Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dealing with Limitations

It has not been a particularly productive month. At the beginning of December I was working in the drybox preparing samples when I got a call on my cell. It was not good news. A close family member had an accident at work and within a couple of weeks he succumbed to his injuries and our shocked family was trying to cope with the aftermath. That was coupled to an astounding series of winter storms that left us housebound.
What that also meant was that at a very inopportune moment in the research cycle I was forced to walk away from the bench. Christmas, as somber a Christmas as I remember, came into the mix and suddenly it was a wintry January. It wasn't that it was impossible to do research as much as it was just the wrong time to have to leave the bench work. I had an agreement with my family that in the heavy winter months my commuting to the two research universities would be kept to a minimum and only on days where the roads and the weather were clear.So, with the work incomplete, I started the writing process by organizing and reading the pile of literature related to the research.

But writing (at least the way I do it) cannot be done in a vacuum. I need some back and forth discussion with other chemists, so to take part in the research group discussions I had to dig out the Silver Bullet and head out in the early morning.
When I get to the research university I first have to check on my neglected reactions and update my observations but my limited time on site means that all I can do is watch. This reaction has gone from a corn-straw yellow to a clear cherry red for no good reason. I wish I knew what was going on in there.
Then we have discussions and debates in my temporary office (borrowed for the year from an emeritus professor who had research contacts with an Italian chemistry group, thus the prints over the chalkboard).
Head stuffed with ideas and the light declining I turn the car towards home and the rising Moon for the two hour trip back. Back to the literature and trying to write a paper on incomplete research so that when we do get the bench work done the paper will be ready to go. Not the best way to do things but the way things have turned out. Four hours of driving for seven hours on site and a chunk of that spent in the library reading the industrial chemistry literature that almost seems like it is written in a chemical language I don't know. It is as if they have their own non-systematic name for everything. Ugh.It is always good to get home. I am happy to have the freedom to focus on research during this sabbatical period but as the half-way point slips by I feel that I am way behind and I need to start working harder and smarter. This must be what students feel like.

About Me

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.