What have I learnt from post doc-ing?

I am no longer a postdoc. This both makes me ecstatic and sad. As a belated goodbye to academia post, I thought I would share my thoughts on my period as a postdoc. I learned a lot over the last 3 years or so and, looking back, am very glad I became a postdoc. I don’t consider myself a failed academic, I just decided that I could earn and achieve more in a different field.

  1. Helping students is fun – When I first became a postdoc, I was worried about students asking me questions and me not knowing the answer. It turns out that I knew more than I think I did. There were plenty of times that I didn’t know the answer, but I gained enough experience to point the student in the right direction.
  2. I became a skilled technician – when GCs break, I am your gal. I would never have guessed that I would spend half of my time changing liners and inlet septa but hey ho it was a useful experience. I am also handy, and somewhat ambidextrous, with spanners (and wrenches) as working in flow chemistry required frequent leak fixing and blockage removal.
  3. I can write half decent prose, much faster – I can now write a report or presentation in the fraction of the time that it would have taken me during my PhD days. It is also better written, formatted and edited. I am continually learning and improving this though –  I still have a lot to learn!
  4. I learned to enjoy presenting my work – as I gained more and more confidence in my subject, my confidence in presenting grew. I wasn’t the most confident presenter at school or as an undergrad but now i’d day I am OK at it.
  5. I understand terms such as mass transfer and flux – collaborating with chemical engineers certainly increased my understanding in a range of areas, sometimes more than i’d like, but it was been a great learning experience.
  6. I learned that it really helps to have friends in finance, purchasing and stores – when orders or equipment fail, these are the people you need to have on your side!

I am sure there are many other things that I learned during my postdoc years and I shall try and add them to the list as I remember. What would you say were the skills that you have picked up or improved upon during your postdoc?

And with that, bye bye lab, hello desk.


The rest of the #realtimechemcarnival posts

Hi again,

Apologies for the delay in posting the last #realtimechemcarnival roundup. It has been a hectic time in the lab and at home!

@Fluorogrol contributed with his post on the oddities of scientific publishing, by reminding us that ” there’s free, and then there’s free“.

Katherine (@KJHaxton) then gave us a glimpse into her outreach life with her summary of a Chemistry at Work event for schools.

So that is it for the 2014 #realtimechemcarnival. See you again next year for another superb #realtimechem week.



#Realtimechemcarnival 2014 Day 2 and 3 Roundup

This year’s blog carnival has shone the light on a few chemistry blogs that I previously did not know existed. It is great to see so many new (to me) bloggers in the chem-blogosphere. Keep it up all. The more the merrier!

Here are the posts from Tues 24th and Weds 25th June.

1) Tom (@TRBranson) started us off with his awesome take on the supervisor-student relationship during thesis writing time.  I had many a comment on my thesis drafts, but I don’t think I was ever told that I was “fundamentally wrong”! Thanks for sharing, Tom.

2) Jess (@chemicaljess) wasn’t far behind her with post on intentions during a PhD. Her blog is a great place to read about the trials and tribulations of a PhD. Definitely worth a read for those just starting their PhD journey.

3) One of the prolific bloggers from last year’s  #realtimechemcarnival, Joaquin (@JoaquinBarroso), has again joined in with his post on his summer interns. It will be great to see the progress that these students make over the summer. Please do keep us up-to-date Joaquin!

4) Since the kind guys over at ChemDraw were kind enough to let me try out their new 2014 version, the least I could do was let them know what I thought of it.

5) Julia (@ochemprep) joins the party with her post on Praying for an Epiphany where she shares her story from undergrad to start-up founder.

Keep up the excellent #realtimechem work everyone and remember to let me know if you think I have missed any carnival posts.

#realtimechemcarnival – New ChemDraw: What do I think?

A slightly different post in aid of the #realtimechemcarnival but hopefully useful to someone!

I currently use ChemDraw 13 Pro at work. This has very basic features and is really only useful for drawing out reaction schemes and checking molecular weights. At my previous workplace, I had ChemDrawUltra 2010. This had a lot of useful features like “convert name to structure” and NMR prediction, which were really useful tools, especially as I was writing my PhD thesis at the time.

Recently, I was given the chance to trial the new ChemBioDrawUltra 14.0. I expected this to be a better, flashier version of ChemDrawUltra 2010 and, indeed, it is. It has pretty much all the same useful tools as ChemDrawUltra 2010 but it also has some new features, which I have had fun playing around with.

What do I particularly like about this new version?

1) BioDraw tools – our group is very interdisciplinary. We currently have people working with biocatalysts and we were very pleased to see updated BioDraw tools (a lot more choice and much more detailed) and a Biopolymer tool bar so that peptide/DNA chains can be drawn. I have a feeling the bio people in the lab will be wanting to borrow my laptop in the coming months!


