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Career tip: Never Stand Still April 15, 2017

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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One of the things few scientists learn in graduate school is that the topic you work in is transient. The field you work in is not static. In getting an advanced degree, a young scientist typically build up expertise in an area. Since this is often the first such one, an identity also grows – that of being that type of scientist.

But science is very dynamic and careers are long. Few scientific topics last as hot areas with good unsolved research opportunities for longer than a decade. Why? They are hot and many scientists get into each hot topic. After a few years, the hot becomes accepted, the norm. Research in that area moves into minor tweaks of the variables or doing something on a slight variation – in a different solvent or under various temperature or some other not-very-groundbreaking differences.

A smart young scientist must forever be looking for opportunities to morph, to slide into related topics, to fill unfilled niches. I did my graduate research in gas chromatography. My first job avoided that topic, but was a slide into the related area of liquid chromatography. A new challenge. During my first 5 years, I added UV-visible and fluorescence spectroscopies because nobody there was doing those and there was a need. During my next 5 years I got into synthetic organic chemistry areas because in order to do the LC, UV, or fluorescence I needed standard compounds or model compounds. Many were not commercially available, but there were literature syntheses. Some of those syntheses had obvious variations that would yield numerous new analogues of those literature-guided products.

Other forays occurred. The end result was decades of new research opportunities, a lot of fun in the lab, numerous collaborations.

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