Friday, January 20, 2012

Are you a moody chemist?

I wish I could be as impassive
as Larry Bird in reacting to bad news.
Credit: ESPN
If your chemistry is going well, does your mood improve? If your research is going poorly, does it depress you? I confess to being a somewhat moody chemist in graduate school; walls were definitely punched and doors were definitely kicked.

More recently, I've really, really tried not to let success or failure in the laboratory dictate my mood. I know that the highs couldn't possibly last forever and I know (I believe? I hope?) that the lows won't either. Nevertheless, it seems every chemist has blue periods.

Readers, how do you deal with the highs and lows of research? 


  1. When things just aren't working I can get quite depressed, until it reaches a point where as a self-protecting measure I stop caring so it doesn't matter anymore. I really need good diversions away from work to keep going through that one. Eventually things pick up though, and I get emotionally involved in the research again. And then it stops working...

    I wish I had a better way of handling it.

  2. When I am feeling low I am telling jokes to myself and I also like to set magnesium and alkali metals on fire, that always makes the voices in my head happier.

  3. I am listening to very loud, angry music right now because my data sucks. Granted, a lot of other things aren't going my way in my personal life, but the data is something that I can usually control. And I don't deal well with not having control over my data. So Nicki Minaj and Eminem it is today.

  4. I used to take failures very personally when I was a young chemist: graduate school into my first couple of years in industry. My first year or two in my job I'd get all bent out of shape when chemistry wasn't working, probably because I couldn't believe I was getting paid so much more than I was in graduate school to do the same type of work.

    My girlfriend at the time lived in another state as well, so maybe it was because I simply wasn't getting laid enough...


    Eventually I learned to accept both success and failure equally, but I can't lie that when my chemistry is rocking, I am probably in a better over-all mood than when it's floundering.

  5. I'd be lying if I said that my chemistry doesn't affect my mood at all. However, I also believe that it's unfair to punish one's colleagues with a bad mood just because of a bad-chemistry-day. I try to keep steady by focusing on the big picture: remembering that research is made interesting by unexpected results and that the love & respect of my friends & family doesn't depend on the success of my chemistry.

  6. I listen to tool, run a reaction that never fails... like a Grignard or something....

  7. I'm an environmental engineer in a large city. I used to be depressed at the degradation of any pulled data for the city and the lack of improvement in toxicity levels despite several good attempts. Now I just think... THANK GOODNESS THE WORLD ENDS IN 2012! Ha. Just kidding.

  8. Ups and downs in progress come with the territory. At first the amplitude of your mood may match the extremes of your chemical fortune. Age brings perspective and the mood variations no longer swing as extremely as the progress and indeed the wavelength may increase. However, if we didn't care we wouldn't put ourselves through it.

  9. I'm pretty mellow generally. The only time I really reacted to a bad chemistry day was the time that I finished a scale-up reaction, poured the extraction water down the sink and then poured my product down the sink. I just left and went home, figuring I had angered the chemistry gods that day.

    1. Knowing when to walk away is integral to maintaing sanity!

  10. "Oh these mechanics & mathematics, they give me comfort when I'm afraid"...or moody. I am a process chemist, and when things don't go as expected, it simply means I don't fully understand what is going on in the pot. Time to delve down into the nitty gritty of the reaction. Devil in the details, and all that. It becomes a puzzle to solve...I love that. Analytical work, statistical work, some engineering, and just old-fashioned hard work in the lab. I turn on Venus Hum.

    I only get moody when mgmt occasionally tells me that they have decided that we don't need to spend time understanding the chemistry...

  11. Think about the "highs" to come.

  12. My mood reflects the progression of my projects as well. In grad school, my strategy was similar to some of those here - music. I'd use YouTube as an on-demand jukebox according to my mood.

    Feeling down? Play some happy music... some choice selections from The Beatles (who can't help but to feel better upon listening to "Good Day Sunshine?), ELO, and Boston, "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen is another goodie.

    When I was dreading a task I really didn't want to do, I'd blare some angry heavy metal and take it head on - Judas Priest or Iron Maiden typically. Some really good speed and symphonic metal too - Angra, Edguy, Hammerfall, DragonForce, and Hibria to name a few.

    As for dealing with the highs, I just take them when I can get them.

    At my new job, streaming video is banned and headphones are not allowed. I've noticed a significant difference in my mood/fatigue at the end of the day. :(

  13. I admit to feeling more stress when I go 0/3 on the reaction sked. While I usually self-medicate with a coffee or some YouTube videos, I've definitely seen other chemists' more drastic examples of the "moodiness" - flasks shattered, equipment dented, windows broken, chairs thrown.

  14. coffee is good but freebasing Andy Mayers chiral auxiliary on aluminum foil over a heat gun works faster..

  15. Thanks for this post, it is good to know I am not the only one. I am still in my postdoc (hopefully my only postdoc) but I find that my mood is definitely affected by my reactions. I hit some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows. I feel like I have manic-depression with regard to my work. I suppose not being able to find a job may aid in the depression. Sometimes when things are not going so well, going back in the synthesis and running a sure-fire reaction sometimes makes me feel better and is a productive way to deal with the depression. However if these sure-fire reactions fail, well...

  16. Thank you for making this post. I've been kind of down recently about my research in grad school, and just a week ago, a friend of mine got pissed off about his reaction, and kicked the fridge, leaving a pretty heafty dent in it. Me, I just become less productive, go home early, and play some Skyrim...maybe I should try some of the other things others here have mentioned, it couldn't hurt :)

  17. There is no question that research is a roller coaster. When things work, the effect is stimulating, but then I hit a wall. Things don't make sense. I worry and get obsessed. Cannot let go. If I do not see it through, I get really down and think my whole theory is wrong. Then it works out and I am high again.

    My wife knows when my research is good or not without even asking!!


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