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Early career chemist: personality in the career choice September 20, 2014

Posted by fetzthechemist in Careers.
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I have written some on personality and how it is important in a successful science career. I am thinking I ought to reiterate some of those ideas and refresh them, too.

A scientist coming out of grad school or a post doc sees a three pronged path ahead. The routes of academia, industry, or government service (there are other possibilities outside of laboratory work, but those are minor trails and usually termed “non-traditional”).

Academia is the most familiar to the young scientist. He or she has spent many years getting advanced degrees and often spending more time as a post-doc. They know the logistics – teaching, building a research group, writing research proposals and getting grants, and publishing to get tenure. But what else other than these mechanics ought the young scientist have?

Academia is a lone-wolf, non-collaborative venture in the first few years. Collaborating and getting second- or third-author publications does not build a strong reputation. These collaborations are tough to get funding for unless one of the collaborators is a Big Name. If so, then the young researcher gets little credit and no increase in reputation.

The researcher has to be a supervisor and manager from the start. Nobody else will build a budget, get resources and equipment, draw in and “hire” young talent. (A paradox here because most people coming out of grad school think academia is not strongly weighed in this area, but industry is, so they eschew industry.)

Academia can be very competitive, even a dog fight, for the young scientist. Other young professors may also be on a similar timeline for tenure.

Industry, in contrast, is faster paced in its science, but slower paced in its careers. Supervision seldom happens before 5 years and managerial duties (budgets, resource allocation, safety, et cetera) are owed by others with more experience.

In the science, academia has long-term projects of a bigger scope. Industry gives someone many more small and shorter-term work. Much of industrial work is problem solving – developing new methodologies, solving problems in plants or with products, improving quality, yields, and throughput. These are minor aspects of an academician’s work.

The young scientist must understand her or his own personality and attitudes to assess which of these 2 is a better fit (I will discuss government service in a future article). Is a slow, steady workflow more enjoyable then a frenetic and varied one? Is working alone more suitable than supervision or is a mentor needed? Is spending time at the bench most important?

A new Coldplay album coming in May March 10, 2014

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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My music tastes tend to go towards rock, the classic rock of my youth of the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, Pink Floyd, and other bands of the 1960s and 1970s. But unlike most people of my generation, my tastes did not stick there. I have always enjoyed some newer groups, the Cars, U2, Blur, and continuing to bands that are still active. Radiohead, the Dandy Warhols, Coldplay. Yes, the tastes now are mainly alternative (but I have been enjoying Mark Knopfler’s several solo albums of late, too).

So I was glad to hear that Coldplay has announced that their latest studio album will be out in May. Called Ghost Stories. Two songs, Midnight and Magic, have been released on YouTube.

Fruity delights February 24, 2014

Posted by fetzthechemist in Musings, Speculation.
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In my travels I have tried in the past couple of years to try new fruits, ones not common in the US (or at least in the San Francisco Bay Area). This started with having fruit salad at a hotel in Doha, Qatar. There we4re chunks of dragonfruit, pink skinned with that black speckled white flesh.That got me curious, even though dragonfruit is very bland to my taste buds. Next, in January of last year, were wax jamu and starfruit while in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Both were tasty and pretty to see. That led me to a supermarket during my next visit to Qatar. There were rambutan, lychee, custard apple, mangosteen, and slices of jackfruit. Most were tasty and several are very eye-catching – rambutan and mangosteen. Then it was a different supermarket while in Dubai this past December. Yellow pitahaya, more starfruit and mangosteens and rambutans,and soursop. Back in the US, I bought a few books on exotic fruits, used ones through Amazon. Most were full of recipes, but some of each was about the fruits and their plants, uses, et cetera. I found a supermarket in my area that does carry some exotic fruit, which varies on the season. So from there I have tried Chinese gooseberry, Cape gooseberry (a totally different plant source), Buddha’s hand citron, prickly pear, and got starfruit, rambutan, and mangosteens (it is great having a source that some of the time has these and other favorites). I tried granardilla and dragonfruit on a more recent trip to Abu Dhabi. I will keep my eye out both here and overseas for ones to try. I wonder if there will be comments suggesting other peoples’ favorites.

