Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Materials Girl: What am I?

[Posted on behalf of Materials Girl]

Last year I spent a fair amount of time at a local branch of Northrop Grumman, having fun times in bunny suits with the summer intern there (aka: tediously, meticulously collecting data on my liquid samples while trying to stay awake in the clean room’s yellow lighting and entertaining each other with chatter or games). Since then, we’ve been working here and there on a paper. Side note: YouKnowWho is going up for tenure soon and has recently been asking for manuscripts.

So here’s the thing – I hail from chemistry with a large dash of materials, the other grad is from physics, and my PI has a background purely in metallurgy/materials science. This has been causing creative differences in paper formatting and data processing, given the different standards in each field. Two examples: no one likes my detailed experimental sections that begin with lists of chemical sources, and the physics guy suggested fitting some my data to an equation that both my PI and I had never heard of. I also have used generic chem-speak in my experimental section that caused my PI to send back multiple annotations of “Use English please!” He apparently neither took o-chem nor had the fun of “washing” a solution. How he missed out on stories of unvented funnels and projectile stoppers! (This reminds me of buying glassware when I first came to the lab – a delightful time of ordering relatively low-priced toys to my heart’s content. No one recognized that funny upside-down pear-shaped thing with a nozzle at the bottom.)

The point is that I am a child of multiple disciplines, and it’s becoming concerning. I have no problem dealing with being chastised for saying that a precursor was “complexed” at high temperature. However, ever since switching to the half-chemistry, half-materials B.S., I have been torn between two overlapping – but often very different – worlds. While grad school in the Materials Science and Engineering department here has been great overall, I still think back to inorganic chemistry. The coming fall presents several crucial choices: Should I push onwards immediately for a PhD or start begging for jobs?* Where shall I apply to pursue a doctorate, and should it be in chemistry or materials science? Arguments for chemistry point out that the field is more fundamental, but now my research background is built strongly in materials science and my academic background contains only laughable amounts of chemistry. Would I survive?

*The answer will be heavily/entirely influenced by results of this year’s fellowships!

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