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May 28, 2002
Back to Whatever It Is I Do
Coming back to the lab after a few days off presents the same picking-up-the-threads problem as any other job. Just what was I doing, anyway? It was even worse when I was spending all my time synthesizing molecules (now, I spend some time doing that, and the rest of the time sitting in my office, looking at my computer screen with a puzzled expression.)
It took me years to learn that I actually had to write down all the stuff, so I'd be able to remember what it was. That's not just notebook-keeping, although I've never been a shining example of that, either. It's more about what stage things are in, what's coming up next, what the plans are if this doesn't work, and how this batch needs to be split up, and some of this stuff over here needs to be held back because of. . .that sort of thing. That's not the sort of detail that generally goes in a notebook. My problem was that it wasn't the sort of detail I generally put anywhere else, either.
For some reason, I always thought I'd have all this in my head, all the time. And while I'm working in the lab, I do. How could anyone forget? But after a vacation, I was always amazed when I opened up the "Ongoing Lab Work" box in my head, and all this dust would blow out, along with some hungry moths. My first day back always involved a lot of staring at flasks, trying to recall what was in them and why, along with a lot of useful thoughts about what an idiot I was.
It didn't help that I often had my flasks labeled with helpful phrases like "Large Batch," "Second Fraction," "Keep," "Impure," and such. Nothing like those to bring the details rushing back.
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