Career Preparation for Conferences

acsundergrad:

A great entry from the ACS Careers blog on preparing for conferences. If you’re going to ACS Dallas, you should read this post!

Originally posted on ACS Careers Blog:

Attending professional conferences is both a benefit and a duty for most scientists.  You get to catch up on the latest developments in your field, seek input from your colleagues on your own professional projects, and get a break from the daily routine of the lab.  However, with a little preparation, conferences can also be a great place to advance your professional career and increase your standing in the scientific community.   Here are a few things you should do before leave for the airport, to make sure you get the take advantage of every opportunity the event has to offer.

Study the Program – Technical and Social

Read through the conference program before your leave, and determine which technical sessions, and which social events, you want to attend.  Some may require early registration and payment, but others will be more flexible.  Add the drop-in sessions to your calendar, so you…

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Spectroscopy at Home

Hello again from the secret ACS demonstration laboratory! Today, we have a demo video for you to help explain one of the mainstays of analytical chemistry: spectroscopy. Use this demonstration to show how we scientists know if a substance is present in a sample, and how much of that substance is present.

From: metryq.deviantart.com/art/fluorescing-tonic-water-416559283

From: metryq.deviantart.com/art/fluorescing-tonic-water-416559283

To perform this demonstration, you will need:

  • a highlighter (we used the bright yellow Sharpie brand)
  • A bottle of tonic water
  • a purple laser (do NOT point this at anyone’s face!) (We bought ours here)
  • a small glass vial (plastic will do)
  • 3 clear plastic cups
  • water (tap water will do)
  • goggles

Safety Notes:

Although you’re only using household items, you’ll be performing this as a part of a demo show, so you should be wearing your safety goggles. Even if you’re performing this demo by itself, wear your goggles anyway- its a science thing, and we only do science things if safety is addressed.

Also, don’t shine the laser in anyone’s face.

Procedure:

spectroscopy from ACS Undergraduate Programs on Vimeo.

To perform this demo, start by explaining that scientists often need to know what is present in our samples. One of the ways we do this is through the interaction of light and and radiated energy, through a process called spectroscopy.

Experiment 1: Light can show us if a substance is present in a material.

Demonstrate that a laser, shined through a vial of tap water, leaves no trail.  This is because nothing in the tap water fluoresces when hit by the laser.

Take your highlighter, and dip the tip of the highlighter into the water. Demonstrate that now the laser now fluoresces the liquid due to the addition of material from the highlighter.  Explain how, just as the laser reveals the presence of the highlighter, scientists can use other forms of radiant energy to detect certain chemical compounds.

Experiment 2: Light can show us how much of a substance is present in a material.

Start by filling one of the plastic cups with water, one with tonic water, and one with a 1:4 ratio of tonic water to water. Ask your audience to predict which glass will glow the brightest when the laser is shined through it. Show the laser shining in each glass, and explain that the more tonic water is present, the brighter the laser will fluoresce the liquid.  Explain that, using similar techniques, analytical chemists can determine the amount of substances present, such as the amount of chlorine in tap water or the amount of sugar in cola.

Take a look at our video for our take on this. Feel free to comment about how you think it could be done better!

My Undergraduate Research: Carrots in the Laboratory

From: labsaints.com/carrots-nutrition-facts/

From: labsaints.com/carrots-nutrition-facts/

During my second year at college, I needed to decide on the type of research I wanted to conduct. I had heard a little bit of chit-chat about the different types of research that were offered, but did not really understand what any of these projects would entail. When I heard that joining a research project was a requirement to graduate, I started to ask professors about what was offered. Some of the topics included characterization of fluorescein, chemical composition of rocks, and working with biofuels. While any one of these topics would have fulfilled the research requirement, none of them particularly sparked my interest. Finally I approached my advisor, Dr. Michele Harris, and explained that I was looking for research experience. She told me a little about her own research involving biotransformations and a reduction reaction, none of which I really understood, but for some reason her work with carrots stayed with me.

At the time, I had only taken freshman chemistry and had been in organic chemistry for only a few weeks, so I wasn’t very fluent in biochemical terminology. Despite not fully understanding the details of her research, I decided to join Dr. Harris’s research team. When I considered my other options, carrots seemed more appealing.

