Org Prep Daily

May 7, 2007

On making waves

Filed under: Uncategorized — milkshake @ 6:58 pm

I had a chemist friend who was much older and he would sometimes take a view with which I did not agree very well. He would hold up a flask with crystals and say: “Look how beautiful it is.” (And I would agree.) Then he would say “Drawing fast on the flask changes what’s in the flask.” I though he was kind of nutty.

Looking back, I realize that the man was right: The outcome of the experiment is pre-determined by the hubris of the experimenter. Running around and telling everybody about the wonderful latest results ensures that the results won’t be reproduced. 

Nature is mischievous, subtle she is not. You obtained white crystalline solid with a sharp melting point 32-34C. It took couple of weeks to bring the material through but finally you are done with the last step and you have isolated a lot of product. You take the spectra – gorgeous two signals. It’s a product of THF ring-opening polymerization and it’s very pure. 


High-profile chemists are known to make frequent rounds in their labs and quiz the underlings about the research progress, sometimes twice a day. (You made something during the day to talk about in the evening. The mornings are harder). Demanding inpatient boss is typically determined about what kind of results he likes to hear. To resist the pressure and the temptation to please you have to remind yourself over again that you don’t wish to report a half-baked-stuff and become a guy whose work gets disputed or retracted. 

[With a pushy boss, the best long-term solution is to find a new one. To survive in the meantime, one has to ration the good news. Serving out the good results to your boss in regular-sized portions over a period of weeks can make both of you happier.]


  1. It’s kinda sad to hear story about this… reminds me of my former boss. He is demanding and he will only take positive answer from you. You will only show him the good result. If you stumble and find yourself in deep pooh-pooh, don’t expect answer from him. Long time ago, when I am still young and eager (to please, afterall, I am 21), when to ask him some problem with my reaction, he was very impatience and told me to think it out myself. I did. Days later, went back with a possible explaination, thinking that I might have solve the problem, he throw the idea into my face. And I ask him, “So now how?”. He told me, “You are the one doing, you should know best. In fact, you should tell me how not I tell you”. Wow… it really hurt.
    For many years, I try to please him. Trying and trying different kind of reaction, hoping that I might make it big, make him proud of me. Looking back, gee… what a loser I am. I am heading in all the wrong direction and he never point me to the right path. Three years down the road, and one day, I decided that I had enough. I did try to quit, like my other lab mate, but I didn’t. I just stop being intimidated by him. Stop trying to make him like me. Don’t get me wrong, he is a very good lecturer but not a good supervisor. Should have realized this long time ago, when most of my senoir quit. Me, being the stubborn me, just being plain stubborn.We know why he is so mean sometime, he has family problem at home. With his son in gang trouble, daughter running away from home, I guess, when he looked at us, we kinda remind him of his children. Hence, he is very strict with us. That’s just our theory.
    So, I guess, what I am trying to say here, the 4 years was hell, but I became a better person. More prepared for my study this time. Got myself a better boss, luckily, this time around, I have a blog club. Thanks Milkshake.

    Comment by Taitauwai — May 7, 2007 @ 8:15 pm

  2. Nice spin on RPF

    Comment by Wavefunction — May 7, 2007 @ 8:51 pm

  3. ooh, you noticed my little rip-off – I hoped nobody would and I could have it as a private joke

    Comment by milkshake — May 7, 2007 @ 9:00 pm

  4. Every large star everywhere and everywhen is dedicated to Z=26 nucleosynthesis. A certain amount of irony is expected to universally slop over. Exploit fluctuations and survive statistics.

    Comment by Uncle Al — May 8, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  5. Hallo, I would like to ask you something. How can I contact you, may be you could give me your email, please. I would like to quote some stuff on you blog and want to ask for the permission. And something else. Thanks in advance.

    Comment by Alexey — May 12, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  6. no problem with quoting if you say where it came from

    Comment by milkshake — May 12, 2007 @ 8:41 pm

  7. Thanks a lot for the permission. Actually I wanted to invite you to The idea of this resource is supported by Prof. W. Smit (Zelinsky IOCh, Moscow, Russia), Prof. J. Mulzer (University of Vienna, Austria), Prof. F. Hammershmidt (University of Vienna, Austria) and Prof. E. Goessinger (University of Vienna, Austria). Recently, ChemKnowHow is now run in collaboration with Prof. B. Stoltz (Caltech, USA).

    This is a forum for students with particular focus on PhDs and postdocs. It is a collection of “know-how”, “manipulation tricks”, and general advices in routine daily work of a chemist. For example: how to filter off a nasty gel, how to recrystallize 10 mg at -78°C, how to get rid of emulsions, how to deactivate silica gel and so on. Tricks in performing some common reaction, collection of useful links, tables, schemes etc.

    [ I abreviated your self-plugs.Cheers! Milkshake ]

    Comment by Alexey — May 13, 2007 @ 8:50 am

  8. I agree with the plan of rationing out good news. I have seen younger graduate students run to the boss everytime something half ass works, expecting a JACS paper from one result, only to come back to lab with a conciliatory pat on the head. It is especially difficult when your boss has the stated policy of “I only like to hear good results.” In general that is a hard person to work for because the menial tasks of preparing substrates for a reaction screen are not appreciated. Of course, every substrate “should work.” And if it don’t, you are a hack. Big shot bosses are never wrong, you are.

    Comment by Darryl — May 13, 2007 @ 9:24 am

  9. My e-mail is in the post from March 29. Please, in the future don’t write a bunch of consecutive off-topic comments here.
    (Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin)

    Comment by milkshake — May 13, 2007 @ 9:59 am

  10. I loved the flask joke but as I read further I got philosophic and could connect to it better.The experiments of life are what we make of them.A great perspective to share.

    Comment by wingsy — May 15, 2007 @ 6:18 pm

  11. I have one reaction that never fails failed. Until the boss came by and watched over my shoulder as I worked it up, that is. Bad mojo.

    Comment by Ψ*Ψ — May 16, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  12. I know. The dour stare of the boss can make even the most robust reactions wither. It is also proven that boss always comes in just when the people set themselves on fire, spill a big-scale reaction all over the hood or flood the floor with a water tubing that felt off from a condenser/

    Comment by milkshake — May 16, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

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