Fear and Loathing over Recruitment Weekend

February 28, 2011

As promised, here’s a cross post of the latest work over at Transition States:

Plain and simple: recruitment weekends are awesome, if not a little bit overwhelming. Generally, there’s 48 hours or less to figure out three important things:

  1. Is this the department for me?
  2. Which professors would I actually want to work for?
  3. How best can I take advantage of free drinks, while not getting too drunk?

It’s definitely taxing, especially when you start mixing 1 and 2 with 3. With my first weekend down, here are some extensive tips I’ve rapidly developed (prototyped?) to not just survive recruitment weekend, but to really ‘overclock’ your experience.

See all the tips at CENtral Science:

In an effort to not clog up your RSS feeds too bad, I’ll probably only cross post here for the next week or two. So if you’d like to keep up to date with all things Chiral Jones, add the new site to your RSS tracker. Deal? Deal!

Chiral Jones is dead. Long live Chiral Jones.

February 22, 2011

As aforementioned, I was expecting a move to CENtral Science. Finally: Transition States is go!

Blogging will slow down a bit here, but during the beginning, I’ll be sure to cross post (with plenty of links) so you can re-calibrate your RSS antennas. And I might drop the occasional ‘just-for-fun’ post here, too.

Thanks for reading this far, everyone. You’re all cordially invited to check out the new blog.

*If you’re well read in chemical blogging, you might recall the now dormant blog written by a fellow named Tynchtyk, A Chemist in a Transition State. We briefly debated using such a similar name, but after emailing Tynchtyk, and receiving a supportive response about using the name, we figured we had to. A shout out/kudos to you, Tynchtyk.



ACD Labs – Check yo’ internets!

February 3, 2011

Just a little something I noticed today while trying to look something up about ACD Labs. This is current as of maybe 20 minutes ago:

Sorry it’s a bit small, I suggest you view the full pic. Check out the first and last entries I’ve included from my screen-capture. Have a chuckle at it before ACD gets wise and fixes it.
Either someone at ACD labs has a weird sense of humor, is a dissenter, or there’s some skulduggery afoot from a third party.
Oh. Also:

Noun: Underhanded or unscrupulous behavior; trickery

Bigger News

January 30, 2011

I’m in! A little less than a week ago, I received the first acceptance email. After the suspense of a seemingly indefinite wait, and uncertain outcomes, it’s a good, relieving feeling to know I’ll be going somewhere next year. Now I just need to hear back from everywhere else so I can start planning the North American tour dates…

More importantly, this means I’ll have ample blog/’job’ security for a few more years…

Actually… speaking of the ‘tour dates,’ does flying business class on Southwest constitute a “reasonable travel expense?” Nothing says you’re a rockstar like preferred boarding, a free drink coupon, and double frequent flyer points.

Actually…speaking of free drink coupons, I spent the weekend celebrating grad school, the blog news, and for the sake of celebrating. Although it’s well into the evening, my head still feels weird. It’s as if the quiet, but constant rumble of the fume hood was encased in my brain… all. day. Considering the circumstances, I’m ok with it. And for next time, here’s some drinking guidelines set forth by the RSC. Really.

Big News

January 30, 2011

Chemjobber does it again! Really, he couldn’t be better at what he does – even if he’s not even specifically trying.

Way back when he cross posted info about my search for grad schools, I got much more than I bargained for.* An editor of C&EN came across my blog, enjoyed the ‘Chiral Jones Experience,’™ and contacted me with interest in picking me up over at CENtral Science. Of course, I played it coy and said “I like the idea very much,” instead of “no sh’t, I want to blog for C&EN!” I blurted out when I originally read her email. In retrospect, I think my original response would have been equally well received, but, you know… ‘Best foot forward” and all…

We’ve exchanged plenty of emails, discussed different aspects of the new blog, including the  possibility of a co-blogger, etc, etc. After confirmation from the C&EN High Council, the news is finally official enough to post here! So here are the deets:

Yes, I’ll be blogging for C&EN! The majority of my operations will take place over there, but I’ll cross post things back here from time to time, and maybe post some random things here if they don’t necessarily fit in with things over at C&EN. You know, quick posts like “Hey, I think this paper is cool, you should check it out” that aren’t necessarily a full “post,” more a glamorized tweet (tumbl, as I hear they’re called, but I neither tweet nor tumbl), and maybe incriminating happy hour pics. OK, especially incriminating happy hour pics.

