that he's achieved so much at such a young age; blame credit the shortened British Ph.D. Seriously, though, BRSM enjoys the freedom of not being bound by grants or teaching (for now). He's prepared for a lifetime of learning...and to learn organic "in-jokes" whenever possible.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chem Coach Carnival, Day Two

Happy Mole Day, everyone! With all the momentum of a rushing freight train, #ChemCoach Day Two descends upon an unsuspecting public. Could we possibly do better than the seven (7) entries from Day One? Of course! Today's crop truly dispels the notion of scientists as routine-craving critters forever chained to their benches. Read on to find out more...

8. Renee, Analytical Research Chemist, Australian Government. Wow, our first contestant outside the U.S.! Renee blogs at Lost in Scientia. She gives lab tours (!) if you're interested. Renee credits early lab experience with her future career success. The police have apparently used Renee's hood to make meth. Seriously.

9. Leigh, Freelance Science Writer / Roustabout. Leigh blogs at The Bunsen Boerner (pithy!). She's written for Reuters Health, ACS, and landed a coveted AAAS Media Fellowship. Leigh shares lots of great tips to maximize efficiency and spur networking. Her (pleasant) conversational writing style provoked strong responses from a stuffy former academic.

10. Jess, Physical Organic Chemist / Postdoc. Jess (The Chemist) blogs at The Organic Solution. She's still active at the bench, shoots coloured lasers, and is currently "in fellowship application writing hell." She is quite British. Jess almost went down the gold-plated highway to a banking job, but decided to detour to chem: "Who wouldn't want a job where you play with liquid nitrogen?"

11. Steve, Graduate Student / Blogger. Steve blogs at Scientifics. He strongly recommends actual discussion and discourse with fellow lab mates as the key to figuring out chemical problems (Who knew?). Steve fondly recalls that time he took an inadvertent 6N nitric acid bath.

12. Carmen, Science Reporter / Editor. Carmen, like Stu, dabbles in writing at The Haystack, Newscripts, C&EN, and previously at She Blinded Me With Science. Her writing covers orders of magnitude, from 140-character tweets to 1500-word stories. She even came prepared with a pie chart! Carmen advises the burgeoning ranks of young sci-writers to steel themselves for a tough job market. Ask her grandma about 'Eddy.'

13. A post with Star Trek references and one-liners? Must be mine... (lucky #13!)

14. Marc, Self-employed consultant / chemometrician, Salthill Solutions. Marc blogs at Atoms and Numbers. A statistician and programmer at heart, he spends his day analyzing blood samples by "remote" Raman spectroscopy. Never works 9-to-5. Marc previously taught at a school he refers to as "St. FX," where he overcame a "fear" of pushing electrons to conquer o-chem lecturing.

15. Chemjobber, Process Chemist (Shockingly, blogs at Chemjobber). To steal from quote Deborah Blum: "a great portrait of a chemist at work." CJ shares his experiences with bench-to-plant processes, including the joys of being on-call at all hours and the importance of in-process controls. Even if those controls are as simple as...TLC plates.

16. Steve, Senior Director of Biology, start-up. Steve blogs at the eponymous Stevil. Like many kindred spirits here, Steve is pro-internship / anti-jargon (a good combo). He points out the fantastic role that chance, random encounters, and uncertainty play in shaping modern science careers.

17. Glen, medicinal chemist, Lieber Institute. Glen blogs at Just Another Electron Pusher. Like many others here, Glen dispels the notion that anyone in biotech works a "standard day" - his day includes work as Chemical Hygiene Officer, procurement, and equipment repair...on top of designing drugs! His school 'advisor' was the great 'chemist' Bill Pullman (Lone Star!).

18. Chris, Chaired Prof., University of Minnesota. Chris "blogs" on his faculty webpage! (Seriously, though, ask him to share his "lab expectations" letter sometime). Despite his multiple highfalutin titles, he seems like a down-to-earth, approachable guy, possibly a lifetime influence of honorable military service. I'll cop his best line, re: time management: "Anyone facing a 50/50 commitment...prepare yourself for what is actually a 75/75 commitment!"

19. Andrew, Asst. Prof., "small college." Andrew's full entry below:

Your current job.

Assistant Professor at a small college teaching Organic Chemistry

What you do in a standard "work day."

Lecture about 20 students in organic chem, prep lab experiments by cleaning up the lab, making solutions etc. I work with a lot of students one on one in office hours helping with homework problems. I also help my research students in the lab most days and give directions to a work study student (lab assistant).

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?

B.S. in chemistry and a PhD in chemistry. I had no real job experience but took free teaching courses while I was in graduate school. I skipped a postdoc and searched for college level jobs with no research or grant writing  requirements and applied at all of them.

How does chemistry inform your work?

I teach the basics every day, really and have used my science education to branch out and teach other classes like a science in popular culture course I developed myself.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career*When I interviewed for my job I was describing energy diagrams in organic chemistry and make the comparison between spontaneous reactions and spontaneous human combustion, complete with stick figure drawings of a guy, guy on fire and ashes in a pile. I still go the job!

20. Eva, Health Care Reporter, Bloomberg News. Eva's full entry below:

Your current job.
European health care reporter for Bloomberg News

What you do in a standard "work day."
I write about pharmaceutical companies, and also do some of the basic science writing, mostly papers that appear in European journals. So my day is a combination of finding new stories, reporting the stories I found and writing up my reporting. Some of the finding is done by meeting people at conferences or just for lunch or drinks, and some is reading. Much of that reading is combing through financial releases, news releases or research papers(I love it). The reporting is either done in person or via phone calls. The writing part is based here in my office in Munich, and fueled by Bach and black tea (w/ milk, no sugar, please).

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?
I have a MS (German Diplom) in chemistry and did quite a bit of work in biochemistry at the Max Planck Institute in Martinsried. I also have a MS in journalism from Columbia's J-School.

How does chemistry inform your work?
I find I rarely need the rafts of name reactions I crammed, but chemistry helps me in a number of different ways. The most obvious is the ability to quickly understand and evaluate new research. I also find researchers will quickly open up and talk to me when they find out a fellow geek is on the phone. Bloomberg is about financial news, and my left-brained self is really helpful to understand abstract concepts.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career
How did I find out I don't have lab hands and decide to go into journalism? Maybe when I almost blew up a lab doing some kind of ill-informed ether distillation.