So by this time, I’m sure you’re wondering: What exactly are carrots doing in the laboratory? Our research is based in biotransformations. For those of you who are not very familiar with the topic, biotransformation is the conversion of one chemical to another inside the body. However, these reactions can also occur in nature using whole-cell catalysts like carrots. These types of reactions are extremely valuable to the pharmaceutical industry in production of new drugs. But just as importantly, biotransformation reactions are a part of the chemistry field known as green chemistry.

From: climateinc.org/2012/01/green-chemistry-and-clean-energy/

From: climateinc.org/2012/01/green-chemistry-and-clean-energy/

Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances. On a broader scale, the use of green chemistry has environmental, health, and economic impacts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, green chemicals usually degrade into non-toxic products or can be recycled and recovered for further use. These types of reactions, such as biotransformations, also lead to higher yields and consume smaller amounts of starting materials. Research in this field eliminates the need to ensure the proper disposal of hazardous wastes by eliminating the production of them. This results in reduced costs in research expenses. Also, eliminating toxins in the environment creates healthier lives for all living things. This is one of the reasons why this research environment was appealing to me.

Now that you understand the basis of our research, let’s get into some specifics. The biotransformation reaction deals with the stereospecific conversion of benzofuran-2-yl methylketone to 1S-1(2-benzofuranyl)-ethanol using carrots as a catalyst. Once the reaction was perfected, we focused on the purity of our product through optical rotation. Literature values revealed that the optical purity of the resulting alcohol should be about –16. After improvement of purification techniques, this value was successfully produced. Upon performing additional studies, we found that only four grams of carrots are necessary to have a complete conversion of ketone to alcohol. Also, we found that with repeated use of a single carrot sample, only two complete conversions are possible.

carrot transformationWe also performed some antibacterial studies that have opened up the idea of antifungal research with our resulting alcohol. We also plan to incorporate the use of cellulase to enhance the possibility of fully characterizing the protein on the surface of the carrot that facilitates this reaction. Because this conversion results in a stereospecific product, this biotransformation reaction has a great impact on the pharmaceutical industry. Stereospecific alcohols can be used as drug derivatives and lead to the production of new drugs or better engineered drugs. The fact that the reaction eliminates the use of harsh chemicals is also a plus. Pharmaceutical companies generally seek to produce single-enantiomer drugs in order for those drugs to react as desired in the body with fewer side effects. With the use of carrots as a catalyst, the process is more natural and cost-efficient, using a biotransformation reaction.

After being involved in this research for a little over a year, I can say that it has greatly impacted my life. Just making connections with other students and my professors has been of great benefit. Also, my lab technique has greatly improved since beginning research. I’ve become more independent in the lab and arrive more prepared for each lab period. My current research has really gotten me interested in pharmaceutical research and starting a career in pharmaceutical formulation and production. Regardless of your major, I encourage all of you to participate in some type of research. Some of you may see it as merely a graduation requirement, but participating in research is actually an opportunity to apply your knowledge and further define your career goals through experience.

My name is Jasmine Moreland and I am a junior majoring in biochemistry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. After obtaining my biochemistry degree, I plan to enter pharmacy school. My hobbies include watching movies, arts and crafts, and listening to music.

My name is Jasmine Moreland and I am a junior majoring in biochemistry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. After obtaining my biochemistry degree, I plan to enter pharmacy school. My hobbies include watching movies, arts and crafts, and listening to music.

2013, End of the Year Wrap Up

Happy Holidays, Loyal Readers!

From: scontent-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc1/q71/s720x720/1457545_400995086699764_805290069_n.jpg

We’ve had a great time getting to know you, our readers and our writers, and we look forward to a great 2014, and to hopefully meeting and working with new writers, maybe even you (Seriously, do you want to write for us?  Let us know!). And here are a few things for you to look forward to as well!

  1. The 245th National Meeting in Dallas!
    The American Chemical Society (ACS) heads to the Big D for its 247th National Meeting. We’ll be featuring a robust Undergraduate Program, which we encourage you to attend!
    Dallas_transition
  2. Apply for a Community Interactions Grant or an Innovative Activities Grant
    Does your chapter perform work in the community, like chemistry demonstrations at local schools or water monitoring of local streams? If so, we encourage you to research and apply for our two grants, the Innovative Activities Grant and the Community Interactions Grant. These grants fund new activities and outreach to minority and economically disadvantaged schools, respectively. Let us fund your plans next year!
  3. Apply for an Internship
    Many internships have their application due dates in mid-January. If you haven’t already started applying for internships or REUs for this summer, you should start now. You can use our Get Experience site to jump-start your summer plans. Hurry, the good ones go fast!

