Well since it’s technically saturday and I’m hopped up on too much caffeine to sleep I thought I should write.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about (yes its one of these blogs again) what being a chemist means. Dictionary dot com defines it as a specialist in chemistry (Dictionary dot com defines chemistry as “the science that deals with the composition and properties of substances and various elementary forms of matter”). This meaning is irrelevant, because it doesn’t get to the essence of what a chemist truly is. The definition gives no explicit or even implicit idea to what skills, requirements, or personality types a chemist has. With this definition anything from a plant to an ant can be a chemist.
In my search for a better definition I think back on the things I’ve heard from professors and graduate students. One thing I remember was that for advanced chemistry lab (a 1credit chemistry requirement) students are asked to look through a journal of chemistry papers and told they need to make a compound, they must make there own procedure, catalyst, isolate the product they want from several minor or major products, run quantitative test, and purify a sample all on there own. This, in no uncertain terms, is just nuts.
I also replayed another moment in my head. It was about how the chemistry professors decide if the general chemistry final is too hard. It was said that if the professor and the graduate students couldn’t finish the final in about 10 minuets it was too hard. If your jaw isn’t already on the floor let me explain exactly what this means; this means that the final that takes students 2 hours (120 minuets) can be taken by a chemist in about 8.33 percent of the time. This just goes to show the legitimacy of a chemistry degree and the mind boggling hurtles that you over come mentally to get to that level.
I wondered if being a chemist meant you would just be good at chemistry or if it meant something more. To be a chemist, by ACS (American chemical society) standards at least, you would have to take organic and bio chemistry. In these classes you gain a lot of insight into how organic molecules are used buy biological creatures, how proteins and enzymes work, so you gain some biological background. You would also have to take three semesters worth of physics and math in addition to physical chemistry, which embeds the physical and mathematical background in quite deep. I also think that talent in chemistry can be applied to practically anything. I think this because all subjects have rules, and being able to memorize rules, exceptions, and being able to apply them is what makes someone good at chemistry.
I see the difference in skill level between me and the professors and graduate students. This difference is etched in stone and clear as day, but like any young aspiring chemist I know I can change the composition of this theoretical stone so that this difference becomes smaller and smaller. I think a better definition of a chemist would be: someone who has an affinity for change, with a vast understanding of science, who has obtained mastery of basic chemistry concepts; and can independently produce, purify, and test solutions.
I think if the word chemist was defined that way it would make aspiring chemist even more motivated. If those words were attached legitimately to your job title, you would want to live up to them all the time. There would be no ambiguity you would either fit the definition or just quit. But personally, I think it’s just too legit’ to quit.
PS. you should try and make your own definition for your career/soon to be career that you think is specific and captures the essence of the person who does it.