graduate education. It was obvious, both from talking with Amelia and with her advisor, that she lacked self-confidence. Fortunately, her advisor gave her the opportunity to collaborate with a chemical company, and it provided her with a chance to shine and gain tremendous self-esteem and self-confidence.
Amelia was tasked with delivering some high-quality nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra for a polymer company. The project sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. Somehow the spectra never turned out the same from day to day, and samples that should have nearly identical spectra afforded wildly different ones. The spectra were not reproducible. Amelia didn’t trust herself to begin with, and now there was blame and subsequent squabbles among the folks in the lab who were in charge of the spectrometer, and even with the folks in industry, as they tried to figure out what was going on. Many issues had to be resolved, the least of which was obtaining sound and reproducible spectra. To make a long story short, Amelia discovered that the compounds were undergoing oxidation. If you have ever done NMR, you know that oxidation will definitely affect the reproducibility of spectra! Amelia independently figured out what was happening, and she became a hero in the lab and to the company.
But more to the point, this experience is a beautiful example of the ability to gain self-confidence. The experience of gaining self-esteem and self-confidence was echoed earlier today by someone in the audience who was talking about the value of a graduate education and said that part of it was “gee, look at me, I did it.”
I asked Amelia to tell me what else she gained by working with industry. She said that the most important thing she learned was how to communicate well. She said that she learned not to work through a liaison, if at all possible, but to work instead with the bench chemist. She also learned how to get along with co-workers. “This is a lesson for life,” she said, “as we love to blame everybody but ourselves.”
As I mentioned, Arby is the graduate student who warned his advisor: “I’m lazy.” According to his advisor, Arby is a very gifted synthetic chemist, with special expertise in organophosphorus chemistry.