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26Oct 2012

An insider's view of chemistry (and chemical communication)

Courtesy: Butler Community College

For science writers interested in a behind the scenes look at the lives of chemists working today - as academics, as private industry scientists,  journal editors, graduate students, and as journalists and bloggers - there's an exceptional resource available this week via a blog carnival with the Twitter hashtag #chemcoach.

Organized by an synthetic chemist who writes under the pseudonym See Arr Ohh, you can find more than 40 entries archived at the blog, Just Like Cooking. Reading these stories of experiments that go both right and wrong, of people thinking their way through this wonderfully fundamental (and to me, fascinating) science is like getting an invitation to hang out in a very smart chemistry lab.

Or a very good party. For instance:

1) This hilarious take down of the evil chemist stereotype by one of my favorite chemistry bloggers, Dr. Rubidium, who details a day in the life of a mad scientist-supervillain:

11:30AM: Lunch.  Check twitter.  The modern villain has to be social media savvy.

12-1PM: Teach general chemistry.  Legal torture, my friends.  MUWHAHAHA!

2) Speaking of teaching chemistry, at Cheersical Education, a University of Illinois graduate student does an eloquent job of arguing that chemical education and communication are not valued enough - and are completely worth it:

This seems like a good place to warn you that being a great chemical educator is not for the faint of heart. My committee is 75% “wet organic chemists,” and dealing with them is not an easy experience. You will be misunderstood, ridiculed, kicked when you’re down, and marginalized throughout your career—however, this is not an excuse to shy away from these experiences! On the contrary, value your interactions with practicing chemists. This is perhaps the most important thing graduate school has taught me. If you just want to crawl into a hole and teach, you’re part of the problem, not the solution!

3) David Kroll, who is director of science communication at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and who blogs at both Forbes and Chemical & Engineering News, tells a great story about how he moved from bench science into communication and offers up a list of survival tips for chemists that would be equally useful for any overwhelmed working writer.

4) Matt Hartings, a chemist at American University, and the author of the Science Geist blog (his piece on the chemistry of a gin and tonic was featured in Best Science Writing Online 2012) tells the story a classroom experiment that earned him the departmental nickname "Smokey".

5)  Stuart Cantrill, the chief editor of Nature Chemistry, describes not only his job but some of the decisions and processes that make a science journal work (including hours of e-mailing).

6) Carmen Drahl, senior editor at Chemical and Engineering News, offers a very realistic look at the world of science journalism and a really good pie chart.

This is just half-a-dozen out of more than 40 but it gives you a sense of the range and insights, I hope. Enjoy.

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