Yes, I’ll be picking up a padawan-blogger! I’ll let him introduce himself at the new digs, but I’ll say that he’s a junior, and he’s generally pretty awesome. He’s doing more of a chemical biology thing, and wants to get a little more into synthesis. (lucky kid has never even had to run a column!) I’m glad to have him on-board, as our interests complement each other quite nicely. (Chemical biology looking to do a little more synthesis vs. Synthesis looking to do a little more chemical biology.)

We actually don’t have a name yet… but we’re working on that. Worst case scenario, we’re going to mash-up names of other successful blogs. Something like: The Totally Carbon-Based Pipeline Button. Which… actually isn’t as terrible as I had imagined. So that’s an option, too.

We start as soon as we get the paperwork, and the name thing sorted out. Guesstimation: about a week.

Full details forthcoming!

*Actually, I didn’t bargain at all, so I suppose receiving anything is more than I bargained for…

Home, and out of my mind, for the holidays

December 31, 2010

Happy holidays, and a happy New Years (Eve, depending on your timezone) to everybody. As you might expect, I’m in the thick of the holiday slow-down. Granted, many of you will probably be back at the grind some time after the first, but I won’t even be back at school, nor spending any time at “the altar,”* until the 13th. I mean, I don’t mind extended time off, and I certainly enjoy catching up with friends I haven’t seen in six months,  but the last intermediates I was working with are just… sitting there. SITTING THERE!

Considering I’m at the point where I’ve definitely had my fill of family time, I’m conducting some “interdisciplinary” holiday research, just to keep busy. Current projects include “late night leftover feeding habits of the North American undergraduate,” and “New Years Eve: A case study.” Feeding habit data suggests an average of two investigatory trips to the fridge per feeding cycle, followed by an additional trip to the fridge, and consumption of the least unappealing leftovers. These cycles continue until hunger is satisfied, although depending upon metabolic rates, wait time between each step, and “appealing-ness” of leftovers, the process can extend well into after-hours.

Data on the New Years project is forthcoming. Currently, I’m seeking to quantify work published by B.E. Peas, et al., indicating why, and to what degree tonight will be a good night. Meta-analysis of 3 previous New Years Eve data sets will be included.

Anyway, I’ll be finishing grad school applications, bothering my PI to finish his rec’s (on time!), and polishing up a bunch of drafts for the next salvo of posts here. Oh, and enjoying time with friends. I suggest you do the same(the friends part), and I’ll see you in 2011.

*no, not my altar, just a particularly clean lookin’ one.

Arse, ‘innit?

December 8, 2010

Big claims require big proof, especially if they’re contrary to all scientific reasoning thus far. If I were to say, “The moon orbits the earth,” that’s pretty well known at this point, and doesn’t require much to back it up. If I were to say, in all seriousness, “The moon is made of cheese,” then that would require some serious proof, excavated bits of moon-cheese goodness for analytical testing, and of course the subsequent publication of moon-cheese to variety of wine optimization.

So, as a scientist, here’s my obligatory post regarding the whole “Arsenic Replacing Phosphorus in DNA Backbone” thing. I’ll keep it brief, and for scientists and non-scientists alike. Longest of long stories short: Researchers think they’ve found a species of cell that can incorporate arsenic (usually quite toxic) into the backbone of their DNA in place of phosphorus – a big deal, indeed, considering A) usual toxicity of arsenic, and B) any swap of this kind has never before been documented.

Whether or not it’s true, it really seems as though Wolfe-Simon et al. haven’t fully supported their case, and that’s a problem. (If you want a full breakdown of why the paper is kind of flawed, check out commentaries by Derek Lowe, and Rosie Redfield. They offer a far more detailed look than I can offer.) Again, long story short, it’s cool that the bacteria can tolerate the arsenic, and it’s definitely hiding around the cell somewhere, but there’s far from definitive evidence that it’s actually incorporated in the DNA.

