#ChemCoach: Graduate Student in Inorganic Chemistry

What do scientists really do on a daily basis? Twitter user @SeeArrOh has organized a “carnival” across science blogs, called #ChemCoach. This event is oriented towards showing people the different jobs that chemists have, and how they got there. See other #ChemCoachs here. Here is my contribution:

My current job:

I am currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Chemistry at University of California, Berkeley, working on inorganic coordination chemistry in Professor Kenneth N. Raymond’s laboratory.

What I do in a standard “work day.”

On a standard workday, I spend around an hour in the morning answering emails and general perusing of the Internet. I check Twitter, read recent articles and blog posts, check journals for new articles, and check facebook for the latest deadlines (for conference submission, society news, etc.). If I’m particularly interested in something, I share it on my own social media or Iota Sigma Pi‘s.

I have several collaborative research projects, so early morning email also allows me to get a start on any urgent or “must do” things. The more people involved with a project, the greater the potential for panic, forgotten tasks, and things that must be done yesterday (that I’m just being told about today). Therefore, I often spend a good portion of my mornings working on something that I didn’t plan. Sometimes, that’s a grant that is actually due at 4 pm. Sometimes, that’s “that one NMR” that is missing from the manuscript, or those reviewer comments that the response needs to go out right now. Whether task is in the laboratory or at my computer, these always take a lot of my morning away from my planned lab tasks.

I really get into my day with some ligand synthesis, metal complexation, or physical measurements of complexes. This typically lasts most of the afternoon. Often simultaneously, I work with undergraduate students in the laboratory on their projects. I generally have lunch with chemists from other labs; we troubleshoot whatever’s not working, offering both chemistry knowledge and personal support. I get back to bench work after lunch;  later in the afternoon, I am often back at my computer, organizing and analyzing data and emailing pertinent bits to collaborators. Eventually, we get to discussing options for manuscripts and publications. With many projects and collaborators, letting this slip even a day or two leads to research chaos. I try to be done by the early evening, but I usually spend the night researching or writing a blog post (Berkeley Science Review, Science Exchange, etc.) or writing up data for a manuscript, progress report, group meeting, or grant. On Wednesdays, we have group meeting where someone in the group gives a seminar about their research progress starting at 8 pm.

My day is driven by me; no one checks on me each day to see that I’m getting my work done. I am forced to motivate myself, so I use to-do lists extensively that are prepared during the morning email check (or the night before) to keep me on task and make my days the most productive possible.

During some semesters, I am a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for organic chemistry for non-majors. During those semesters, I teach 1-2 lab sections per week, hold office hours, and grade lab reports and exams.

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

I have my B.S. in Chemistry from Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut). While there, I did biophysical chemistry research with Professor Richard Prigodich.

How does chemistry inform your work?

Chemistry informs everything I do. From reading articles in the mornings to help my contextualize my work and develop the next project, to the in-the-moment thinking when an experiment is actively not working later in the day, I find that taking a step back and seeing the forest through the trees and viewing the chemistry in a broader context always helps me keep on track and be the most productive.

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

I keep a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Severus Snape next to my hood. I feel like I need the help of a true Professor of Potions with me when I run reactions. Also, he is excellent to put outside the windows or doors of labs when people are working late and need a little jump!

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