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The life and times of a younger member volunteer and medicinal chemist.

Biologists versus Chemists

I was at an interview recently, where we were discussing how I, as a medicinal chemist, would be able to carry out the relatively complicated biochemical experiments I had proposed.

The lead interviewer turned to me and said "You know, chemists think biology is easy. They think it takes next to no time, whereas in fact it takes many hours of optimisation and effort. Sometimes, if the cells or animal and co-operating there is nothing you can do!"

I responded with "And biologists think the exact same about chemistry!"

But I have been thinking about it since. I've spent my career working at the interface of chemistry and biology. My degree covered the theoretical aspects of most of the biochemical assays I now spend my time interpreting for SAR trends! I've even gotten my hands wet (literally, cells tend to grow in water) doing some tissue culture and MTT assays.

But I will admit I still admire the patience of the biologist. Waiting 24 hours to get an answer, three weeks for cells to reach confluence, months for an animal survival study to complete. Taking time points at EXACTLY (not something a chemist ever is when it comes to time) every hour, even when it's way past anybodies idea of bed-time!

On the other hand, us chemists suffer from the sheer unpredicability of our work. Whilst a biologist will plan his day, week and month meticulously, and walk around with a timer that beeps mid-coffee, a chemist will plan his day and week only to have it undone by a reaction that has not gone to completion. Or the tricky column that takes forever. Or.... insert frustrating example here!

My experience suggest that we have totally different brains: chemists act on instinct, making gut decisions on when to work the reaction up, whether to flush the column now or give it another 2 L of solvent. Should I add just a drop of water to my methanol solution to see if she crashes out...? Biologists are much more, predicable. And I mean that in a good way. Mathematical, methodological.

Maybe it boils down to the fact that they need to statistically prove their results, whilst all I need is one good NMR! In any case, I appreciate their efforts, for I'm not sure I'd be able to cope! Give me cyanogen bromide, phosgene, cyanide and diazomethane any day... all pales when compared to malaria, HIV and Ebola!

Here's to you, biologists! There but for the grace of God go Ismiley

PS - I didn't get that job in the end. Maybe if I'd given them this spiel instead...
Posted by David Foley on Jan 11, 2013 7:48 PM GMT

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