ACS: Slow writer (part 3), or, Go Phoenixes!

Mar 27, 2019

I’m not sure whether this technically counts as an ACS-related post, because I wasn’t actually at the conference this day. But, I was at the University of Chicago, which would have been unlikely if I hadn’t already been in Chicago for the meeting. And, this blog may be a bit rambling, which is due to the fact that I left my brain in Chicago, so it all comes together…

One extra fun thing about visiting the campus relates to some family history: my grandfather wanted to be a chemist, and actually spent some time as a graduate student at the University of Chicago before dropping out due to lack of funds. It was very interesting to think of what the campus must have looked like when he was there, or what he might have worked on. It also brings to mind some comments that I’ve heard in passing over the last couple of years; to sum up, it’s the idea that scientific results only have to age by a certain amount before people forget about them, attempt the same (or almost the same) experiments again, and publish them as new information. Perhaps some poor graduate student will get their Ph.D. by figuring out what the length of time ‘x’ is that governs this phenomenon (and then the next poor student will write up the same report ‘x’ years later, and so on, and so on…)

While I was treated to some fascinating stories by Jun Yin, Chuan He, Sergey Kozmin, Joe Piccirilli, and David Lilley (who was also there visiting), what I most want to discuss here is the interesting lunch I had. Dr. Kozmin took me over to the faculty club, and specifically to the ‘chemistry table.’ Not surprisingly, perhaps, this consisted of a long table (~20-25 seats) where chemistry professors came and ate lunch, with later arrivals sitting further down the table, and so on, and so on. While I’m sure most departmental topics were curbed by my presence, there was lots of general discussion and just a sense of familiarity. On the way back to the chemistry department, I was chatting with Dr. Kozmin and our lunchtime neighbor, Robert Haselkorn, about this practice, and they both indicated that these lunches are a great way to discuss anything related to departmental affairs, and that in the end, the chemistry faculty don’t need to have very many official faculty meetings because everything gets sorted out at lunch (or, perhaps, that issues that are raised in formal meetings but have been previously discussed rise from the ashes of the lunchtime conversations, much like their own beloved mascot?). I think this is a lovely idea, as it provides an opportunity to discuss things in a more casual way, and with less of a time limit (although I guess it’s possible that if you don’t go to lunch, you miss out on the decision-making).

I’m all for casual and comfortable discussions. Do you all know of other examples where faculty (or industrial teams, or similar) get together in a similar way? Do you wish that there were more opportunities like this, or do you like more formal meetings where everything’s on the record? Or at least can you recommend some good faculty clubs? After all, I’ve got visits to plan…

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)

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