Hi, I'm also a second year. I found it very hard to judge what kind of progress I should have been making in first year, as my supervisor was almost completely absent. I always put in a 40 hour week, occasionally a bit more, but too much over that and I get sloppy.
It isn't about spending as much time in the lab as possible - in first year i would maybe put 4 reactions on a week, but by not planning them correctly I wasn't getting useful data. I found that taking it slower and planning the reaction out actually helped me to progress faster. I am a big fan of putting reactions on overnight, even if they are complete in 4/5 hrs (assuming they are stable of course
). It means I can work up a reaction when I get in in the morning, get analysis done and have results by lunch. Then I spend a hour or two reading lit and deciding if my next step can go ahead based on the results, and put the reaction on before I leave.
I avoid column chromatography if possible, and when working up a new reaction that has an anyway solid crude product, i'll always try recrystallisation first, or if its an oil, short path distillation.
As for your reactions, it sounds like you need to plan your scaling better. If its A -> B 70 mol %, B-> C 30 mol % and you need 5 mols of C then you need start from ~ 24 mmols of A. If its a case of you can get to B, but not B -> C, then i'd start from a 100 mmol scale, or roughly enough to make 4 x your required mmols of C.
Org Synthesis preps have failed for me in the past, spent a month trying to get some sandmeyer reactions to work, without any success still! One of my major weaknesses is not assessing why
my reactions fail, and i'm only recently getting better at it. Are you getting consumption of starting material? Are any characteristic product peaks present in 1HNMR? Have you access to GC/MS or high res MS? Make a post in these forums with the reaction details and you'll get some really useful feedback, really good bunch of people here who have definately helped me a lot in the past.
With regards to your group, that sounds pretty bad. Have you a panel of advisors etc? I would voice you concerns to your supervisor, just email him and ask him to contact you when he has a free 10 minutes. He may be so detached from the group that he might not realise what state the equipment is in. Don't be afraid to ask questions from the older members - what solvent system do you recommend and why, how do you use the hplc/polarimeter etc, where is x. Honestly, I bugged the hell out of the 4th years in my lab when I started, and I learned a whole lot, and they didn't really mind, and now the first years are asking me questions that I can give useful answers to.
Finally, i'd advise not to panic or stress too much. I certainly did, and it didn't really help any. I still have very little done at the start of 2nd year, but my methodology and technique is a lot better from all the hours i spent running reactions that didn't work, so don't worry about not getting stuff made so long as you are learning, thats the point after all! Good luck