Friday, 21 January 2011

Well hello there...

So here I am, I’ve finally bitten the bullet and started a blog on my life as a PhD student. My new year’s resolution of going to the gym and not eating too much crap has robbed me of one of my favourite pastimes and replaced it with a thrice weekly morning sweat-fest. As such, I seem to have a fair bit of spare time on my hands which I can only assume that was spent eating Doritos and other such delectable snacks before this somewhat hasty resolution was made. Anyway, that is beside the point. 

I’m a first year organic chemistry PhD student in a large research group at an as yet undisclosed university. Of the 14 privileged others to share a lab with me we have a fairly mixed bunch of people, all working strange hours (some a lot more than others) on all sorts of stuff. A great man (I have no idea who) once told me that a PhD was a three (or four or five in some cases) year lesson in learning to deal with disappointment and failure. I am 4 months in and I can safely say two things. Number one, this is most definitely the case and number two, that I am without a doubt not the only pessimistic (realistic?) chemist who shares this opinion. I’m also not the only PhD student who wonders regularly whether a life sat in a lab full of nasty smells and things that give you cancer was a prudent career choice when friends and friends of friends with degrees in Sociology or Gender Studies (or other such non-subjects) appear to be taking the business world by storm and getting paid accordingly.

I’m working on an organocatalysis project currently. If you know what this means, kudos to you. If you don’t, I am not going to explain it here and you need to reassess your life because you are reading a blog about organic chemistry. Essentially, it involves finding new ways of performing chemical reactions which can already be done but doing them in such a way that they don’t cost the economic deficit of sub-Saharan Africa and also without using reagents that fall apart to your dismay if you give them a dodgy look. 

This is the idea of course, but it turns out that in a lot of cases the reason they were done the way they were done originally is that they work and they work well. This cannot be said for my work, where catalysts are used in stoichiometric quantities just to get something to happen on a regular basis. This is but one of the setbacks that myself and no doubt every other PhD student puts up with on a daily basis. I’m writing this to try and prevent myself from going insane every time a TLC plate falls in a solvent bath or I fill my fumehood with water when I turn the wrong tap on. Any lab mishaps by myself or others will be steadily reported here from now along with any musings about my life chained to a bench with nothing but a large bottle of ethanol I can’t drink to keep me company. This I hope will be some sort of therapy for myself and hopefully a source of great amusement for everyone else.



  1. Welcome to the blogosphere then. I'm also an Organic chemist and can only say that if your writing style of this first post is anything to go on, this promises to be a cool blog. Bring it on!

  2. I just read all your posts (4) and decided to keep an eye on this blog. You have a pleasant writing style mixed with good humor. This blog will be a welcome addition to the chemical blogosphere if you can keep up posting on a regular basis. Enjoy & good luck!

  3. I found a link to your blog on twitter and I'm loving what I've read. You're making me dredge up memories of my organic stuff for a start (I'm an electrochemist). As a third year I can tell you that the PhD does get better. The results still don't happen but if you're stubborn enough to last a year you end up staying for more. Effectively the thought process is "if I put up with it for that long I can damn well carry it on." If it's any consolation my first year report was on data I managed to gather in a week of practical, the rest of the time I was trying to fix equipment I'd never seen before. It was a slim report.

    Can't wait to