In response to criticisms, via Nature News: “We are not going to engage in this sort of discussion,” she wrote in an e-mail to Nature. “Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated.”

Wh-what!? Now, it’s very possible that bits of the email have been taken out of context, but if not, seriously? Personally, I think this is the biggest problem regarding the whole situation. If you publish a potentially groundbreaking article, in a journal like Science, I don’t think you’re allowed a “Haters Gonna Hate” attitude towards public criticism, especially if such criticism has generally been logical, and scientifically well reasoned. Eventually, the foremost criticisms just might get peer reviewed, at which point, then what will you do? Diplomatically, it might make a little sense to address these criticisms now, rather than copping out in such epic fashion. So, most diplomatically, I’d suggest that the authors nut up, answer some questions, and maybe admit they didn’t do everything within their means to everything to fully support their claim. (Yes, it’s a diplomatic expression. Kennedy totally used it in the “We Choose to go to the Moon” speech.*)

*So maybe I paraphrased just a little bit.


December 6, 2010

This is the future. Perhaps not the flying-car future we were all promised, but at least the internet has pretty much reached the “information superhighway” status we were long ago promised, and shed much of it’s hideous geocities past. Except some chemistry departments. They’re not all “under construction signs, obnoxious gifs, and visit counters,” but some of them make you feel like it’s a tooth and nail fight to get rapid, accurate information about their department. It’s about time some chem departments realized this and made their websites functional. Or at least less non-functional. In case you’re not aware, here are common offenses, and example offenders:

1. No Mini-Bio/Research Synopsis on main faculty page: Lets say that, for whatever reason, you’re browsing a department web-page, and you want to see a list of who does organic chemistry, and there it is. And that’s it. Just a list. In this case, a list of 15 people, and 14 new windows/tabs you’ll have to open, in addition to the current one you have open, just to casually browse the interests of each professor. I use Columbia as an example, but this is a pretty common error. Give us something to go off of. A quick blurb? Keywords? At least give us keywords? A simple “this, that, and the other” next to your name is better than nothing…

2. Mis-information in mini-bios: Ok, so let’s say you find a university website that has some kind of at-a-glance info on the work of each professor. Yippee. So you click on the professor, and are brought to the department’s page/full bio for the professor. In some cases, you will now be tasked with heading to the professor’s actual group-page to cross reference everything listed in the mini/dept bio of the professor

For example, lets look at UC Irvine’s faculty page, compared to Overman’s bio page and his group page. To the untrained eye, the faculty listing page will have you believe that Overman does “chemical biology, inorganic & organometallic,” and “organic” chemistry. To the discerning who dig further, or those in the know, I’d say it’s better to describe Overman’s work as “asymmetric catalysis, and natural product synthesis.” I can see the connections – ligated transition metals –> inorganic & organometallic, synthesis of biologically active natural products –> chemical biology – however these are not exactly interchangeable. It strikes me similar to the “a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square” distinction, and I, for one, would prefer if departmental websites organized their squares and rectangles accordingly.

3. No group-page: Seriously!? You’re a professor in the modern era, and some time or another, someone is going to want to check out your work in detail – detail beyond what even a correct mini-bio can offer, and without having to sci-finder all of your previous work. Please consider getting with the times and putting up a group page of what you do? I can almost understand if you’re an older professor and don’t “do” the internet, but I’m sure there’s some tech-savvy person in your lab, or at least, your department, who can spend an afternoon, copy some code, and set up the de-facto standard group web page for you. Double demerits if you’re not an old coot and definitely have the tech savvyness to know you should have a website (let alone the relative simplicity of setting up an “out of the box” type template, as referenced, or even something like the stand-alone version of wordpress could probably suffice).

