Every ending is the start of a new beginning

I have 4 working days of my current postdoc left and so I thought I would write a bit about my experiences of postdoc life so far. My contract was only for one year and I started it a month after handing in my PhD thesis, in January this year.

A bit of background first…As you all know and are bored hearing about, I did my PhD in organo-fluorine chemistry. It was a methodology project and I got some decent results. My best work will be published very soon, according to my ex-boss. I decided at the beginning of the final year of my studies that I wanted to do a postdoc in something a bit different but with sustainable chemistry as the theme. I approached a few people and then got offered this project doing organic synthesis for physical chemists under the umbrella of CCS (see previous posts on this).

I think securing my postdoc before starting to write my thesis was really good for me. It meant I had a reason to get my PhD lab work done and written up. Fortunately for me, my boss was happy with me leaving the lab “on time” and was really good with reading my corrections and helping me get the thesis done. I had written up my experimental as I was going along so this meant thesis writing was a little easier for me (smug face). On that note, for those still doing their PhDs, WRITE YOUR EXPERIMENTAL UP AS YOU GO ALONG. Writing as you go along makes you think about your research direction a little more and means that you get all your all-important analytical data . There is nothing worse than realising you are missing the data for a compound and then have to do a 5-step reaction to remake it. You have more important things to do.

So, back to my current postdoc… I ended up doing two different but related projects. My original project was making isotopically labelled derivatives so that physical chemists could fire lasers at them. The second project was carrying on one of our final year PhD’s work which involved making particular intermediates to understand a mechanism. The synthesis of the compounds was rather tricky as the molecules were small, extremely water soluble and “sticky” which meant purification and characterisation was a nightmare. One bonus from this is that I am now a pro at distilling.

I very much enjoyed my first postdoc. I have learnt a lot. I was also given plenty of opportunities to improve my CV by helping to write a review article and running an organic chemistry revision session for the students in our lab. I also helped design and run an Open Day experiment.

The next 18 month postdoc, at the same University but with a different boss, involves larger molecules with aromatic rings, which means I can TLC and column to my heart’s content again. You miss it when you can’t use it, trust me. I will be doing catalysis and flow chemistry which are always fun. I did quite a lot of flow chemistry during my PhD but I think there may be a steep learning curve with these machines, however, I am looking forward to the challenge. I am particularly excited to learn even more lab techniques and I hope to further improve my supervisory skills through supervision of MSc and PhD students in the lab.

The aim after this postdoc is to get a postdoc abroad and then who knows?

Wish me luck!

Jess

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