The Beloved pointed out a blog challenge posted by @SeeArOh at Just Like Cooking called the Chem Coach Carnival in which chemists pass along some wisdom to younger scientists and those interested in exactly just what we do.
Your current job. My current job is Senior Director of Biology at a small biotech company a couple colleagues and I co-founded about three years ago. Before that, I was Director of Endocrinology at a different company and did structural biology before that. You might notice a particular lack of “chemistry” in those descriptions. Well, yes. There’s that. More on that later.
What you do in a standard “work day.” In a start-up biotech, there are many, many things to do. (The overused jargon is that you “wear many hats”). Most days I run pharmacological assays for the projects we have going and help set the priorities for my minions other biology colleagues. Sometimes I go on a molecular biology kick. Sometimes I am Human Resources. Sometimes I am the Safety Officer. Every so often, I stop doing benchwork and write an SBIR grant. I’m always glad to get back to the bench after that.
What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there? Well, my bachelors is in chemistry. And my PhD is in chemistry. And ever since I defended (actually, before then) I’ve been doing more and more biology. Why? Because I get the most motivation out of applying research to biological problems. As to what helped me get on the path I’ve taken? DOING science, not reading about it. An internship at DuPont during the last couple years of college was formative for my understanding of HOW research gets done. My contacts from that shaped my choice of when and where to go to grad school — and those connections have shaped everything ever since. Don’t just read, DO.
How does chemistry inform your work? You might be surprised, but I think my chemistry background has made me a better biologist. When I was a student, biology was a lot of memorization; chemistry was a lot of problem-solving. Guess which one you do more of in the real research world? Also, a solid foundation in chemistry, especially organic chemistry, makes you realize that proteins, enzymes, receptors, and hormones are just giant organic molecules and behave like ones. Biology isn’t magic, it’s large scale chemistry (which is actually just large scale physics, but there you go).
A unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career. Everyone these days seems to think that a career path is something you etch in stone in your 20s – that there is some prescribed way that things are supposed to go. But as I think of all hugely the career-influencing decisions I’ve made: applying for that internship, where to go to grad school, who to work for, academics vs industry, etc. I realize how much they were all made with a VERY high degree of uncertainty and hinged on who I knew, what “felt” better, who’d I’d bumped into that week, and yes, what my personal life was like at that time. My advice for young scientists is not to worry about not seeing too many steps down the road. Your career will end up NOTHING like you think it will when you first consider it — and that’s a great thing.