The Past Year:

We’ve had a great year on the blog. The views have been counted, the critics ignored. Here are your favorite posts of 2013:

  1. A Cup of Coffee for the Chemists – Tyler Brisbin takes us through the chemistry of coffee from picking, to roasting, and even the process that decaffeinates the beans.  Ever seen raw caffeine?  You may wish you hadn’t.
  2. The Chemistry of Tattoo Ink – Christine Dunne explores the ins, outs, and questionable content of the chemistry of tattoos.  She also explains the regulation (or lack thereof!) of the current tattoo ink market.  And of course, what would a post like this be without some cool geeky science tattoos?
  3. Are You Loco for Four Loko? – We were lucky enough to have input from a Berkeley student publication, The Science of Wellness, for a few posts this year, and this one was the crowd favorite.  Sophie Shevick described the problems of mixing caffeine and alcohol.  Hmm, all of these posts are about Caffeine or Tattoos, should we take a hint here?
  4. High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar - Ruby Schuler, another Science of Wellness author, breaks down the myth of high fructose corn syrup.  So does this mean Twinkies are still bad for you?
  5. The Chemistry of Science Fiction: Isaac Asimov’s Chemical Tales- Rounding out our top 5 list, Gursu Culcu takes us deep into the world of science fiction and describes how Isaac Asimov used chemical principles to invent a substance that dissolves before the solvent is added.  Interested?  There’s also a goose that lays golden eggs!

IMG_2194Thanks for reading. Since starting this blog last year, we’ve had a great time getting to know our readers, and we look forward to getting to know you more in 2014. We wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday season.

Sincerely,

Nicole and Chris
Reactions Blog Editors

NCW Pictures from Our ACS Student Chapters

National Chemistry Week has come and gone, but we’ll always have the memories, right?  Oh, we’ll also have these great pictures you said we could use!  Got other pictures for us?  Email us and let us know!  We’ll add to this post as we receive your pictures.

Nick L Mole, the CSU-Fresno ACS Student Chapter Mascot, celebrates his 3rd birthday.

Nick L Mole, the CSU-Fresno ACS Student Chapter Mascot, celebrates his 3rd birthday.

There was a pinata at Nick's birthday.  I think our invitation got lost in the mail....

There was a pinata at Nick’s birthday. I think our invitation got lost in the mail….

TCU had a demo show at the Fort Worth Museum of Science.  Also, love the science tank tops.

TCU had a demo show at the Fort Worth Museum of Science. Also, love the science tank tops.

TCU students performing demonstrations.  Nice use of goggles!

TCU students performing demonstrations. Nice use of goggles!

Combating Imposter Syndrome — A Young Chemist’s Guide

Last winter, I had no idea that starting my own research project would create the most frustrating, confidence-destroying experience of my undergraduate career. Like many typical STEM students, I previously measured my success by how well I performed in class. The courses I took as a rising biochemistry major left me feeling like I had a knack for chemistry, and I certainly had the grades to prove it.

Blogger and ecologist Dr. Jacqueline Gill was able to “cure” her own imposter syndrome. Read about her story here. From: http://contemplativemammoth.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/how-i-cured-my-imposter-syndrome/

Blogger and ecologist Dr. Jacqueline Gill was able to “cure” her own imposter syndrome. Read about her story here.
From: http://contemplativemammoth.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/how-i-cured-my-imposter-syndrome/

That feeling disappeared shortly after I took on the role of a student researcher. My advisor gave me a list of overall synthesis projects; I picked the one that looked most interesting; and (to paraphrase) she said, “Go.” I spent one month diligently poring through chemistry journals and developed a method with her guidance. But despite my best efforts, five or six mediocre trial runs and sloppy analytical analysis led me to believe that I was clueless in a real laboratory setting. Sharing space with experienced, independent students made matters worse. I quickly succumbed to the notion that I had no place being a chemist. This notion, experienced by many young adults across STEM fields, has been appropriately coined “imposter syndrome.”

Imposter syndrome can leave a talented person believing that he or she lacks competence and useful skills, despite evidence that says otherwise. The phenomenon is not limited to any age group, discipline of study, or gender, making imposter syndrome fairly universal. However, a high frequency does occur in young adults beyond their undergraduate studies, whether it is graduate school or a new job in their respective fields. Successful women tend to have these experiences more than their male counterparts, though some studies suggest that this trend is somewhat dated. (see references at bottom)

P.R. Clance and S. Imes studied high-achieving women in the late 1970s, and through their work the term “imposter syndrome” was born. Clance and Imes state that “certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping” may be the main culprits to blame. Women in science are becoming more of a societal norm, but stereotyping is admittedly still present.

