As it’s my first blog post I thought I’d do a little introduction. I’m a second year chemist with a passion for organic chemistry and maths. In my free time, I love watching foreign language TV shows and films as well as going to dance classes and netball training in an attempt to improve my fitness! Although I loved my first year as a chemist at York, this year has been full of new challenges already and I’m really enjoying it so far. Now back to my “Day in the Life”…
I’m afraid to say in this case the title isn’t completely accurate. Sorry! Labs take a up whole day a week, but before you get your goggles and lab coat on you have to do pre-lab tests. Usually these are just reagent quantity calculations that you do 3 or 4 days before the day, but it’s a great opportunity to have a read through of your lab script and suss out your next experiment. I like to take the time to write out my hazards, procedure and make sure I understand exactly what I need to do with a nice cup of tea! When I do get into labs it’s down to business. Donning my white coat I head into the cool, calm rows of fume hoods to meet up with my lab partner. Each set of lab courses are completely different, but generally you have a briefing on the day before diving straight into the practical chemistry. This is where it gets interesting!
When I started university I had only done the hugely dull titration experiments that make up the vast majority of both GCSE and A-level practicals, and absolutely despised the idea of being in labs all day. Now, within a short 12 months, I find myself confidently working with nitrogen environments, pyrophoric materials and a whole host of weird looking glassware! This is all down to the technicians and graduate teaching assistants who are there are on hand to help you through and answer all your questions. In my case, this ends up being some completely daft question about which tap is water or whether my ice bath is big enough, but even so they answer and allow me to get on with the real chemistry. Having them on hand really helps make you feel safe and assured in what you’re doing which is exactly what you need, especially in first year. My favourite (and current) labs are the advanced synthesis labs; making a product from scratch before analysing it to check purity and getting an overall yield. It feels so good after a long day of labs to have succeeded in making a nice, pure product with great yield (although sadly with synthesis this doesn’t always happen!).
It’s important to have a balanced view on labs. Some days, writing this same post, I would tell you that labs are the absolute worst day of the week. This would be after a bad lab day, and everyone has one every now and then. Sometimes you can never seem to weigh anything out right, put everything in the wrong flask at the wrong time and end up with a brown coloured sludge instead of the perfect white crystals that everyone else has. Sometimes the specific IR machine you use will tell you that all you made at the end of the day was some unknown and a awful of a lot of water, which may stress you out a huge amount, but that’s one day. Some days I would tell you labs are heaven. Everything turned out beautifully as some sort of lab-deity smiled down on me and I floated out of the doors at 1 pm, after making the perfect product. But this wouldn’t be accurate either. Labs are a mix of stress and confidence, as you learn how to safely and proficiently work as a professional chemist, and this is completely normal. I absolutely adore going to labs, even if I do have a bad day sometimes, and learning all these new practicals has encouraged me to think about heading into research career in my future. So my advice would be to ignore the horror stories and just see for yourself!
Despite it being a hectic week (despite it only being Wednesday!) I have managed to fit in going
to some dance classes this week, namely Body-Con and Zumba. Body-Con is a mix of Pilates, yoga and ballet, which sounds bizarre, but is a really fun way to improve flexibility and strength muscles. Even though I’m really not bendy, I’m somehow managing to keep up even if every time the instructor tells me to try and get in the splits I can’t help rolling my eyes. It’s just never going to happen I’m afraid! I can dream I guess…
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