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Topic: What should I know before my first synthetic organic research experience?  (Read 3478 times)

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Offline davidenarb

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Hi all,

I am highly interested in research in the synthetic chemistry area, and I would like to know what should I know before getting into my first undergraduate research experience.

Obviously, the first experience in the lab is extremely crucial as I will build my own reputation within the group as well as with my professor especially considering the fact that I plan to pursue an academic career.

I am highly motivated, but I know that this is not enough. Therefore, I want to ask current researchers in the area of organic chemistry, what advices you can give for me. 

Most likely, I will be working with a PhD or Postdoc students in their projects, so my question: Regardless of mechanisms and reactions toolbox, what should I know, in terms of theory, before going to the lab? is reading an organic textbook enough?

Thanks in advance!

Offline kriggy

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I think the textbook is enough since its your first time doing that. Honestly, most of the chemistry done in research isnt taught in basic ochem courses. I was fortunate that the chemistry I did so far was taught in textbook. But for next project im gonna be involved in there is rearangement with unknown mechanism and some more advanced chemistry.

I think there are two things I can advice to you:
a) ask questions (when you dont know how to continue, when you dont understand the reaction..) Its better to ask for something you should know than blow week of work away
b) listen what they tell you and watch what they are doing

Offline davidenarb

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I think the textbook is enough since its your first time doing that. Honestly, most of the chemistry done in research isnt taught in basic ochem courses. I was fortunate that the chemistry I did so far was taught in textbook. But for next project im gonna be involved in there is rearangement with unknown mechanism and some more advanced chemistry.

I think there are two things I can advice to you:
a) ask questions (when you dont know how to continue, when you dont understand the reaction..) Its better to ask for something you should know than blow week of work away
b) listen what they tell you and watch what they are doing

Thank you for you advices.

The problem is that when I try to read the latest publications of my professor, I find a lot of difficulties in understanding a lot of key words and unfamiliar techniques, which makes me somewhat anxious.

I am little overwhelmed by the fact that I don't understand these key words, and I might feel like "what I am doing here in the lab?" because if I want to advance the research, I think it is particularly prominent to know these keywords as they are basic for the professor as well as the research group.For example, I feel utterly lost when I read an abstract of a recent publication of my professor, and I know that is important to know the prof's research!
« Last Edit: August 08, 2014, 07:21:00 PM by davidenarb »

Offline zsinger

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Keep a notebook of every observation you make in every experiment.  Odds are, you will revisit these notes time and time again to glean knowledge.
           -Zack
"The answer is of zero significance if one cannot distinctly arrive at said place with an explanation"

Offline kriggy

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Abstract is not that important for you right now (i suppose you were given some papers by your professor?). IMO you should focus on experimental part, because that is what are you going to do in the lab and the introduction so you have at least some idea why are you doint that. If you dont understand the term then google it. Dont worry, everyone here was once in same situation like you are. :)


Offline Dan

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Make sure you have a good theoretical understanding of chromatography (thin layer and flash column) and aqueous/organic extraction.

Never do anything in the lab unless you understand why you are doing it. Ask questions first.
My research: Google Scholar and Researchgate

Offline RaInBowDaSh1488

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I would recommend having a basic understanding of the organic techniques taught in undergraduate level organic. As long as you show a A or B level mastery of the subject, I don't think you have a lot to worry about. Most supervisors understand that as an undergrad, you will be making plenty of mistakes and failures.

I'd recommend just showing a genuine desire to learn and improve. If your supervisors one of the more open types, ask questions, make suggestions, and experiment on your own (within reason). Most supervisors absolutely love this show of initiative in undergrads as opposed to the types that come running to them whenever they have a problem with a flash column. Another recommendation is to ask grad students and post docs to allow you to watch them as they work. I learned many great techniques in this way and it's easy to hit a brick wall if you always work alone.

All and all don't worry too much. As an undergrad you primarily there to learn, not to give publication worth results.

Offline TheUnassuming

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Assuming you have gotten through or are starting sophomore O-chem, your understanding of the basics should be enough to start.  Get an ochem lab manual like zubricks and read through it for a general idea of how lab techniques are done (even if you have already taken the ochem labs). 
I'll second Dan's suggestion that you make sure you understand chromatography and different separation techniques.  Not the nitty gritty details in how to physically do them, that you will learn at the bench.  You just need to make sure you understand the reasoning behind why they work.   
Also seconding Dan's warning to never do anything unless you understand why you are doing it and above all else, ask questions!  If you don't know, ask.  You are a beginner, so not knowing something is expected.  Undergrads/rotation students that don't ask questions make me very nervous. 
When in doubt, avoid the Stille coupling.

Offline RaInBowDaSh1488

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I'd like to expand on the excellent advice given regarding TLC. It seems very simple but it can take quite a while to truly master. When you start out, be patient with the TLC results you get. Sometimes it can take a long time to to find an appropriate solvent system and the process can get very tedious. I've trashed quite a few reactions assuming no product only later to learn that I just wasn't using the right solvent system.

Sometimes a fairly exotic mixtures of eluents is required, so don't be discouraged if your results don't look great from the start. TLC is tedious and can be unpredictable, but if you approach it methodically, it will surely save you time.

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