Communication for the Chemist

The last time I introduced myself on a blog for one of Dr. Delwiche’s classes, I was beginning the first semester of my freshman year. Now that I’m beginning the final semester of my senior year, these posts, in a way, frame my college experience. Since that time, I’ve changed my major and my career plans: initially, I pursued majors in English and Communication in hopes of becoming a legal correspondent on broadcast television. In May, I will have completed a B.S. in Chemistry and will be going on to earn my Ph.D. (I was recently accepted at Columbia and Rice; I’m still waiting to hear from other schools before I make a decision), hopefully in inorganic materials chemistry. Now I envision myself working for an industrial chemical company, becoming a patent lawyer, or possibly starting my own business. I’ve recently become fascinated with a chemical sub discipline known as molecular gastronomy: these food chemists study the science of taste, and they come up with new ways to cook and present well-known foods. I can definitely see myself dabbling in this type of chemistry in the future.

I kept my second major in Communication because, frankly, I’m a pop culture nerd. As much as I love science, my COMM classes are a sanctuary: they allow me to watch Netflix and browse the internet without feeling bad about myself–these are texts I’m required to study! I’ve also found that studying communication has given me a leg up in my chemistry coursework: honing my writing skills for COMM classes has helped me churn out lab reports efficiently and has significantly cut down my proofreading time.

I can’t imagine being a chemist before the internet, let alone before computer software. I’m starting to realize that I take many technologies for granted. When I go to write a chemistry review paper, I can access all of the research I need from the comfort of my own bed. The internet has opened up so many pathways of communication and collaboration for scientists around the globe. Chemists in Japan can now instantly share their findings with collaborators in the United States, for example, and I’m sure this has contributed to the rapid development of several technologies over the past 15 years. Even in lab every day, I use complex machinery that is automated. All I have to do is prepare a sample properly, enter some settings into a computer, and push a few buttons. I can even set the instrument up to run multiple samples while I take a Facebook break.

Again, as much as I love chemistry, I feel like I have gotten behind the times on software that most people my age know how to use. One of my goals before I graduate is to be comfortable using Photoshop. I think of myself as generally comfortable with technology, but I could be savvier. I want to take full advantage of the various technologies available to me and become a more empowered user.

I imagine that as a chemistry graduate student, a few new technologies will become available to me over the five year course of my studies. I am hoping that search engine software for scientific literature will become more advanced, as better access to published literature will aid my research efforts. I also imagine that molecular visualization techniques will become more advanced; already we have recently seen the development of 3D printing as a molecular visualization tool as well as computational software that can model the energies of molecular interactions. In ten years, I see myself continuing to adopt new technologies for research as they become available, but knowing programming languages may be the most useful skill of all: I’d like to be able to diagnose software problems with instrumentation as they come up; I imagine this skill will be practical in my future workplace. At worst, if I become a professor, I’ll be able to design an awesome website for my research group.

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