2) Structure Tool bar – this is a useful addition as it means I don’t keep having to go up to the structure menu. It contains the commonly used NMR prediction, naming and clean-up icons, amongst others.


3) Scifinder addition – I thought this was a bit of a gimmick but it has made my life easier. I am currently writing a literature review and this has certainly made that quicker to write. It is as simple as drawing the structure, clicking on search > search SciFinder (via my library login page).

What I would like to see in future versions?

A tool bar for flow chemists – synthetic chemists are embracing flow chemistry more and more so it would be great to see some tools which would allow us to draw schemes of detailed flow set-ups.

Overall, I really liked this version. I will keep updating this post as I find more features that I like (or dislike). I got this version on a free trial, I am not sure, however, that I would pay the full price for it but I hope some employers do!


#Realtimechemcarnival 2014 Day 1 roundup

Hi all,

I hope you are all enjoying #realtimechem week! My week started with a house move and trip to Ikea so I am a little behind but from what I have seen so far, there has been a huge variety in the content of the tweets from people all over the world. Keep it up tweeps.

Monday gave us some really amazing blog posts, so thank you, bloggers, for getting involved and contributing.

1) Harm reduction – an interesting post on the rise of ecstasy derivatives by Craig (@Sci_McInnes).

2) The ever wonderful Laura-Jane (@laurajane0103) has started up her first chemistry-themed blog in aid of #realtimechem week. Her introductory post is a video snapshot into a day in the life of Laura Jane.

3) At The Dose Makes the Poison, Kevin (@forensictoxguy) gives us an overview of drug detection in urine.

4) A new (to me) blogger, Martin (@MartinStoermer), from Chemistry and Computers, shares their views on The trouble with Cha, (aka cyclehexylalanine).

5) Ellen (@ChemistLN) joins in on the video blogging by giving us a tour of her lonely lab.

Thanks to all that contributed to the awesome blog posts for day 1 of #realtimechem week. Do let me know if you think I have missed any or if you want to host a post of your own here. I shall be writing some of my own this week, so do watch this space.

Back to the lab for me.


#Realtimechem Blog Carnival



As Dr Jay has mentioned, we shall be doing #realtimechemcarnival during #realtimechem week again this year. For more information about #realtimechem week, read Jay’s FAQ.

You can blog about absolutely anything chemistry related – the stranger, the better!  Once you have blogged, either email me the link at theorganicsolutionblog at gmail dot com or link on Twitter using the hashtag #realtimechemcarnival. If I can, I will then post the day’s carnival posts here but if not I will definitely do a roundup at the end of the week. For some inspiration, do take a look at the 2013 entries .

If you have any questions about the carnival, don’t hesitate to get in touch!


P.s Thanks to Jay for all his artwork!


Elemental chemistry

Hello world!

I thought I would interrupt this unplanned blog hiatus with a post about elements, which was inspired by a Twitter conversation with Dr Tom.

Which elemental form of the chemical elements have you used in the lab?

I believe my number is a lowly 10 although I am sure I have forgotten some.

Hydrogen (H), carbon (C), oxygen (O3), fluorine (F2), sodium (Na), magnesium (Mg), bromine (Br2), iridium (Ir), tin (Sn), iodine (I2).

Tom’s was a more impressive 12, including Samarium.


p.s I have obviously also used nitrogen and argon as inert gases in reactions and helium as a GC carrier gas but I don’t feel they count as I haven’t manipulated them into something new.

p.p.s oxygen has been added as I forgot that I have had plenty of experience with stinky ozone.

My top 10 chemistry papers of 2013

Having already contributed to the top 10 chemistry blog posts of 2013 over at The Sceptical Chymist, I thought I would highlight my top 10 chemistry publications of the year here. Current trendy chemistry seems to be nano-blah blah and MOFs but I am a flow/organic/process chemist so papers on these themes appear on the list below.

1) The most interesting and exciting publication of the year has to be Fujita’s Nature Article on X-ray analysis using porous complexes. This allows the determination of crystal structures without the need for crystallization of the actual sample molecules.

2) Baran’s Ingenol paper, in one of those luxury journals, was pretty darn impressive! Only 14 steps with cheap starting materials. The man is a legend.

3) As someone that works on catalytic processes, it was great to see Milstein publish an efficient method for the synthesis of carboxylic acids, without the need for stoichiometric amounts of toxic metals. It is always good to see publications describing a new method for a simple but valuable process.

4) You can always rely on MacMillan for a good read. This publication on the one-step synthesis of Plavix was no different.

5) If chemists can find an efficient way of capturing and utilizing CO2, the planet would be much happier. This publication on the Ni-catalysed direct carboxylation of benzyl halides with carbon dioxide is a great example of how we can use carbon dioxide to make synthetically useful building blocks.

6) My favourite fluorine paper of the year was this Science paper on the synthesis of fluorinated natural products using synthetic biology. I always enjoy reading inter-disciplinary work and this was no different.

