Org Prep Daily

April 22, 2007

On keeping your soul

Filed under: Uncategorized — milkshake @ 6:26 pm

soul.jpg  (credit: boingboing)

I. Thou shalt not fake 

II. Thou shalt not exaggerate  

III. Thou shalt not cover up 

IV. Thou shalt not make others fail

V. Thou shalt credit

Once you have started with the “good enough” attitude, the standard will continue to slide and you will become a hack. If you start embellishing a little you will get even more lightweight over time. Deceiving others becomes a trivial act when you have already deceived yourself.

If there is 6% of some impurity in your product, you should write on the label that the product is less than 94%. The compounds you give out represent you; “good enough” won’t do when your reputation and self-respect are at stake. It is better to spend extra few hours on columning the material or growing gorgeous crystals and putting a pretty label onto a clean bottle in the end – if not to impress others then at least to re-assure yourself that you are still not a phoney like some people that you know. You should not pass unfinished work with irreproducible procedures and optimistic yields – and in doing so transform your problem into somebody else’s problem. Your colleagues tend to remember if you have pulled this kind of stunt on them. 

Also, there is allways enough credit to go around and you must mention everybody who did some work for your project no matter how routine the work was. The ideas are cheap – only few percent of all that you can possibly think of can be tried out. There is no good way of knowing beforeheand which idea is really helpful; what turns research ideas into results is the tedious examining one thing after another untill finally one of them pays off. 

When in doubt, remind yourself about the original reasons for which you went into chemistry – before the grind of the graduate project and the corporate absurdities took over. All the things – the things in the lab that you can see and smell and think of – are they still exciting and dear to you?


“…The idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.”


  1. Unfortunately, the “good enough” and cutthroat attitudes seem to be rewarded in our field. The meticulous people are viewed as not being as productive as the hack who submits large numbers of gummy residues of mediocre quality.

    Comment by anon — April 23, 2007 @ 7:26 pm

  2. “All the things – the things in the lab that you can see and smell and think of – are they still exciting and dear to you?”

    Actually, I could do without the smell of things. It actually gets on my nerves sometimes even when it’s a ‘pleasant’ smell. I’d love to do a column just once without ether or ethyl acetate releasing any smell. I hope that doesn’t make me a hack though…

    Comment by blatnoi — April 23, 2007 @ 10:42 pm

  3. sometimes a smell brings out the memories, a memory of emotion you felt many years ago. I would agree that frequent lab smells one can do without.
    Anyway, this is not a serious post, I had to write something. I wanted to see what happens if I post a goatse picture in Org Prep Daily.

    Comment by milkshake — April 24, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  4. Interesting smells and crystals make lab worth the effort. One of my intermediates smells like Froot Loops. Tucan Sam would be proud.

    Comment by Watson — April 24, 2007 @ 1:35 am

  5. I made once a compound that smelled like a mango peel

    Comment by milkshake — April 24, 2007 @ 2:18 am

  6. Smells and bubbles and colours were one of the reasons Woodward chose chemistry over mathematics.

    Comment by Wavefunction — April 24, 2007 @ 10:50 am

  7. Serious or not, someone at my old company should take this, print it out, and post it on every cubicle in the place. I’m thinking of the VC’s who were lured into biting. It would help increase the value of the company.

    Comment by Matt J. — April 26, 2007 @ 8:25 am

  8. Yeah, business people start behaving weirdly when piles of stock options are at stake. Salesmanship for the benefit of investors does not combine well with doing the research – the disagreeable reality is supresed and the oficial baloney gets more decoupled from the actual state of the projects over time. This creates all kinds of Dilbert situation – and is nasty for your state of mind (unless you join the cheats).

    I found out firsthand what it is like to reproduce somebody’s faked research. The trouble I run into during this “reproducing a published synthetic scheme” almost cost me my job. Also, we have an outstanding postdoc here and when he came to US, he realized that the first group he joined for his postdoc was cheating all the time and all their published data was completely untrustworthy. He made his resolve to stick around for one year (so that the switch would not look weird on his CV) and then he run away. The difficulty is that you almost never gain from unmasking the cheats – but you should not work with them.

    Comment by milkshake — April 26, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  9. “Interesting smells and crystals make lab worth the effort”

    Nope, just crystals. The boring, everyday column smells suck, and if you’re like me and have organometallic compounds once in a while, you get mighty suspicious and paranoid for the state of your health if there is a weird smell coming from them.

    Also, I don’t see any ‘goatse’. I looked very hard for it and came over from the Pipeline because you promised, but I’m very disappointed. Could you please guide us through this with descriptions of lines and shapes?

    Comment by blatnoi — April 26, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

  10. Aren’t the opening skies meant to be analogous to a (less revolting) goatse?

    Comment by Canadian Chromatographer — April 27, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  11. Hear hear. Particularly to item V.
    My preference is for people to default to ‘we’ in presentations detailing project chemistry and results unless there is a reason for the speaker to use ‘I’. Share credit and take responsibility when necessary and people remember, they know you’re not going to shaft them.

    Comment by DrSnowboard — May 3, 2007 @ 10:18 am

  12. Re: 11

    Interesting take on the idea. Is this any different to how to perform in interview – many people tell me to accentuate what *I* have done, whereas in reality synthetic efforts towards a med chem goal are usually a group effort as well…


    Comment by SJB — May 3, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  13. Well, in an interview, your colleagues are not going to be noticing you taking credit for their work like they will in a department symposium or project meeting… but I still prefer to hear someone use ‘we’ and then highlight specific areas that they worked on, were responsible for, generated the ideas for. Maybe it’s a brit thing, or my own hangup, but if someone looks like they’re claiming they drove the medchem for a whole series on their own (or a total synthesis) then they’d better know it inside out and backwards because they’ll get a ‘Working Girl’ provenance type of detailed interview. I’d also worry that they work as a loner…

    Comment by DrSnowboard — May 3, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  14. When you present your work together with results obtained by other people – it does not matter if on conference or a job interview – you have to say: “And my colleague Wei-Sang made these analogs and then it became clear that there is not much space in the protein in this direction so we next focused on this other part of the molecule “, etc. Also there should be aknowledgement of all your colleagues at the end of your talk.

    I have seen several times – especially in the massive Tot Synth projects – that people interviewing for a job would present their project in a polished way but are quite vague about who did what work on the molecule. I guess you can always ask politely about which part was done by the job candidate and it is often possible to unmask this kind of dishonesty, by probing them (best done in one-on-one meetings) about technical problems or reaction condition choice etc. People remember the technical difficulties they had to overcome – if they did the work.

    Comment by milkshake — May 3, 2007 @ 4:36 pm

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