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December 1, 2004
Strangers on a Train
Sean Carroll over at Preposterous Universe is one of those half-physics half-astronomy guys. He mentions that when he's on an airplane, the conversation takes a totally different turn depending on which field he claims. (Hint: people have some idea of what an astronomer does. . .) But Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles hasn't been able to hide behind physics, because of the field's known ability to bring the cranks out from under chairs and behind curtains.
How does a medicinal chemist fare? Pretty well compared to those disciplines, actually. I've been afraid, at times, of inducing a rant about rapacious drug prices from total strangers, but that's never really happened. What I've found is that people are very interested in what I do, although they know almost nothing about it. I get a lot of questions - those experiences, in fact, are one of the things that started me blogging.
Now, introducing yourself as an organic chemist (which is also a fair statement) gives me a chance to reproduce Carroll's experience. That'll generally quiet people down very quickly, because odds are they've either never had a chemistry course or have less-than-fond memories of one. The most commone response is: "Organic chemistry! Man, I hated that!" But at least it doesn't breed cranks. . .what would they do, shove twenty-page syntheses of tetrodotoxin at you, with notes in green ink all around the margins?
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