7) My research is in chiral amine synthesis so this publication on the reduction of amides to amines was immediately appealing to me. The paper describes the reduction of primary, secondary and tertiary amides using a commercially available, air and moisture tolerant non-metal catalyst. Very cool.

8) I am always partial to a flow chemistry paper. Anything from the Ley, Jamison and Seeberger groups is worth reading but this recent overview of how to apply flow chemistry by Seeberger and McQuade really caught my eye.

9) The award for scariest paper of the year (as highlighted over at In the Pipeline) has to go to this work on mercury azides.

10) Interested in sustainable/green chemistry? Then the Sanofi solvent selection guide is one for you. I find OPRD to be a bit hit or miss at times but this is actually a super reference guide.

So this is my top 10. What is yours? Use the #chemclub2013 hashtag (sorry for stealing your hashtag, Andrew) on twitter to share your favourite paper of 2013!

No need for flashes and bangs!

As you may already be aware, I am a proud ScienceGrrl. I have a volunteered at a number of events, but most recently at MOSI during Manchester Science Festival. The volunteers all took part in an ‘I’m a Scientist, Talk to me’ event which I have posted about before. It was a great day that involved me walking around the museum and talking to kids and their parents about what I, and other chemists, do for a living. I mainly talked about how I work on methods to make new medicines in a cheaper and more sustainable way. Most kids have taken medicines (typically that yummy banana flavoured antibiotic) and so they know how important they are to everyday life. To some, I even explained that antibiotics were becoming less and less effective and why we really need new ones. I also talked about process scale-up. It was fun seeing kids’ faces look amazed when I described how big plant-scale reactors are compared with lab-scale ones. I love to bake so I used this as an analogy. I compared having to make cakes for the whole population, instead of just for a small family – just imagine the size of that mixing bowl!

What was great about the day was how the children and parents were really interested in what chemists (and biologists, mathematicians, archaeologists, geologists etc.) actually do for a living. They didn’t need a full on practical demonstration, just a conversation. They wanted a description of my everyday life and what the point of my job is i.e. how do chemists help the wider world? I was keen to show that chemical reactions are important to modern life from the purification of drinking water to the  discovery of new chemotherapies.

photo (7)

Recently, there has been some chit chat online about how we need to inspire kids in to chemistry, without flashes and bangs. Dr Mark Lorch has recently written a really interesting piece for the BBC and Prof David Smith has previously written his viewpoint in a Nature Chemistry Commentary. My personal opinion is that we just need to talk to kids and show how important chemistry is, without any of the flashy fuss. We also shouldn’t try to compete with biology and physics, but embrace them as sister sciences and show how collaboration improves science. A few of us tried to demonstrate the importance of this at the ScienceGrrl event. For example, there was another ScienceGrrl who was a microbiologist and her job involves testing drug-type molecules against TB bacteria. Simply put, she is helping to find new cures for TB. We realised that without chemists, she would not have any molecules to test but without microbiologists, chemists wouldn’t know which drug types were effective. We successfully showed, to kids and parents alike, that scientists all need to work together to achieve great things and that chemists are really important, but so are biologists.

In conclusion, I think that ScienceGrrl and MOSI do great things to promote science to the masses, in a simple and effective way. I am doing my bit, along with many other fabulous ScienceGrrls, to make sure chemistry sounds fun and interesting to kids. I am already looking forward to the next ‘I am a Scientist, Talk to me’ event so that I can excite even more young minds!

Photo: Via ScienceGrrl (taken by Dr Heather Williams)

ChemDraw for iPad: A review

So, I have finally gotten around to writing a blog post on the (relatively) new ChemDraw app. Along with many other bloggers, I was given a free download of the app.

I was really excited to hear that ChemDraw were bringing out an app. I rarely fire up the laptop at home these days, I usually browse the internet and even watch TV on my iPad, as it is much quicker and easier. The one thing I do always use my laptop for, however, is ChemDraw Ultra 10 as I couldn’t write my reports or blog posts without it.

To really test out ChemDraw for iPad, I decided to do my structure drawings for a recent blog post on the iPad only. The structures were drawn and emailed directly from the app (as PNG files) with the images then uploaded directly into the blog post without any further editing. The structures have more white space around them than I’d like, but considering how easy this process was, I think the structures don’t like half bad!

Alternatively, I recently took ChemDraw for iPad to a conference (luckily the conference was after the update that included the ability to write notes). I tried to keep notes during the talks with the app, rather than with a simple pen and paper. I was actually rather surprised that I did manage to make detailed notes quickly that were much more legible than those that I could ever write by hand.

In summary, I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy ChemDraw for iPad is to use and how quickly structures can be drawn. I will be using it regularly at conferences from now on. As an aside, although I haven’t used it for this purpose, I really think it could be a really fun teaching tool too!