About this Author
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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Publish And Be Damned, Most Likely | Main | Cutbacks - But Not As Bad This Time »

October 28, 2008

Out the Door and Down the Stairs

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I’ve noticed over the years that my patience in seminars and talks has been eroding. This started in graduate school – I certainly sat through my share of lousy talks back then, but I was starting to skip out on the occasional one, after a certain level of grimness was reached.

For example, I remember walking down the hall with a new post-doc, when the building’s speakers came to life. “May I have your attention, please. . . “ We stopped to listen. “There will be a seminar in the main auditorium in ten minutes, entitled “Raman Spectroscopy of Synthetic Asphalt Roofing Materials” (I swear that this is a real title, or something very close; it was appalling). The new guy asked, in a slightly worried tone “Do you guys in the group usually go to these things?”

And at that point, one of my fellow group members came lurching out into the hallway, pantomiming elaborate choking gestures as he pointed desperately at the speaker up on the wall, slumping against the wall as the horror of the seminar’s title overcame him completely. We watched him slide to the floor, still gesturing at the intercom, and I said calmly: “No, we skip a few of them now and then”.

Well, over the years I’ve continued to skip a few of them now and then, and my threshold has been steadily creeping up. I realize that many of the topics that keep me glued to my seat are, by any objective standard, rather dry. Give a detailed talk about enantioselective hydrogenation, the thermodynamics of multivalent binding, or even the latest thinking about the patent office’s requirements for obviousness rejections, and I’ll be right there, practically munching popcorn. To me, those things are interesting. But plenty of things aren’t.

It’s to the point now where there are single phrases that give me that “late for the door” feeling. After that hits, it’s a major effort for me to stay in my seat. So, speakers, if you see me out in the audience and think that the ambience would be improved without me, it isn’t hard. Just spend a few minutes going on about “cross-functional goal setting” or the wonders of ISO nine-thousand-whatever. I’ll spray gravel on my way out. One day I’ll probably end up dangling from a bunch of knotted tablecloths, having rappelled down the side of my building from an upper-floor conference room. “Vision statement”, I’ll gasp to the passers-by as I drop to the sidewalk in relief. “They invited me to work on a new vision statement. . .”

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Graduate School | Life in the Drug Labs


1. Tot. Syn. on October 28, 2008 8:46 AM writes...

When I was at Cambridge, attendance of section colloquia by grad-students was mandatory. That's almost fair, as the talks would be focused to one section, but unfortunately the section definitions were rather broad. This resulted in talks on protein folding being included in the organic colloquia... and effectively two sets of seminars, with their own sets of attendees.

Permalink to Comment

2. LiteratureTroll on October 28, 2008 9:09 AM writes...

Hey Derek,
Sorry to hijack your post, but I saw something neat today and thought you might like to read it: Nature Neurology has an ASAP titled 'Phospholipase A2 reduction ameliorates cognitive deficits in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease.' Neat biology, and I usually don't go for the stuff--I'm more likely to read something out of Ye Olde Obscure Journal of Organometallicness before any bio paper. Still, this one has the possibility for such an impact on the medchem community that I thought you might have something interesting to say about it.

Permalink to Comment

3. Kent G. Budge on October 28, 2008 10:07 AM writes...

My management are savvy enough to realize certain talks simply won't be attended if they aren't mandatory.

But it could be worse. At one point, during a big security scandal at the national laboratory where I work, we were told to stop all work and use the time to "reflect on our security responsibilities." Some groups weren't allowed to resume work for six months. We had summer students whose entire summer intern experience was watching their mentors "reflect on their security responsibilities."

While the public sector has its perks, there are a lot of things to be said for being in the private sector.

Permalink to Comment

4. Wavefunction on October 28, 2008 11:09 AM writes...

The kind of 'scientific' talks I hate the most are the ones usually by upper-level management with lots of jargon and general scenarios thrown in without any clear explanation of what the science actually is (the 'integrated drug discovery platforms' and 'comprehensive assay technologies' talks can fall into such categories)

Permalink to Comment

5. Bob Hawkins on October 28, 2008 1:57 PM writes...

The problem is, the talks with the most interesting titles end up being "Eh." Some of the skippable titles end up being the best talks.

I remember a talk long ago titled "Recent Developments in Classical Mechanics." It turned out to be my first exposure to what is now called "chaos."

Permalink to Comment

6. Sili on October 28, 2008 2:12 PM writes...

Sounds like you need to emulate H.C. Andersen and always travel with a roll of rope.

Permalink to Comment

7. CMC guy on October 28, 2008 3:22 PM writes...

While I can appreciate the desire to apportion time wisely there are some counterpoints to consider: Going to seminars outside your field (comfort zone) could help you view your efforts differently or lead to connections with other people/areas that could benefit both (spawn innovation). By avoiding Goal Setting and Quality Systems meetings there may be missed opportunities to interact and even share views with "Management" types who are advocating such (It may not do much good and I complain much about Executives myself but realize most R&D people do not get involved when they can so remain silent except to bitch about mismatched policies that maybe could have been tempered through direct participation). Scientists get pigeon-holed enough already so unless willing to show interests in other areas of company the likelihood they would ever get asked to be part of creating a New Vision Statement is diminished. Heck many med-chems often know little about what comes after Discovery and are even less informed then academics, so why would they be asked about anything beyond what color to paint the labs.

Another aspect is that if one works for a small place there may not even be any scientific presentations except may be rare related work by a Scientific Advisor/Consultant. One is lucky if have a close-by University or active local Chapters (ACS etc) that can tap into. Beside the peoples resource that probably is the major void when shift to most small biotechs.

Permalink to Comment

8. Anonymous BMS Researcher on October 28, 2008 8:32 PM writes...

Here's an Excel Buzzword Bingo card generator for those meetings -- and you can easily edit its word list to include YOUR company's specific jargon...

Permalink to Comment

9. Buzz on October 29, 2008 3:29 AM writes...

Current "favourite" buzzwords of our leaders are.....drum roll..... Align and Decision-Ready. 100 points for each. Special bonus for getting them in one sentence!

Permalink to Comment

10. Jim Hu on October 29, 2008 10:24 AM writes...

So.. I'm reading this as “Raman Spectroscopy of Synthetic Asphalt Roofing Materials” occurring in grad school, not at the wonder drug companies.

It does lead to the question of how such a seminar gets scheduled. In some cases it's people inviting their buddies to pad their cvs, especially in the last pre-tenure push. In other cases, the horrid title reflects something that is actually interesting. Perhaps “Raman Spectroscopy of Synthetic Asphalt Roofing Materials” described approaches that could be applied to the analyzing the nasty goo you have described as sometimes accumulating during a synthesis?

Permalink to Comment

11. gretchen on October 31, 2008 5:00 PM writes...

This made me laugh out loud.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry