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August 19, 2008
Fighting Boredom, Profitably
I wanted to recommend this post by Milkshake over at Org Prep Daily (and not just because he liked the recent column I wrote for Chemistry World). I was writing about the limited number of reactions that some med-chem labs get locked into, and the effect of this both on the compounds that get made, and on the motivation of the chemists. Milkshake has a good set of recommendations on how to avoid the boredom trap, and I recommend checking them out. He ends with the following:
You should care about the chemistry methodology and do things not just to crank out the final compounds to fill up the testing queue. Your boss (has) perhaps lost all his chemistry interest already and maybe he is unnerved about the project progress and pushes people hard - but while you try not to get fired you don’t necessarily want to think like your boss (and end up wretched). If you continue to look at your research project with curiosity and do things also for the sake of your chemistry interest you are likely to be more original because thinking about the methodology will suggest new directions in your medchem project. You may get accused of playing with chemistry and going off-tangent but you will likely remain more content and productive. . .
And this is all true. Most projects need some oddball compounds thrown into them, to keep things interesting (and honest), and it’s the people who are keeping up with the literature who will probably make them. I went through a period some years ago when I didn’t stay current with the journals very well, and if I’d let that continue to slide, it would have had a bad effect. (RSS was one of the things that saved me!)
But there’s another very good reason to stay sharp and run the unusual reactions, though: the boring reactions are increasingly going to be shipped to someone else, someone who probably works in a very different time zone. Yep, this is my “give ‘em something they can’t get in Shanghai” talk again. The outsourcing shops are there to pound out molecules as quickly as possible, and they’re going to use well-established chemistry as much as they can. Now, that’s the same pressure that operates in most med-chem projects, but I strongly recommend differentiating yourself if possible.
Be the person who runs the new stuff, who reads the literature and adopts things quickly, and who makes compounds that aren’t like all the stuff that’s already in the screening deck. You don’t have to go completely crazy, you know. There are plenty of good, reasonable structures that no one else is making at your company – have no doubt – and if you’re the person who makes them and who introduces new chemistry into the department, you have something with which to justify your salary (or a higher one!) On the other hand, if you’re the person who cranks out the sulfonamide libraries, well. . .they can get that cheaper somewhere else, you know.
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