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?
- 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.