Career tip: Regularly reassessing February 21, 2014

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

Everyone has certain things that are either motivators or demotivators towards their work. The motivators are what drew the person into the area of work that he or she does. Motivators and their opposites, however, are not lists chiseled in stone. They change as situations and experiences change one’s values and perspective.

A job is a continuation. Once started it has momentum driven by one’s employer and the work that needs to be done. Schedules and priorities vary over time. When one works day to day, week to week the mentality is tactical, short term in its thinking. How do I get these things done well in the required time? This question gets asked over and over each day and each week.

A career is a long term thing that is based not on tactics, but on strategies. Long term versus short term ideas ought to be in place. But if one is working day to day and is focused, career issues are never looked at. Over time the person becomes uneasy and more detached from the work. The motivators decrease and the demotivators grow.

A person who wants a career and long term success needs to occasionally, once or twice a year, set aside time to look at the motivators – things that make the work enjoyable and rewarding – and the demotivators – those things that are unpleasant and unfulfilling – and assess how they are in the current job. Also, has the situation and experiences since the last assessment shown that there are new motivators and demotivators. Then, the person should think about how to increase the motivators and decrease the demotivators.

If these can be changed, the overall work satisfaction will increase (and usually performance does, as well). If not, then the person might think of a career change, a transfer, a new position, a new job with another employer- whatever the mismatch between motivators, demotivators, and that person’s ideal entail.

2013 in review December 31, 2013

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

No, only a few get the awards July 27, 2013

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

In the US over the past 25 or so years, there has been a huge movement among parents and educators to build children’s self-esteem by making life and education only positive experiences. This is done by making all activities non-competitive. Every child gets a reward, award, good grade. The catch phrase has been “Everyone gets an award”.

Now these children are entering colleges, graduate schools, and the work force. These are the first situations where not everyone gets a “top” grade or an award. There is competition, sometimes very fierce competition. Now these adults still steeped in a childish cloud of self-esteem are either hitting a brick wall full force or expecting the system that is competitive to continue to coddle them…..deferring hitting that brick wall.

Bosses, as class professors or research advisors or as supervisors in the workplace, are not into coddling. They want results. This clash starts as early as the class room in college, where the students expect all As (or top marks). A fraction get them and they grumble, flooding online assessment sites with bad reviews for a professor. In the grad school process, these students expect to get into any university they apply to. Then they expect every professor to curry to them, that they are the decision makers in getting into research groups. If they apply for a job, they expect the company to give them full-scale salaries and benefits either immediately or very quacking, none of this “starting” salary business.

So there now is a growing chasm between these angry and disillusioned twenty-something children and the real world. Will professors and bosses drastically alter things? Doubtful, since their metrics are results oriented. Thus, the young people who have never faced travail need to learn that it is a competitive world where those with more talents and experience win. Will this happen? Eventually, but only after a large proportion get very bloodied by the adjustment.

Career tip – the sirens’ lure of easy problem solving May 1, 2013

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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A recently minted laboratory chemist has learned a lot of basic knowledge. Jobs held, however, are specific. Specific equipment, specific analyses, specific target analytes, specific matrices, et cetera. This leaves the chemist in a bind when running up against a new problem. Coworkers and reports can help with the expected and what has already been experienced. But method development or problem solving very often requires new approaches. In the past, the chemist might turn to the published literature or applications notes from instrument vendors. But today the Internet offers a very alluring alternative, the discussion group.

Through a variety of venues, most notably LinkedIn, there are online groups specializing in specific topical areas. For example, an LC-MS group. For certain information, these can be a great resource, such as for tips on how to optimize an instrument’s performance or a source of chemicals, standards, and other needed items.