4. Remnants of old pages still on the web: UCLA’s the culprit here. While researching, I decided to google the phrase ‘UCLA Kwon” to get to Ohyun Kwon’s page faster than going through the department’s pages. First hit on google is this. I checked her research interests, and everything looked fine, until I checked her publications… which mysteriously end at 2005. “Surely, that couldn’t have been the last time she published anything. Something’s amiss…” And so, I went to the actual UCLA department page, and pulled up Kwon’s actual group page. Curiously, I went back to Kwon’s phantom-page, and clicked on “organic chemistry home.” Turns out, there’s an entire phantom-department-page still up and running for UCLA’s organic chemistry program. Also turns out that it, too, is the first google hit when you search “UCLA organic chemistry,” as opposed to the current organic page. I highly doubt that the old-school pages are really needed on the web anymore. I further doubt that the current chemistry web-admin at UCLA is even aware they’re still up, and mis-directing search results…

Anyway, now you know the warning signs. Be vigilant, and suggest that your group/department streamline and update their web pages. Your future grad students, post docs, and even undergrads will thank you. And to think, once upon a time, all of this information gleaning had to be done sans-internet. How primitive.


November 30, 2010

Now for the fun, happy, excited post! Over Thanksgiving break, I received a cryptic email from my PI, saying he needed contact info for a patent on the project I was working on. Any news of this had been previously unbeknown to me. So I emailed him my info, and then quickly emailed my grad student. “Hey, this sounds pretty legit. What’s the deal?”

On Thanksgiving day, I got a response back from him saying I’d be listed as second author on one paper, sixth author on another (at that point, do you even still bother counting? Anyway, it was a major collaboration amongst a few institutions, with about 10 names on the paper.) and that I’d also be listed on the patent for work relating to one of them. As far as I know, they’re drafted and pretty much ready for submission.

I’ve pretty much been grinning ear to ear ever since.

A rebuttal

November 29, 2010

The amount of response from y’all has been helpful, if not stressful. Regardless, it’s highly appreciated, and you’re all encouraged to keep posting rumors, fun facts, or reasons why I should drop chemistry all together and move to Fiji to become a massage therapist, or SCUBA instructor. Really, any information you can give me would be awesome.

Under normal circumstances, I’d wait a bit for responses to roll in, and take a bit more time to craft such a lengthy post, but considering that due dates for applications are fast approaching, I’d rather get as many questions/comments out there as soon as possible.

With regards to not selecting some of the obvious choices – Scripps, Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Stanford. The latter three didn’t really have enough professors I was interested in.. pretty much the “two professors I’d like to work with, and then nothing else…” symptoms I had described in the previous post. MIT has Movassaghi and Danheiser, Berkeley has Sarpong and Vollhardt, and Stanford has Wender, Du Bois and Trost (but Trost’s on the older side of things…). Beyond the two obvious choices (for me, anyway) at each university, there’s not much else I’m super into.

Come to think of it, on second thought, although there’s only 2 I’d really like to work with, Wender also strikes me as synthesis oriented, but with an eye towards drug development as well… Stanford may be back on the list, lest my PI and other recommenders crucify me for switching anything up so late in the game.

Scripps and Harvard.. well.. I didn’t think I could get in. I have plenty of research experience, but my grades are (were) only so-so. Worst part of it, it’s really freshman grades and a little bit of soph grades that are lame. (most of which are not chemistry grades) However, at by the start of junior year, and taking on more advanced chem classes, things clicked, began firing on all cylinders, and since, I’ve generally been kicking ass, and taking names. However, at the end of the day, my overall GPA is still lower than I’d like, and (with no ‘supporting info’) I suspected that given the caliber of either institution, they’ll be looking for reasons to not accept people, and that would be mine…

(and for anywhere else, it’s a matter of addressing it on the personal statement or not, which is a tricky proposition in itself)

However, some news has come to me recently, that, while amazing, may be too little too late. Work I was involved with is getting published. I’m going to be on it. Despite the less than entusiastic and stressed nature of this post, there will be a celebratory post with all kinds of glee and exclamation points soon to come. In fact, I’m going to be on two publications. And a patent. Pretty sweet, right? Totally solidifies my application, and (ideally) shows an admissions committee that I’ve turned things around, and am down to work?

