Don’t Re-invent the Wheel

We have all heard it before “Don’t re-invent the Wheel”.  But how can we stop from doing it in our research, in our projects and in our lives.   The number one thing is in our groups, know what is our labmates have done before us.  What are the group resources.  Then know what is the Department resources.  Finally what is the University resources.  Great know the resources, but how do I know the resources, where do I find them.  The best thing I have found is to talk to people.   Then to look online.  Google is my best friend :).  The other thing is to get involved in different things.  If you know of a program at another school, ask do we have that here and who do I talk to.   Most departments have websites check them out.


Keep up with the literature.  This is easier said then done.  Some ways that help me keep up with the literature is Twitter.  I follow authors that do similar research.  I also follow journals I publish in.   Another thing that I do is get ACS e-alerts I can quickly see what was publish that week and if it is relevant to me.  (You can set how often you want them).   I often will do a google scholar and scifinder search when I start a project to understand the field a little more and see where I might fit in.  Has what I want to try to do already been done.


I think we have all been in a place where we re-invented the wheel sort to say by accident and realized the work could have already been done for us.  I try not to fall into doing this, but occasionally it happens to the best of us.

Recharging at Conferences

I find conferences as a time to recharge.  You get new ideas.  You make new connections with people.  You also may see some old friends.   I enjoy conferences a lot.  What I enjoy about conferences is not only hearing people research, I also enjoy hearing talks on their stories.  How did they get here?  What inspires them?  We are not robots in the laboratory we are people.  A part of being human is having stories.   I truly find these stories insightful, and inspirational.

I got two opportunities two hear people stories at the ACS conference this week.  One was the Chemist with Disabilities symposium.  I heard how people overcame, and mentored others.  Making chemistry more accessible to all is a passion of mine.  These stories of how we can do this and the benefits of being inclusive are good for us all to hear.

The second story I heard was the keynote speaker at the Minority affairs lucheon.  It was nice to hear about Luis career track.  How he started his own outreach program and the importance of diversity to him.

I hope that everyone who goes to conferences feels recharged and regenerated with ideas.  Getting out of the laboratory for periods of time has the effect to make us more productive




It’s important to give back to the next generation.  I also feel like it’s good for the people giving back.  It feels good to teach and share science with other people.  When I was in graduate school, I got the opportunity to design a week long workshop for 8th grade to get a sense of what research was like.  It was one of the most rewarding things I did in my career.  It also taught me that being scientific and curious can be done a young levels.  We could get 8th grades to think like we did in the laboratory, with little direction from  us.  We also lead them to inquire about different questions.

As a postdoc I am thinking of new ways to give back to community.  Recently our lab design and did outreach at a STEM expo.  Community is so important.  Part of that community is giving back, and sharing your knowledge with the next generation.  I that what is known to those we are doing outreach with is the passion we have for our science.  I hope they also know that we care about the community.  Knowledge has to be passed on from one generation to the other.  If the generation before us refused to share their knowledge with us, science would be an endless circle of discovering the same things.  It would be like being lost in the woods and walking around in circles.   The transfer of knowledge and the display of passion and the importance of science to the next generation is critical.  Science is the continuing of passing the torch.  If we don’t take care of each generation and value the members we lose vital relationships, information, and collaborations.  Even if the students we share with don’t become scientist we have more science literacy in society.  We need policy makers, voters and all people to be literate in society.  I don’t see outreach as making the next generation of scientist.  I see it as increasing science literacy.

First Sci Comm. on Mentoring

Yesterday I hosted my first Sci. Comm activity on mentoring.  I hosted an hour with sciparty on twitter.  It was a little daunting at first because I wasn’t sure where to start.  Do I start with a question?  Or resources?   I started with a question and then an article that I found that I thought had answered the question really well.  I then posted resources.  I asked questions to engage other people.   I ended with inspiring quotes about mentoring.  For the first try I think it was a success.  I would definitely do this again.  I am glad for the opportunity.

If at first you don’t succeed…

The first time you try anything in research it will probably not go perfectly.  I call the first run the test run.  I plan that the first time I try something I will have to do it again.  One to make sure it is reproducable, but also I may be trying to learn how to do the reaction or technique.  This gives me a mental freedom if we will see how it goes learn from the first run and adjust.   I like to run my science this way.  It eliminates frustration of not getting it right the first because I have already plan a learning curve in.   I also have more realistically plan a timeline it takes to do something.