Instead I would like to focus on what causes young chemists to lose confidence after beginning their careers. In his essay “The importance of stupidity in scientific research,” Dr. Martin A. Schwartz hypothesizes that undergraduates have a difficult time adjusting to graduate school because doing well on tests means “you get to feel smart” — not so much in a Ph.D. program. He describes how he initially struggled with performing research and sought cut-and-dried answers from faculty members, many of whom did not have clear solutions. One day he had an epiphany:

“That’s when it hit me: Nobody [had the answer]. That’s why it was a research problem.”

According to Dr. Schwartz, good research is supposed to be extremely difficult and an exploration of the unknown, and it is up to you, the future investigator, to grapple with this exploration — the very thing that many undergraduates don’t experience. Accepting these changes may be a defining moment for many graduate students who continue their programs, as they are less likely to drop out from feeling constantly “stupid” or failing to produce good results. Based on Dr. Schwartz’s findings, students seeking higher degrees may not be the only ones who suffer from a false “stupidity” complex. Young chemists who choose to forgo graduate school must also become accustomed to a “different ball game” than college.

Imposter Syndrome Prevention

Many articles out there include ways to cope with imposter syndrome. Popular mantras include “feeling insecure is natural and normal,” “stay positive,” or become a mentor, all of which can help boost confidence.  These same articles unfortunately lack any solution to prevent imposter syndrome before it gets to the point of giving up on a graduate program or quitting a job. A solution I propose, although less of a direct fix, and more a method of alleviation, is this: academic institutions could make independent student research more accessible to undergraduates.

I don’t mean applying to a lab and working for faculty with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are the real “brains” behind a project. The type of research

experiences that undergraduates could be receiving are those that best prepare them for the realistic demands that come with life in research or industry, albeit with plenty of faculty supervision.  Many schools already do this, and they do it well. I consider projects in which undergraduates work independently to solve scientific problems within a larger group effort are not only a good way to minimize costs, but also true simulations of life outside of college. An important advantage of having this opportunity as an undergraduate is that it provides a “short-term, risk-free” environment to decide if a life in chemistry is a good fit. In my case, an independent project allowed me to become acquainted with that dumb feeling Dr. Schwartz was talking about and to see what research is actually like.  And of course, if your school doesn’t have a program that satisfies you, you should definitely apply for summer research!

Nicole Swope is a third-year student at Saginaw Valley State University majoring in biochemistry, with a minor in Spanish. Aside from being a chemistry student, Nicole is currently conducting her research in hybrid antibiotics synthesis under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Brouet. Her favorite pastimes include ballet, cooking, and watching hockey.

 Nicole Swope is a third-year student at Saginaw Valley State University majoring in biochemistry, with a minor in Spanish. Aside from being a chemistry student, Nicole is currently conducting her research in hybrid antibiotics synthesis under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Brouet. Her favorite pastimes include ballet, cooking, and watching hockey.

(By the way, if you’re looking for an undergraduate research activity, try our Get Experience internship database- The Editors)

The turning point in my own battle with imposter syndrome happened after my regional ACS conference in May 2013. I walked into the undergraduate poster session with a crude board of PowerPoint slides with limited results. Forced to stand next to complete professional posters from world-renowned research institutions, I felt ashamed to be there and was grilled by at least 20 chemists about my work. Much to my surprise, my project took second place that day. For the longest time I believed that I was just lucky and presented myself well, and then I had a realization of my own — maybe the reason I won that award is because I earned it.


Clance, P.R.; Imes, S. The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.  Psychother.-Theor. Res. 1978, 15, 1-8.

Schwartz, M.A. The importance of stupidity in scientific research. J Cell Sci. 2008, 121, 1771.

We Want to See Your National Chemistry Week Pictures!

Hi ACS Student Chapters.  You know what time it is: National Chemistry Week!  And we want to see your pictures!  We know you’ve got neat things planned, like Various Periodic Tables:

Or fun demo shows:

NCW pictureOr…other things (we’re not 100% sure what’s happening in some of these pictures, but it looks like fun!):

 

So email us your NCW pictures, and we’ll post our favorites!  Happy National Chemistry Week, and Happy Mole Day!