Chem Coach Carnival: Me

It probably went under your radar, but this week is National Chemistry Week and today (October 23rd) is Mole Day. Practically Mardi Gras among the scoopula & round-bottom flask crowd, don’cha know.

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.

Safety Hat

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.

Most recent home bench

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.

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18 thoughts on “Chem Coach Carnival: Me

    • GOM — hopefully you’ve set your calendar to remind you every year — Lurkertype below has the BEST recipe for the day. Though really, you’re right, I should have tried to integrate some cocktail making in here… :)

  1. Ooh, that reminds me, I’ve got an avogadro — er, avocado ready to go, so I’ll be able to make guacaMOLE (the official dip of today!).

    Why yes I was a chem major, how did you know?

  2. Let’s raise a glass to chemistry! (As long as we know which chemicals were used…..) :D

    I wholeheartedly agree about chemistry as a fundamental, Steve. No matter what scale I’m working on (biome, organism, organ) I’m itching to know every detail of the chemical (and cellular) level. I jump around when it comes to scale but It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I use chemistry and cell biology notes in nearly everything I study.

    • Amelie — I think it was the problem-solving nature of my instruction that really sparked my interest. And now with modern tools, the macro-systems of biology are no longer such black boxes. It’s an amazing time to be a scientist, I just get sad about how little people seem to care about being scientifically literate.

  3. I love working in a lab, even though I am running peoples’ blood and other bodily fluids’ tests. There’s always something interesting going on. Science is simply awesome.
    I’ll bet it’s fun being your brain.

    • Lauri — hail to a fellow lab denizen! :) I like my brain. I’ve been pretty happy with it, though I’m a little concerned about how much it seems to be forgetting these days… ;)

  4. Pingback: What Do I Do All Day? | Philosophically Disturbed

  5. My favorite class in high school was biology. I still remember chicken dissection day. I went back in my free period and did a second chicken. Maybe this is why the Mister has me debone his chicken when he cooks. :)

    Great behind the mind piece. There is more to you than your astonishingly good-looking looks.

  6. Very interesting! Funny but I always think of you as a “biochemist.” And you’re so right about career paths not often ending up where you thought they would when you first started out.

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