I learned that I was going to be on the publications over Thanksgiving break, some undisclosed time after they had been drafted. While I could not be happier with the fact that my name’s going on stuff, I can’t help but feel peeved that I wasn’t informed of their existence sooner… which would greatly have influenced my decision whether or not I’d be applying to places like Scripps. I can still apply to places like Scripps, but for Scripps itself, the deadline is Dec. 1st. In two days. Yeah… As for any other places that I’m scrambling to consider/re-consider, I have to take into account any lead time required for recommendation writers – all other deadlines I’m looking at are in January – so by adding any schools with hard deadlines of Dec 15th, I’ll need to clear it with other prof’s, and fast!

Then, there’s the “issue” of my PI. I came to him with my epic rough draft of the Master list, and he said “narrow it down to about 6 schools. 2 reach, 2 mid-range, and 2 safety.” So naturally, I whittled it down to 8 schools in total, that I thought packed most organic possibility per application. (Before learning of publications) Now, I would feel a bit more comfortable also applying to places with only two professors I’m interested, just to see what happens, especially the ones that claim “we try to not focus on one part of your application, but we do especially consider research experience.” However, I’m not the most comfortable asking my prof. for even more recs, because let’s face it, I’m a bit intimidated by him. I have the recurring fear that if my list were to expand to, say, 10, he’d go all “I thought I told you 6?” For all I know, the difference between 6, 8, and 800 is just a few more copy-paste sequences for him, but considering his recommendation will easily be the most important, I’d like to keep him as happy as possible while writing them.

Yikes. That’s a lot of writing. Anyway, comments and concerns toward this, or anything else are appreciated.

In response to some previous comments:

Everybody: Don’t do total synthesis! It’s a trap!

Fair enough. It aint what it used to be. However, are these cries of warning also intended toward the combination of drug design/medicinal chemistry/molecular pharmacology type work in tandem with heavy duty synthesis and methods, or is that combo wide enough to better support different options in the future? (most likely, continue in academia, or go to pharma.) If that’s still not enough, then what? Is there a last bastion for those of us that want to “make stuff,” or will we forever run into the dilemma of choosing a field we like, but with less job security, or choosing a field we’d rather not do, but take content in being able to find a job later on?

Also, from everybody:

Pick a good PI who you can get along with

Duly noted! Long before I questioned the internet for opinions on grad school, I knew this was going to be a major influence. Hell, even now, with regard to getting recommendations, I’m seeing where it plays a key role. However, I should say that I’m kind of an odd ‘un, in that I still like the idea of spending more time in lab. So what some might consider a lot, I just consider “intense.” And I’m fine with intense, just so long as it does not become “insane.” Presumably with a reasonable professor, that distinction will remain clear…

Via a response to Chemjobber’s Post:

Regarding your personal statement, don’t mention specific profs since the assistant profs are often on admissions committees.

Huh… I’d always heard it doesn’t hurt to name-drop specific faculty if you can readily tie in their work to your overall plans for grad school. Supposedly, it shows why you’d be a good fit there, vs anywhere else. 3rd party opinions?

Paraphrasing: So-Cal ain’t that great, as rent and car insurance are expensive

The rent’s no better in Boston. As for the car situation, I’m very OK with biking everywhere, and Zipcar-ing when necessary (biking is my designated non-chemistry hobby. Also, please note the relative abundance of velodromes in southern California…) But I suppose I’d find out if that system really worked if/when I got there.


Paraphrasing: What about Penn, Princeton, or Columbia?

Looked into all 3. Columbia I’m only really interested in Snyder and Danishefsky (and Danishefsky’s gettin’ old), and at Penn I’m only really interested in Joullie. Actually, in light of recent events, I’d consider adding Princeton to the list for MacMillan, Sorensen, and Doyle. MacMillan and Sorensen for synthesis. No intent to work for Doyle, but just because she’s adorable. Abigail Doyle: Totally Cute.

If I were to add any new applications to the list, they would probably be 2 out of the following 3: Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton.

Have I forgotten anything?