But one thing is not that great from a career standpoint, the use of these to solve problems and to short-cut method development. A new chemist, if she or he wants to become a stellar performer, must learn the ins and outs of the work. Just asking a question and following the answer leads to little learning and no building of the foundation of expertise.

That is the caveat. If you ask, also think about and tinker with the answer. Learn the whys, even if that means asking more questions on the discussion board – it is a discussion and discourse if two-way. Yes, this takes more time and effort, but becoming better always does.

If you learn by using discussion groups as guidance and not rote recipes for solutions, you become more skilled. If not, your talent level will not change and you will stay in the pack.

The best meeting about Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds April 5, 2013

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ISPAC 24 (ISPAC 2013) will be held in Corvallis OREGON USA from 8 September, 2013 through 12 September 2013. Anyone doing research on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or their heteroatom analogues (the PACs) should attend. It is the brainfest of many of the top researchers in the various fields incolving these compounds.



My gumbo recipe March 6, 2013

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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This is an honest-to-goodness Cajun gumbo, gleaned from several recipes and combined to suit my tastes. It can be made with chickeninstead of ham (for Jewish or Moslem dietary concerns), or even vegetarian by leaving out the meats. It is that tasty.


Ingredients (this makes enough for 2 or 3 hungry people)

1 tablespoon of cooking oil (or one large pat of butter)

2 tablespoons of flour

1 large onion, diced

3 stalks of celery, chopped

1 medium bell pepper, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

25 to 30 okra, cut into ½-inch long rounds (do not rinse, frozen ones work, too)

3 medium tomatoes, diced (or one can of stewed/ diced tomatoes)

1 can of chicken broth

2 hot Italian sausages or the equivalent of Andouille or other smoked sausage, if you can get it, sliced into rounds

Approximately a 4-inch square of a ham slice, diced

½ cup of small shrimp or pieces of large shrimp

1 cup of pre-cooked rice

1.2 teaspoon of chili powder

3 pinches (1/8 teaspoon) of Cayenne pepper – optional for wimpy eaters

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of black pepper

1 teaspoon of file’

Heat oil (or butter); add flour; make a dark roux (brown the flour)

Add garlic and lightly sauté

Add celery, onion, and bell pepper; cook until tender (onion is clear)

In a separate pan, brown sausage and ham; drain excess oil

Add okra and tomatoes to main pan, simmer for ten minutes

Add broth, sausage and ham

Season with chili, Cayenne, salt, and black pepper

Simmer for ½ hour

Lightly sauté shrimp (you can use the same pan as used for the meats)

Add shrimp, rice, and file’; simmer for 10-15minutes.

Marlissa Mayer is right – telecommuting is bad business March 5, 2013

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Recently, Marlissa Mayer, the CEO of ahoo, changed the company policy allowing telecommuting. Her reasons were lambasted by many as being archaeic. She said face-to-face communication fostered better ideas, more creativity and that telecommuting fostered and isolation and separation of employees that hurt teamwork. She is absolutely correct.

Creativity is a synergy that is obvious to anyone who has ever been in a high-powered brainstorming session. People feed off of each others’ ideas and energy. Being in the same room builds and even creates a competition to be more out-of-the-box. Other communication forms, especially the casual conversationalism, worked best around “the water cooler” or by just stopping by someone’s cubicle or office. The tone is relaxed,intimate, and confidential if need be. These types of interactions getmuted and are structured very differently when done over the Internet, even with Skype. The distance and isolationof the digital interaction mute the tone and connections.

These issues are especially important in a workforce under 35 years old. This generation has grown up more isolated and with less developed interpersonal skills. Telecommuting may be only more comfortable because it relies on the separateness. The people lose even more opportub=nities to grow in interpersonal skills. From a career standpoint, this limits their capabilities in the future as supervisors and managers.