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.


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?

The wrong stuff.

March 10, 2010

So, I was watching the Colbert Report, like I do, and the guest on tonight was talking about her new book, how Americans have too much stuff, and how the idea for the book started off as a little flash movie thing on the internet.

Rather than hear how I should buy her book about how Americans have too much stuff, I flipped off my TV and just found the damn thing online. What I found was not pretty…

Aside from the really agenda-pushy nature (I mean, everyone should probably consume less, but the video could have been presented in a far more ‘diplomatic’ manner), what upsets me most is… well, you’ll see.

Check it out. Watch the “story of stuff”, and in particular, the production chapter. Then, fellow chemists, be prepared to cringe. To be honest, I haven’t watched any further than the production, because after such chemical ridiculousness, I have little respect for the video.

I have nothing to say. Except for “toxics.”

Other microwave reactions

October 6, 2009

In pchem today, we briefly mentioned the electromagnetic spectrum. As one of those fun little “snapple facts” that my professor threw in todays lecture: the microwaves a standard microwave oven emits are ~2.45 GHz. I’ve never really thought about what frequency a microwave operates at, and as luck would have it, haven’t had such a problem ever as homework. It seems like such an obvious homework question, too…

But, regardless, my prof mentioned that microwaves operate at 2.45 GHz….

According to wikipedia, the concept of the microwave oven was patented in 1945. Between the 80s and 90s, the microwave oven saturated domestic America.

In the late 80s, the cordless phone came to pass, and by the late 90s, the technology seemed well within reach of average consumers. In 1998, the FCC allocated the frequency of 2.4 GHz for cordless phones. (And up until 2003, when they allocated 5.8 GHz, most new cordless phones were hawked with 2.4 GHz as a ‘feature.’)

Therefore, whenever I’m at home-home and have access to both a microwave and a landline/cordless phone, one conversation is usually comprised of unintelligible fuzz.

It’s rarely an issue for me, but considering that microwaves had been commonplace for longer than the cordless phone frequency range: what ‘tard over at the FCC allowed the overlap/interference to be a problem in the first place?
Just wondering…