Posted by: unlikelygrad | May 26, 2010

why I’m not a theoretical chemist

Robby commented on my last post:

I think you have to get out of the lab – that is: the wet lab – more often.

Before I came to MyU I worked for a theoretical chemist. Believe me, I had plenty of things going wrong–I wrote the @&%#@ analysis scripts and they always needed debugging, for example. Or I spent a week running simulations and then it turned out that I’d set up the conditions wrong and I had to re-run them. I didn’t have to wash dishes, true. But there were different frustrations to deal with.

SL tried to get me to stay in theoretical chemistry. He said I would be awesome at it, and I probably would have been–it’s genetic. My dad is a theoretical chemist. My sister did grad work under one of the top theoreticians in the world (but left ABD to do something else). I am good at math. I am good at theory. Dr. Hand-Waver says so too. So why am I stuck in the wet lab?

In all honesty, if I were a computer jockey all the time I would probably end up suicidal. I’m the sort of gal who needs to do things with her hands. When I was working for SL I ended up taking a lab class not because I needed to, but because I knew that if I didn’t, I would go nuts.

I get frustrated trying to deal with my 11-year-old equipment, but on the other hand it’s an interesting problem to deal with it. Working with the tubing is a lot easier than other plumbing I’ve done (replacing a toilet etc.)

I get frustrated when I have to wash other people’s dishes, but I don’t mind washing my own–even when I can’t just use soap & water. (I have to kill all the biota left from working with natural waters, then eliminate all trace metals.)

Because of my dishwashing protocols and our limited number of (!!EXPENSIVE!!) Teflon bottles, I can only run experiments every other day. On my “off” days I do things like write up lab procedures (which have only been passed on verbally, up to this point). On my off days I also go absolutely crazy. I get fidgety and cranky. I have to get up and walk around for a while before I can get back to work. This is why I am not a theoretical chemist! I could not be like this, day after day.

I would like to tie in theory and modeling to my work some day. But doing it 100% of the time? (((shivers))) Nope. Not for me.

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