Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Podcast: Chemjobber and Prof. Janet Stemwedel talk #SheriSangji

Janet Stemwedel is not unfamiliar to readers of the blog; her comments on the Sheri Sangji case are well-known here. Early in August (right after the Baudendistel gambit was revealed), I recorded a conversation with her. The results are below, for your listening pleasure. Click if you'd like to hear a lengthy (but interesting!) conversation on academic chemical safety and the Sangji case. A brief guide is below.

Note: the podcast has been edited for clarity, with some "ums" removed. Please forgive the sound quality and general lack of prettiness. Perhaps soon, I'll get theme music, etc. 

0:00 - 20:00: Introduction, general conversation about the Sangji case and academic chemical safety. 
12:30: The Langerman/Benderly proposal to tie chemical safety to grants and tenure.
19:29: How industrial chemists have reacted to the Sangji case, as opposed to academic chemists. 
30:00: "What is a just punishment for Prof. Harran?" Janet convincingly suggests that a just punishment is not particularly important (in the grand scheme of things), as opposed to the overall response of the academic chemistry community. 
37:50: CJ asks, "Is part of the problem that academic chemical safety is not considered the PI's territory?"
52:30: Janet calls on the academic chemical community to change its chemical safety culture, long before legal action from the Harran case concludes. Janet suggests that younger chemists might consider safety culture in choosing graduate schools. 
56:25: Discussion of the Baudendistel gambit. 
1:04:10: Janet and CJ HULKSMASH on the "Sheri Sangji was an experienced chemist" myth. 
1:09:00: We loop back to the response of the academic chemistry community to the Sheri Sangji case. 

Please give us feedback on the podcast! I'd (we'd!) love to do more, and those of you who know what you want and like, please let us know what worked and what didn't! 


  1. "How industrial chemists have reacted to the Sangji case, as opposed to industrial chemists."

    My guess is that one of the "industrial"s is supposed to be "academic", or at least "non-industrial"?

  2. Three points for the podcast:
    1. I come from Industry and I am perplexed by the concept that if this case had happened in Industry it is considered acceptable and in fact, expected, that “heads would have rolled”, but as this happened in Academia, the discussion veers into tenure, overworked professors and the transient nature of grad students. I don’t agree with the rationale for the absence of culpability in academia.
    2. I believe culture change in academia can happen. I did my PhD in biology-based field nearly two decades ago. These days, research involving human subjects or animals requires even more detailed reviews and approvals by Ethics Review Boards than “back in the day”. Compliance with these Boards most assuredly goes beyond correctly filling in the paperwork. Protocol designs are contested, reworked and revamped. Grad students, post-docs and researchers are required to and do perform the research protocols as defined. One reason is that the Universities have instituted various means of monitoring such compliance. Furthermore the science community also exerts pressure as most, if not all, journals will not publish the work if Ethics approvals are absent. Similar changes can (and must) occur with lab safety. It will just be shameful to wait for the “critical mass” of accidents to happen before enacting change.
    3. Enjoyed the podcast and looking forward to more.

  3. CJ: Ooh...inculcate...me likey the SAT vocab! Also, your voice sounds different from what I was expecting...it's more youthful and not like Stephen Colbert's.

    Regardless of the PI's stature, academic labs that aspire to send their alumni to industry should indoctrinate safety, orderliness, and proper documentation. Doing so would really facilitate the transition. I do not believe the oft-cited adage that a dirty fume hood is a productive one. Good housekeeping should not stifle creativity or productivity. Moreover, I feel that PIs should try to inculcate at least "professional" camraderie amongst his/her subordinates.

    My grad school desk was a disaster, but I kept my fume hood uncluttered. Certain labmates and I shared a sense of responsibility in keeping each other safe...even if we had to wait for someone to finish a sec-BuLi cannulation at 2:30 AM. One incident that really pissed me off was when an undergrad trainee was effectively abandoned by her grad student "mentor" while handling grams of osmium tetraoxide...what an @$$hole! Plus it didn't help that there was a fire every month (not necessarily reported) somewhere in the lab building.

    In terms of industry safety, I admit that some bad habits do get transferred. My desk is still a disaster (but so are the attorney's and regulatory affairs officer's). Fortunately, most of my reactions are room-temperature and do not use pyrophorics. On a few interviews at Big Pharma, I was dismayed to see 500-mL RBFs stacked like cannonballs on benchtops, with hastly written identifiers of the substances therein. OSHA must have turned a blind eye to those labs!


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20