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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 21, 2007

Winterize Your Ideas

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Posted by Derek

It’s time, across most of the drug industry, for people to prepare their labs for a few days off. Some companies officially close between Christmas and New Year’s. At the others, you’ll find about 20% occupancy, and those people will likely as not be taking advantage of the time to shovel stuff out of their offices. Not much drug discovery lab work gets done in the last week of December, I can tell you.

I’ve written before about how I used to leave my lab space in what I thought was good shape, only to come back after the break and find that I’d labeled flasks with helpful legends such as “Large Batch” or “2nd Run”. And every January, there I’d be, looking at some tan-colored stuff and thinking “Hmm. Second run of what, exactly?” I could usually work it out, but a couple of times over the years I’ve had to run NMR or mass spectra just to figure out what I was getting at.

So, make sure your stuff is labeled with something more intelligent, is my advice. And even more importantly, make notes to remember lines of research, and plans of what to do. It’s easy to lost the thread after being off for a while. This isn’t always bad – one of the good things about a break is that you lose the threads of a few things that are well lost. But it’s a good idea to write down what’s in progress, what you plan to do about it, and what you’re going to try to do next.

I’m convinced that a lot of good ideas get lost. They're not followed up on, they're forgotten, or they're buried under later duties. I've been trying to keep that from happening, which is one reason I was asking about literature and note-organizing software a while ago (more on that in January). One of my tasks today is making sure that all the current thoughts I have are battened down for the season. As usual, it'll probably turn out that some of the things I'm doing now would be well replaced by some of the things I've just been thinking about.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs | Who Discovers and Why


1. Mark M on December 21, 2007 11:14 AM writes...

I guess I cant relate much to this post as those flasks and reactions were so heavily imbedded in my brain (even during my time in industry), it was hard to get them out of my dreams let alone my waking state.

Synthesis was "the other woman" that occupied my spare thoughts.

Nowadays I just obsess about football........

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2. CC on December 21, 2007 1:49 PM writes...

After returning from Honduras one January and realizing that I had no idea what my (recently changed) password was, I write them down and keep them in my wallet before leaving on any major vacation.

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3. gunner on December 21, 2007 3:10 PM writes...

Unfortunately the bad ideas aren't as fortunate to leave our creative minds. We seem to leave for break and come right back and start right up on the bad ideas.


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4. Ben on December 21, 2007 4:00 PM writes...

As I'm currently winterizing my ideas, I feel like I'm leaving messages for a 2nd grader. I know that, upon my return, I'll be so far removed from my research that I need it fully explained to me - to the last detail...

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5. qetzal on December 21, 2007 5:55 PM writes...

Dr. Lowe, you surprise me!

As an industry scientist, surely you record everything in your notebook as you do it, and you accurately label all your flasks, reagents, buffers, etc., to show their contents, who prepared them, when they were prepared, when they expire, etc?


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6. SteveM on December 22, 2007 8:29 AM writes...

As a young ADD addled scientist without the lockdown discipline of qetzal above, (I'm sure everything about his life is well ordered), I would carelessly label reaction goings on. And then return after only a weekend, forgetting what was what.

The great thing about reviewing old work done by your self is wondering how you even did it. After a previous life in Chemistry, I migrated to computer modeling. And now when I review an old solution strategy in which I developed a mathematical formulation that I did not document very well, I often marvel at what I had done. Asking myself, "Did I do that? I didn't think I was that clever."

P.S. The exact opposite of lockdown discipline is dilettantism. And there' something to be said for that too. (Man Ray anyone? My heart belongs to Dada.)

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7. Brooks Moses on December 28, 2007 2:20 PM writes...

SteveM: I'm reminded of some of the last-minute programming I did to get some final results right before a conference paper was due. And then, three or four years later, I was writing up my dissertation and had to explain it.

The tricky bit was that the real reason I used a particular set of coefficients on a model was, "They're relatively arbitrary, and these seemed like a good random choice at the time (and, yes, in hindsight there were probably better options)." Putting that in proper dissertation language was a bit tricky (though easier once I realized I could focus on the "the exact values don't matter much" part of it...).

But, yeah, there were lots of "what was I thinking?" moments when I was writing things up for the dissertation.

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8. James on December 28, 2007 5:40 PM writes...

Surely, you should use the services of a transcription company to record anything and everything.

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9. Alex on December 29, 2007 8:41 PM writes...

I found 3D Topicscape useful to "park" reminders and miscellaneous thoughts - the myriad items that are floating in mindspace, not docked anywhere quite yet, as well as staking out projects with a potential future structure as they grow. On the go, I tell my BlackBerry stuff to remember. Depends how your mind works, really.

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