Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An incredibly astute observation about Ph.D. chemists

From a long-time observer of Ph.D. chemists who is not a chemist:
"You guys like to one-up each other a lot and prove that you're smarter than the other guy. 'No, you can't use that to titrate the...' You [CJ] are smarter than that -- you should quit playing that game."
I have nothing to say to that really -- the observer is correct.  


  1. When an attempted brow beating of another chemist comes up short, then you brag about how much time you spend in the lab. I always thought it was strange to be proud about how inefficient you are. The most important lesson I learned from watching Duck Tales as a kid was to "work smarter, not harder". Unfortunately, this is blasphemy for most chemists, so here's to all those who will be spending their holiday in the lab - Cheers!

  2. Burned-out borderline lunaticJuly 3, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    There's always the smart AND hard option.

    1. The most important part of the "work smarter, not harder" work ethic is not to let on that you're using it. Otherwise, expectations will grow in an unsustainable fashion until burn-out lunacy ensues. I'll never figure out why people assume the equivalent of running a daily cognitive marathon is good for productivity. Take a break, people!

  3. It's an interesting chemical machismo at play here. I have tried to give up that game as I have gotten older, but every once in a while, I keep getting dragged into the mud.

    Being comfortable with not knowing things is a skill many of us need to learn. The statement, "I don't know" is quite liberating.

  4. I bet this applies not only to chemists but everyone. This is just a natural arrogance of human. We'd take better control of ourselves but it's not necessary to feel abysmally bad about that.

  5. Um, what's wrong with the person who made that comment? "Long-time observer of PhD chemists who is not a chemist"? Either extremely masochistic or forced to be interested by relation or marriage.

  6. This post goes well with the argument in this link on how women don't get caught up in trying to impress a peer group and thus intelligently choose careers with financial stability.

  7. Granted this type of Self-promotion through attempted denigration of others is often the case (and used not only PhD chemists, MBAs are worse IMO) I think can be part of standard scientific discourse to probe details and alternatives. It does matter how is done and the attitude of the person delivering advise (and stereotypically such people skills less developed in most chemists) but if the aim is to provide useful knowledge from personal experience or even obscure/dated literature it may be of great benefit. Too frequently when heavy focused on projects one can get over involved and suffer from "can't see the right tree in the forest" syndrome therefore an outside perspective can aid progress.

    Additionally we all probably have dealt with reactions that required particular ways of doing the experimentation to work well that did not get written or translated in the procedure on paper so direct guidance can go a long way. Chemistry can evolve and if follow the original procedure found in a on-line search may miss out on vital improvements unless take time to review extensive catalog of citations. Perhaps modern search tools has reduced the requirements for chemists to assure they are using best implementation of transformation known but previously when had to review CAS/Bielstein by hand such input was more welcome.