working!” Because things aren’t working, we believe that longer hours and
more experiments can help us succeed.
And in many cases, they can. But the
illusion is in mistaking the process of
long hours for the results of novel, useful scientific data.
So what is a chemist facing a big
project, or a short deadline, to do? First,
we ought to do what we can to avoid
these situations. The disciplined among
us are able to avoid overwork with planning. They know when they’re the most
productive, and they can immediately
tell when their motivation is flagging
and know how to turn it around.
I am a pessimist, so I believe that
planning can fail and the late nights will
inevitably come. For those times, deter-
mining discrete tasks (“I will go home
when I’ve finished purifying this com-
pound”) and setting hard boundaries
(“I try hard not to work on Sundays” or
“I will always make time for exercise”)
are good strategies for maintaining one’s
sanity when crunch time happens.
Now that I work in industry and I
have a family, I have found myself more
resistant to the call of late nights. That
said, I can’t entirely avoid them. I was
recently running a crucial reaction that
would determine the success or failure
of a particular project. Being that some
of the starting materials were rather
toxic, I was loathe to leave it alone. I
decided to forego dinner with my fam-
ily and completed the reaction around 9
PM that night. My wife was kind enough
to bring me dinner, and as I sat and ate
my rapidly cooling plate of pasta alone
at my desk, I was reminded how easy it
is to fall to the temptation of long hours
in the lab.
Chemjobber is an industrial chemist who
blogs about the chemistry job market at
chemjobber.blogspot.com. Find all his
columns for C&EN and suggest future
topics at cenm.ag/benchandcubicle.
Views expressed on this page are those
of the author and not necessarily those
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