Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Old Days at Org Syn

Thanks to a bevy of used book stores, I'm slowly completing my collection of Profiles, Pathways, and Dreams, the biographical essay series from editor Jeff Seeman. I recently re-read four of these: Cheves Walling, F.G. Stone, Raymond Lemieux, and the indomitable Jack Roberts' colorful collection of biographical anecdotes. Never one to pull a punch, Roberts wistfully recalls his first involvement with Organic Syntheses in the mid-1950s, then led by famous organic chemist Roger Adams:
"The modus operandi of Organic Syntheses is relatively simple. Much of the work is carried on by mail, and the editors meet twice a year for much of a day to assign preparations, work out difficulties, plan for future volumes, choose new editors, and the like, with the current editor-in-chief presiding. Following that meeting, the editors join with the editorial board for cocktails and dinner at one of the best (and most expensive) restaurants in town. In the old days, the dinner would be followed by . . .an Adams report on whatever was on his mind at the time. He often ribbed his colleagues, without malice, but nonetheless, severely. After Adams finished, the meetings often degenerated into the semblance of a stag smoker, with rounds of off-color jokes, the most tasteless of which usually came from the representatives of the publisher . . .Rather prodigious quantities of spirits, wines, and brandies were consumed, and some of organic chemistry's most renowned practitioners had to be helped off the scene. My first encounter with these bacchanalian festivities was in Atlantic City, in the spring of 1956. I made it back to my hotel under my own steam, but I spent the next day in bed, a lesson I did not forget."

This recollection sounds uncomfortably close to how I felt each time someone in my graduate group passed their oral examinations. Some things never change.