(The questions were collected in this previous post.)
1. Chemjobber: “What’s the biggest clusterfuck of a project you’ve been involved with, and how did you make it worse?”
There was this project which involved a super-active compound, according to the primary and cell assays, and met stab data were decent. The compound was fairly complex structurally, which is no news in pharma today; a spiro-compound, saturated and unsaturated rings and most importantly: 3 stereo-centers. So — there should be 8 (2^3) stereoisomers, right? The original synthesis was racemic, and its steroisomers had been separated by state-of-the-art chiral chromatography. So far however, they had only been able to isolate 6 of the stereoisomers, so my assignment came to be to find the missing 2. Prio 1 and whatever they like to call it.
I drew the compound on paper and started staring at it. That is my modus operandi. I stare problems down, if necessary for days. (I think it was Einstein who said something like: it’s not that I’m smarter than most people, I just tend to stay with problems longer.) After almost a full working day — my brain is pretty slow in 3D space — it suddenly struck me. A C2-symmetry element! There could only be 4 stereoisomers!
I was so excited to tell the team. I thought I was bringing them fantastic news. No, no, no… My team leader buried his face in his palms when I presented my slide. Everything is so complex, organizationally, in big companies. Managers at different levels and in different departments are so deep in. But everyone had overlooked the symmetry element, which to their defense, was quite non-obvious.
What happened thereafter was quite absurd, IMHO: A round of voting. Does this compound have 8 or 4 stereoisomers? Only one other person in the room was on my side. The majority looked out the window. And 3 voted against me. I mean, the patent applications were probably already submitted and everything — so much at stake here. I left the company shortly thereafter, so I have no idea how all this ended. I am to this day 100 % confident that I was right, though. In conclusion:
a) Clusterfuck (6 out of 4 possible!) – check
b) I made everything worse – check
2. Dr. Tesla: “I went to school in the US for Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. Should I pursue industry or academia? I like bench-scale research, but I also love scale up designs.“
This is going to sound cheesy, but take my word for it: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Especially not these days, when chemistry is going through a really rough time, worldwide. I would go with industry, but also stay in close contact with academia. (Or the other way around, if possible.) That’s how I’ve been doing it, and I recommend it. Land a job, but never feel safe, however sorry that may sound. Have plans B and C up your sleeve before your colleagues do, and you will have a head start when things start going bad.
3. See Arr Oh: “Shouldn’t all chemists be great cooks? Are YOU a great cook?”
The long answer is: yes. To the first part of your question. I truly hate to admit this: I suck at cooking. My relationship to food is unlike most people’s, that is a certain. I’m most uninterested. Sure, I do get hungry, but I don’t think my taste buds have gone through puberty yet. I love candy and soda and shit like that. Now you know. Damn. You cannot excel in something that you have no interest in. Simple as that. Sorry.
4. SGP: “What has been the most rewarding experience of your career so far?”
One example: Getting into grad school, even though my grades were pretty unimpressive (except in organic chemistry, which I aced). Did a diploma work for an awesome supervisor, did well, published, and he decided to take me on — the rest is history. In fact, he and I are now partners, as co-founders of our new company. And curiously, as the CEO, I am now technically his boss. Muahahaha. (I was first contemplating mentioning several other moves later on in my so called career — but still too sensitive. Check back here in 2017 or so.)
5. Brandon: “What single decision or piece of advice has had the greatest beneficial impact on your chemistry career?”
Starting this blog has been insanely rewarding at so many levels. Beyond my wildest dreams. Helped my career and business tremendously. Mentioned in Nature Chemistry and C&EN, making at least two Nobel laureates a tad upset, and being followed by a third on Twitter — all within the first year. I feel extremely flattered and privileged. (Cf. above – don’t put all your eggs in one basket.)
I will do my best to get the remaining 5 answer out as soon as possible. Stay tuned!
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