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July 31, 2006
One of the things I've noticed over the years is that I rarely stay on a project long enough to have the kind of familiarity with the molecules that I had with the ones I worked with in graduate school. I'm not complaining. I knew my PhD project molecules like an infantryman knows the hundred-pound pack on his back - that is, much more than I ever wanted to or believed possible. I knew tiny details in their NMR spectra, things like long-range coupling constants and NOE enhancements, and the moment something changed I would point like a hunting dog.
But now, my lab stays on a project for a few months, maybe a year at the outside. And during that time, we'll work on several varied groups of molecules - usually with the same core, but with all sorts of things coming off of it. We get a working knowledge of them, but we're always being surprised by little details that would have been second nature after a good solid three years of the same series. Of course, after that good solid three years we'd all be good and solidly sick of the chemistry, too, but that's the price tag.
I used to tell people in grad school, while I hauled yet another load of synthetic intermediates up the mountainside, that the grunt work left me a choice of two moods: bored, or angry. If everything was working just the way it always had, I was bored. And if a reaction decided to unexpectedly fail, then. . .not much of an emotional range, is it? No, I'll take what I have now, where boredom doesn't have as much of a shot at me, and I don't have the chance to stay angry about any one thing for long. Variety, the spice of chemistry. (One of my "Laws of the Lab" covers this topic - I'll get to that later in the week).
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