Life is full of transitions.  We should see each step as preparing us for the next step.  We should take full advantage of each opportunity.  Important question to ask your self, where do you see yourself in 3 months, a year, 5 years.  Your plans may not turn out the way you thought but having a target and something to work for is important.  It helps you to prepare.  Do you see yourself doing mostly research in 5 years?  How can you prepare for that?  Do you want to lead a group?  What skill sets do people who currently lead group have and what things do you need to work on?  What skills do you need to gain and how do you want to acquire them?  When you start thinking in these terms you can start planing for your future.  You can gear how you do research, your undergraduate career, graduate career and post doc towards your future.  You then have a direction.  Things don’t feel willy-neely.  You feel like you are working towards something.  Want to work in industry find internships, or ask to shadow a chemist in industry.  Want to work in academia do undergraduate research for more than a semester.  Talk to graduate students, postdocs and your professors.



Get Involved

Look for opportunities to help others and do service activities.  Try to find your niche.  I believe in our science community we are suppose to help each other.  We all have different talents and passions.  Try to find something that merges both for you.


Do you like teaching be a science coach for local teachers through the AACT and ACS.


Enjoy editing review abstracts for a conference


Like organization, organize an event behind the scenes.


Have something you are passionate about like more women in science or inclusion issues join a committee.  Either a local committee or an ACS national one


Enjoy doing Demos join special days and weeks like chemistry week

Enjoy mentoring: mentor those who are coming up from where you just left

There are a lot of ways to get involved.  There’s programs like Skype a scientist or write a scientist for school aged kids


I try to do one to two big things a semester.  I find giving back is rewarding



Benefits of Joining Twitter as a Scientist

  1. Community-You can network with scientist you haven’t met yet.  You can share ideas and learn about new things
  2. Learning about new fields-since joining twitter I’ve learned about citizen science and science communication.  It has open my eyes to other fields
  3. You can stay up to date in your field-You can follow journals and scientist in your field and learn what has recently been publish
  4. There are fun competitions-I’ve just learned of RSC poster competition.  In November I participated in chem in pictures using #realtimechem
  5. You learn about travel awards and other awards
  6. People post jobs on twitter-I got my postdoc off a twitter announcement
  7. It can be apart of your networking-helping to get yourself out there.
  8. You can share resources with other chemist.

Managing Up


Here is the definition I like by Idealist Careers “In a nutshell, most career experts agree that managing up is a method of career development that’s based on consciously working for the mutual benefit of yourself and your boss. It doesn’t mean avoiding work, rebelling, kissing up, or trying to turn the tables on a higher-up, but instead understanding your boss’s position and requirements and making yourself known as a stellar employee by exceeding her expectations and needs.”  I also think managing up is if you need something like more feedback or want more career opportunities you ask for it.  You try to find as many resources as you can that will help you and the place you work for.


When I first heard this term I thought it was someone trying to pass the ball.  Then I later came to understand it was taking responsibility in the work place.  Looking for resources, advancing your knowledge.

Opening the Line of Communication when Mistakes happen

When you are mentoring undergraduates it will happen, you write out instructions or they work on a synthesis and the 5th time something goes wrong.  One of the most important things is having a relationship with your undergraduate where they can come to you when something goes wrong.


One of the first thing I do is when I meet a new undergraduate I discuss if something goes wrong, for example you are are synthesizing and you put in the wrong salt and you know it.  Please come to me and tell me.  One of the worst thing is that we have results we can’t explain or we have a great result and we can’t reproduce it.  I won’t be mad we will just fix the mistake and move on.


The other thing I do is that even though they are working independently I check in with them.  I ask them how it’s going?  I small chat with them when they first come in for a little bit (for about 5 minutes) and then explain what we are going to do that day.  I ask them while they are working what they think their next steps are.


Even after all this it still happens a mistake is made, we are all human.    Now how do we react.  Remember this can be critic to if another another mistake is reported.

  1.  Most undergraduates I work with are very apologetic when a mistake is made.  I put it in perspective.  Was anyone hurt? No!  We can start over, we can fix this.  Let’s work together and start over
  2. Do you understand where the mistake was made?  This is critical so that the same mistake doesn’t keep happening
  3. Let’s fix the mistake together.  This way the undergraduate learns from their mistake and whatever happen has a solution.
  4. I usually tell them a story about when I was learning in the laboratory and made a mistake.  This helps them to see that all of us make mistakes.  It’s all part of the learning process.
  5. Then after everything is back on track we continue on with the project and I thank them for informing me of the mistake made.