Thursday, March 12, 2015

KR's big chemistry break: knowing about HPLC tailing

Last week, I posted on my "big break" into industrial chemistry and lots of you contributed in the comments. See Arr Oh has a nice post on his break. I also received "KR"'s story by e-mail: 
One and half years out of undergrad, I was contentedly working at a contract lab. The prospects for growth weren't phenomenal, but I just wanted to get familiar with mass spec while figuring out if industry was the right place for me. The money wasn't great, but the work was interesting.  
I wasn't actively looking for a job, but my wife was. She saw an ad for entry level chemists in the course of her job search. I figured that I didn't have anything to lose so I took a shot and submitted my resume. I got a call from the recruiter the next day. The job that he was looking to fill sounded very interesting, but the position was temporary. 
While I was planning on heading back to grad school in a few years, I wasn't ready to leave my permanent position for the uncertainty of being a temp. I asked the recruiter to contact me when something permanent came along. I kind of forgot about it and kept on doing my thing, but about a month later he called me back. There was an entry level BS position available at the same company.  
I didn't realize this at the time, but the opportunity to get hired directly into this site without being a temporary first was extremely unusual. There were only a few other BS level chemist (out of a staff of fifty or so) who had been hired without starting as a temporary. I remember being extremely nervous when I parked my car. Maybe some part of me knew that this was a rare opportunity. 
The interview was largely technical. One particular question stands out in my memory. The hiring manager asked me what may be causing a tailing peak in HPLC (I was interviewing for an analytical position). I used what I had picked up in my job at the mass spec lab and told him that there could be another peak eluting with the analyte. He went on to tell me some other possible explanations for tailing peaks, but he also told me that I was the only person he'd interviewed that had mentioned co-elution. That must have been the difference maker because I got the job. 
That job triggered a series of events that have worked out pretty well for me. My new position offered tuition reimbursement so I started taking graduate classes in the evening at the nearby university. I took two classes and ended up working with one of those professors when I started at the school as a full-time grad student. My graduate research had nothing to do with mass spec or HPLC, I did laser spectroscopy, but when I called my old manager up when I was about to graduate (with four publications and another almost ready for submission), he put in a good work and I was given an interview. 
I had been gone for four and a half years, but it was pretty easy for me to pick up where I left off. I'm still working for the same company. I've played a key role in launching three products, and I managed to find some interesting problems to work on. I've been promoted twice and recently shifted my emphasis from the bench to a manager role. I'm not sure if any of that happens if I didn't happen to know that an interferent can cause tailing in an HPLC chromatogram.
Great story, KR - thank you! Readers, send in a story of your big break into chemistry at


  1. Co-elution (actually partial overlap or incomplete resolution) doesn't really "cause" tailing. Technically, what KR offered was an alternative to the hiring manager's assumption that an apparently "tailed" peak represents a single component. KR is absolutely correct that this could be a bad assumption!

    1. Yeah, don't tailing peaks occur when there are multiple modes of sorption on the stationary phase, where one of them is ''overloaded''?

      I'm by no means a chromatography wizard.


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