Friday, October 26, 2012

Death of A Project

Does anyone have a good way to cope with the sudden loss of a big project? We all know that it can happen in this business: IP doesn't work out, if trials fail, or customers change suppliers. I am reminded (depressingly, of course) of Robert Scott's comments after he found that Amundsen has made it to the South Pole first:
It is a terrible disappointment, and I am very sorry for my loyal companions. Many thoughts come and much discussion have we had. To-morrow we must march on to the Pole and then hasten home with all the speed we can compass. All the day dreams must go; it will be a wearisome return.
Readers, what can I learn from the loss of a big project? Before I start tossing my samples in the Big Red Can, anything that I should be doing? Also, which Kubler-Ross stages should I be dealing with? (Kidding!)  

13 comments:

  1. Have a beer, relax, and start another one.

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  2. With regard to being a grad student or postdoc in academia, my way of coping is to always make sure you are working on two or three projects. I still screwed up bad on my postdoc despite this philosophy. I had a really big project that was working well, and I ended up spending more and more time on it, not reading the clues from the boss that he was never going to publish it because it contradicts mechanistic work being performed in the group by other postdocs (who will not be able to publish if I do). I help out hope for an extra few months that at least I was going to get a patent. The result is I ended up with a huge gap in publications in the old Curculam Vitay, but at least the other projects were in 'safe' territory and I could publish the ones that worked.

    In industry, I still imagine you get paid right? Lack of publications doesn't affect future employment. And you can still mention the research you did in the interview. If your company was a start-up that only had one project, then I guess you're out of a job, but at least the results of it aren't hidden from view.

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  3. Write a report about the chemistry and the plant work. What worked as planned, what was not quite right, suggestions and thoughts for improvements. Even if it's only for you it may come in handy later on.
    From every project you learn things, which stand you in good stead for the future ones.

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  4. If the reason for the termination is one of the first 2 you listed CJ, be pleased that you work for an organization that has the balls to kill off a big project rather than let it limp on for years and years, sucking up resource and going nowhere. In a previous life I worked for a ball-less company, and the slow death is a whole lot more painful that the quick one believe me!

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  5. At least you are still employed. One project I worked on was killed and everyone on the project was laid off.

    Did Kubler-Ross ever cover such a double loss?

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    1. Nothing quite like a real silver lining, John. That much is true.

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  6. I second Quintus--write it up and store whatever you can--in case the project gets resurrected in another year or 2 or more

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  7. Follow the advice from the brilliant MBAs at BCG and McKinsey: Only work on projects that succeed......

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    1. Sorry, bya - your comment got eaten by the spam filter.

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  8. From my grad school and medchem days:
    1) Save any useful amounts of compounds. Record clearly what they are and from whence they came. Make a list somewhere visible of everything you're saving. I was amazed how often I could find something I needed in old vials from me or my labmates. Of course, we were doing methodology development or combichem, so there were always lots of densely functionalized reactive fragments needed, as opposed to process chem, where you don't need a library.
    2) As others have said, get everything on paper. Do a formal report for non-chemists of what was good and what wasn't, then a second informal "lessons learned" type of affair which will remind you of the minutia that should (but isn't always) in your notebook, and the rationale behind some of your decisions.
    3) If your reason #3 was the case, any chance there's a market for off-the-shelf purchases of your intermediates? If you can turn any chunks of carbon into cash by selling it to TCI, Aldrich etc, your business people would probably be very happy with you. Of course, if these chemicals and their structures are covered by a confidentiality agreement, then you're probably SOL…
    4) As John pointed out, you're still going in on Monday, and there's going to be a project waiting for you. So rejoice, this POS project is out of your life, and this next one is going to be EASY and everything will crystallize perfectly from water, with no diastereomers or genotoxic impurities, and only one polymorph.

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  9. play with your kid and watch him/her grow. If the family situation allows, take stress-free vacation someplace warm. With a distance of few thousand miles, few weeks and few hundred beers, the death of a loved project is only a minor tragedy. Make sure you have a job to come back to when you are done mourning.

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  10. Opportunity to publish if the company will no longer be pursuing the compound? At the very least, a group trip down the pub to celebrate the good science...

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  11. This of the bigger picture...as a chemist who comes from a family of small bushiness owners, your job is not to make compounds, you job is to help the company succeed. how does this change help? does the next project show promise? you can be negetive/depressed about it, just remeber that is your choice.

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