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There are some things that chemists seem to do just for the sake of doing them.  These acts ostensibly once served a purpose, but now have little obvious value.

For instance, why the hell do we still have Ph.D. students write bound doctoral dissertations?  I admit, the idea of having a single massive document that represents the entirety of one’s graduate research seems nice, but the reality is that the volume has little more than sentimental value.  Nobody reads these things.  Hell, not even committee members actually read it.  Flip through it?  Maybe, but read it?  No.

Schools should just drop dissertations as a requirement.  That means you can write one if you want or need to, but if your published papers are good enough in the eyes of your department, you needn’t waste time rewriting and reformatting perfectly good papers into an expensive book that will sit untouched for eternity.

Another thing that seems ridiculous upon further examination is the business card.  At first, the idea seems to make sense:  I can make a good impression on someone and expediently transfer my contact information by writing it out in a presentable manner.  Great…but when you stop and actually think about it, a number of things dawn on you:

1)    Why the hell am I carrying around these extra scraps of paper?
2)    Why the hell did I spend $100 for an absurd quantity of these scraps of paper?
3)    Is it really too much trouble to use a pen and a blank scrap of paper?
4)    I seemed to have forgotten that Google and e-mail makes it easy to find people without the need for scraps of paper.

I also find it distasteful that people walk around carrying multiple copies of a document about themselves with the presumption that more than one person will actually care to receive it.  Get over yourselves, people.  When you give someone your card, nine times out of ten the recipient is just feigning interest to be polite.

Of course, I must be overlooking something because the business card industry generates $4.3 trillion in yearly revenue.  This means that I, too, must have a business card.  Given that business cards are inherently vain and that I must have one, I am therefore obliged to have the most self-important business card possible.  Mission accomplished:


Yes, that is a baseball card, except chemicaled chemified chemificated.  If the size of the card (2.5 x 3.5”—way bigger than a standard business card) does not irritate the person who receives it, then the quantity of self-promoting garbage on it surely will.  The front side contains an action shot of me talking about something chemical at a podium somewhere.  The back side contains irrelevant personal info and a mini publications list of my personal favorites.  Hopefully, my contact info is also on it, somewhere.

ACS publishing needs to reconfigure its presses to stop pumping out archaic paper copies of journals and start pumping out massive quantities of chemistry cards.  People would go nuts.  Think of the madness that would occur at ACS conferences as famous chemists get shaken down for business cards by throngs of drunk grad students at Sci-Mix.  Activity on E-Bay would flare and communication among chemists would ignite with casual conversations along the lines of:

“I’ll trade you a Jacobsen rookie for an ’86 Herschbach and two ideas for C-H oxidation of alkanes to terminal alcohols.”

Look for the special insert in this week’s copy of C&EN and place your order today!


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  • Jun 3rd 200916:06
    by Chemjobber

    Little did I know those little scraps of paper were responsible for one-third of US GDP! I am in awe.

  • Jun 3rd 200916:06
    by mitch

    I have a periodic table on the back of mine to try and make it at least useful for people.

  • Jun 3rd 200918:06
    by sam

    i wanna make an *action* business card. make a card like one of those toys with the ridges and you see different pictures at different viewing angles!

  • Jun 4th 200908:06
    by Lisa Jarvis

    Brilliant idea. I am pulling business cards out of the crevices of my purse for weeks (let’s be honest: months) after a conference. There are several teetering piles on my desk right now, in fact. I would certainly treat a chemificated cared with more care. Perhaps even invest in a commemorative display boxes.

  • Jun 4th 200914:06
    by Carmen Drahl

    Maybe a partnership with Aldrich is in order. You never know if you’ll get a rare ’78 Woodward tucked in there with that order of hexanes.

  • Jun 4th 200917:06
    by Hap

    I think Strat-o-Matic for chemistry would be more amusing.

    “He gets an Angewandte paper on a roll of 7 in organic, otherwise he’s looking at Arkivoc. He gets grants well from NSF, but poorly against NIH or American Cancer Society. His range sucks – all he does are ugly heterocycles embedded in nanotubes.”

    The sessions might get ugly after a few beers.

  • Jun 4th 200918:06
    by Paul

    During my undergrad, one of the brands of gloves we ordered had a magnetic puzzle piece in every box. We definitely made it a point to save them and build the puzzle on a solvent cabinet. It’s amazing how much control students have over spending, and these gimmicks can be great way for companies to add a kicker to get researchers to select their product over (very) similar alternatives.

  • Jun 4th 200921:06
    by Chemjobber

    I was always under the impression that it was the stockroom guy who got all these awards — we certainly never saw them.

  • Jun 5th 200911:06
    by eugene

    The dissertation definitely is a drag for the good students who know how to write well. But it really helps a poor writer to become a better one and it’s a valuable experience for people who don’t speak and/or write English well enough. There are a lot of students like that around here and it really seems strange to me that all they do is just stick together copies of their articles and write a short (3-5 pages) intro. My own monster sized thesis (a dumbed down and drawn out version of my articles and unpublished work) I could have done without. Still, it gave me a chance to catch up on a lot of video game playing while I was “writing” it for six weeks. I bet if I didn’t play video games so much, I could have included another chapter on some more unpublished work, but we can’t all be perfectionists.

    Baseball cards are a good idea. But I’d be embarassed with the logo of my 1st division team on the front. Freakin Harvard elitists abusing the transfer market. Just wait until Abromovich gets here, gives us lots of research money to establish yet another anchor to keep him safe from the Kremlin, and you’ll always be second best.

  • Jun 7th 200915:06
    by Trish

    The thesis also provides a place for unpublished research. It may be unpublished because you could not ever get the experiments to work or because you had a good idea but simply no time to finish it. Documenting this part of your research may at least be beneficial to lab mates or university colleagues after you leave. That being said, I’m not exactly looking forward to writing mine in the very near future.

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