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...)


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