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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.

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