Learning to think…..

My Ph.D did many things, including increasing my alcohol consumption capacity, but the life lesson which has served me to this day, is teaching myself how to solve problems/think.

The stated problem in research chemistry is simple – I have a target chemical I want to make from my starting material – so how do I go from here to there? Being an experimental air-sensitive chemist, with a finite amount of starting material (which took you 3 weeks to prepare) means that you don’t have any room for mistakes.

So you plan – When you have an experiment which is going to have 6 stages and take weeks to perform, you don’t want to screw it up……so you:

  • Do your research
    • Has anyone done something similar?
    • When you are writing up your research paper you will need references to prove you checked?
    • Has anyone created a cool technique which will help make you more efficient?
    • How do I break that bond and add that chemical?
    • etc
  • You process the information and hypothesis on solutions to the problem
  • Write up your plan and discuss with your boss (presenting your work, hypotheses and predictions)
  • Make sure all materials are available
  • Collaborate with your peers and see if they think you are being stupid or realistic
  • Execute the experiment
  • Document to procedure
  • Document the results (Write a paper for your peers to use in their experiments later)

It is not that different from being a programmer and it forced me to become a lateral thinker.

There are many problem solving strategies but my favorite is TRIZ

Solving problems is what gets me out of bed in a morning and it forces me to learn which puts me to sleep happy.

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