As you’re now no doubt well aware, after Carmen Drahl’s post, chemistry blogger See Arr Oh of Just Like Cooking (and frequent guest blogger with The Haystack) has challenged the chemistry blognoscienti to a #ChemCoach Chemistry Carnival, in honor of the 25th National Chemistry Week, which happens to coincide with my 25th anniversary as an ACS member. (Coincidence—or conspiracy…?)
My current job.
I’m a medicinal chemist at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore, MD. We’re a nonprofit entity doing drug discovery, basic science and much else. We’re have an association with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and are located adjacent to the campus. Naturally, as a medicinal chemist, I’m part of the drug discovery division, designing and synthesizing small molecules as potential therapies for central nervous system disorders, such as schizophrenia. Before working here, I was employed in Big Pharma for the majority of my career, working on similar targets, as it happens.
What I do in a standard “work day.”
There’s no such thing. The institute is small, and just getting off the ground, so we all wear a number of different hats in a given day. Most of my time is spent designing and making compounds and then analyzing the data those compounds generate to inform further design modifications. Classic med chem. But I’m also partly responsible for ordering supplies, some equipment maintenance, and I serve as Chemical Hygiene Officer for the institute—in this last role I have a fair amount of responsibility regarding safety, which I take seriously.
What kind of schooling / training / experience helped me get there?
I have a master’s in organic chemistry and bachelor’s degrees in both chemical engineering and theatre arts. What do you mean, I was unfocused? It was all according to plan—a circuitous, inscrutable plan. After grad school, I went right to a synthetic organic position at a pharmaceuticals company. I had originally planned on working in industry for a few years, then going back to grad school and working toward a PhD. Life happened, and I never looked back. Even though I don’t have a doctorate, I was incredibly fortunate, and given a rare opportunity to move to a team leader position while working in Big Pharma.
How does chemistry inform my work?
Chemistry is central to everything I do, but medicinal chemistry requires having a level of understanding of biological mechanisms (which is still chemistry—that’ll be our little secret). Training, formal and informal, in areas like biology, pharmacology, toxicology, et. al. was undertaken while in industry. I’ve always had a broad base of interests (see educational background above), so medicinal chemistry is a good fit for me. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried, but I just followed my interests (much as Christine wrote about last year), and it’s worked out well for me.
Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about my career
As a startup nonprofit, we’ve received many generous donations of equipment and reagents (and scientists, it would seem—including myself) from Big Pharma as it downsizes and closes research sites. During week two in my new job, my boss and I rented a truck and went to the site of a recently-closed small biotech to pick up glassware we had purchased at auction. The chemistry lab had about twelve hoods or so, and there was glassware everywhere—some organized and sorted, some not. Many of the round-bottomed flasks still had notebook page numbers, tare weights and/or chemical structures written on them with a Sharpie. We packed up everything we could and left. I felt like a grave robber.
Well, now, that was a downer. Okay, time to regroup. On a lighter note, a bonus Brush with Greatness—one of my theatre arts advisors was Bill Pullman.
Happy Mole Day!
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