Choosing chemistry

There are several reasons people choose to do certain things with their lives, I think. Reasons, such as enjoying the company of people who also do this thing. Being naturally talented at that thing, or being gifted at several skills suitable to that particular course in life, are popular reasons to choose one thing over another. Enjoyment, an excellent motivator for choice, often follows naturally from success due to one’s talents, but may follow from any number of human experiences. A more difficult to grasp incentive is the feeling of fulfilment over one’s life choices. For science in particular, some people may be driven by a desire to discover, a profound curiosity in the world around us, or a simple need to understand. A love for problem-solving is certainly a great motivator for the pursuit of science.

For me, choosing chemistry was a mixture of many of the reasons above. Raised by two scientists, my curiosity in the world was encouraged and liberally fed through my childhood. Talented at school, I was spurred on by the praise of teachers and sparkling grades. My chemistry teachers were uniformly excellent throughout my school years — talented at teaching and earnestly enthusiastic about their subject matter. In high school, my delight at solving the puzzle-like problems in chemistry class was what really kept me enjoying the subject. High school was where love for chemistry truly took root in my heart, I think. Those last years were when my teacher first began talking about chemistry in more than abstract terms. I learnt how to draw molecules, paving way to an ability to visualise chemicals. I learnt how to count molecules, mathematically, through a concept known as the “mole.” Through these relatively simple concepts, and many others, chemistry became a tangible thing in the world around me. And I was in love.
A chemistry still life_01

Some chemists like to call chemistry the “central science,” with respect to the three well-established scientific fields of biology, chemistry and physics. Physics deals with energy, and biology deals with life. Chemistry deals with matter, which is everything that is physical, tangible — real, if you will. As a science of matter, chemistry bridges physics and biology, and, because matter is ubiquitous, is arguably important to the study of both. I will leave antimatter to the physicists, though.

I take great delight in looking around me, knowing that everything I see is made of atoms and molecules. Everything around me is chemistry. Everything “natural,” like grass and trees and people, and everything synthetic, like my phone, computer, my eyeglasses — they are all a part of chemistry. As I learn more about chemistry, I learn more about the building blocks of everything around me. To me, that is infinitely exciting, fulfilling and beautiful. Learning and doing chemistry makes me feel somehow more deeply connected to the world around me. It is a feeling which keeps me passionate and excited about chemistry — and more than that, it makes me want to share that feeling.

It is heartbreaking to me how negative the current public image of chemistry is. Consider how even the term “chemical” is perceived. It evokes an instant vision of smoking chimneys, car exhausts and bottles of poisonous cleaning agents. While I wish to dispel this misconception of chemicals, at the very core of it, I want to show you, the reader, something beautiful and exciting. I am writing this to spread the joy of chemistry.

Welcome to Chemistry Intersection.

If you wish to contact me, e-mail me at chemistryintersection@gmail.com. Follow my twitter account @Lady_Beaker for tweets in the daily life of a PhD student in chemistry.

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6 thoughts on “Choosing chemistry

  1. Hey! I’m currently an undergraduate chemistry major and could not agree more with everything you said! As someone who used to love math but thought I hated the sciences, I was wholeheartedly surprised when I ended up loving my chemistry classes in high school. I loved the how the concepts could be demonstrated in labs, the heavy use of/ reliance on mathematics, and the fact that there was and is still so much to learn in research. I’m still deciding between a research or pre-med track and would love to hear your insights! Will definitely be following your posts, and would love if you’d check out our blog when you have the chance 🙂
    -Em from Things That Come in Threes
    https://thingsthatcomeinthrees.wordpress.com/about/

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    • Hi Em! I’m glad you could identify with my post. Chemistry is obviously super special to me too. As for choosing between pre-med and research, I would ask if you’ve ever tried research before. A lot of universities do undergraduate research projects and they can be a fantastic way to gauge if that’s for you.

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  2. I found your blog by fortunate accident, and am interested in what you have to say. I hope I can enter a long future in chemistry, but as a (soon to be) second-year undergraduate, I am uncertain about many things. Currently I’m terrified thinking about being employed and/or getting paid serf wages for a long time when I graduate, considering what I’ve heard from people commenting on the chemical job market. I plan to take my education to the highest level possible, so I suppose I can’t focus too much on the money, but it is something to keep on my mind, right?

    I feel like I should have a better understanding of this, but I really don’t. I’m not sure how I manage paying for the cost of living and graduate school when I get there. Is it possible to handle a job along with studying full-time?

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    • I had a part-time job during my undergraduate, but when undertaking postgraduate studies, if you’re full-time, you’re ill advised to have a part-time job. We do get a lot of opportunities to make a little cash on the side though: like demonstrating for undergraduate labs, marking exams, that sort of thing. It pays a bit of extra money on top of our scholarship. I would investigate whether this is true also in your part of the world.

      Otherwise, I made the decision that following on studying chemistry, which makes me happy, and interacting with academically minded people, whom I identify with most in this world, was more important to me than money. You’ll have to think about it yourself.

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  3. I chose chemistry not because I was naturally good at it nor because I found it incredibly interesting. I chose it because I found it difficult. It’s not at all intuitive for me, but that’s why it’s so compelling. I found my struggle through undergrad chemistry rewarding because it demonstrated that I could persist with something without relying on innate talent or an intuitive grasp of the concepts. The old adage ‘do what you love’ is not always correct – it may lead to happiness but not satisfaction, two concepts that are often (myopically) equated! That said, I’ve just started a PhD in organic chemistry and I think I’ve gone in a bit too deep…

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    • Don’t judge yourself by the start of a PhD! All of us feel like we’re no good for anything at the beginning. It’s taken me up to 6 months until I finally feel like I sort of belong here – sometimes. Stick to your guns, you got this far, you belong there!

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