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Born a Texan, but traveled the US extensively.  Now staying on the East coast.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Boring Stuff Or The Prelude To My Real Job

The prelude is that i loved chemistry, from before i was a teen.
Or perhaps i enjoyed that i wanted my curiosity to run wild.
Of course at that time in my life, i had no clue what even the word, chemistry meant, but i loved baking soda and vinegar and sparks that flew from the 4th of July sparklers. 
I asked "why?" and there a few answers, I would ask "how?" and some more answers came, i asked "what if?" and got shrugs of "who knows".
The question "what if?" flooded through my being, i needed to know.
The colors that i could change when i mixed things out of my first chemistry set (i do not know for sure, but i might have been ten).  "What if" came to the front again and i would add too much and they would turn an ugly brown.
The instructions said that there was nothing dangerous in the set, but occasionally, i was rewarded with a small poof and a cloud of acrid smoke bellowing from one of those test tubs.
My "what if" question was growing louder.
A third grade teacher told my parents that i would not amount to any thing that used math, not engineering, not science, she was so wrong.  I was only seven, but i loved to explore, places and things and "stuff".
Fast forward some years to my junior year in High School, not my favorite time of my life, i did not like high school.  It was not really notable except I began to make only "A's" in everything, including math.  I was introduced to computers and programming languages the first year and got in trouble when i wrote program that crashed the "tie line" that 2 schools shared with one central computer,  That year was 1968.
I had a really bad chemistry/science teacher, who acted like she had all the answers and there was nothing left to learn after her class.  I also had really good senior friend, who did not have all the answers and he was going to be a chemist.  I do not know what became of him, but he encouraged me and i passed that obstructive teacher.
My senior chemistry teacher was crazy, but excellent. He encouraged experimentation and i was hooked.  We made things, extracted caffeine and did "quantitative analysis", basically figuring out if some element was in "something" and that was my favorite part, tasking something apart to its base elements.  Wow, was i hooked.

College was not easy, i was in advanced everything and i was particularly "dumb" in that i took, with everyone's blessing, an "overload" of courses (that means more than 18 hours per semester) for 2 years.  After almost burning out on physical chemistry and a graduate level biochemistry, i regained my senses and took fewer courses.
"SO THERE!", i thought mockingly to my never to met again third grade teacher, but it did take 5 years to complete the courses for a degree in chemistry, and that included retaking Physical chemistry and barely squeaking by in Calculus.  Still i did fine, making the deans list a couple of times.
College prepared me for being able to work, but was very incomplete in giving me the all knowledge i felt i needed, but it fed that hunger of "what if?".  In labs, there were so many experiments, from synthesizing Sulfanilamide to using optical lasers.  A failure to make a compound for a class in Instrumental Analysis,  did not mean a bad grade, but the teacher told us we had to describe our failure and postulate why it did not work.  This was invaluable, for i learned nothing was a failure, if one could learn from it.
While at school, i took 2 jobs in my field, one as a clinical chemist assistant for 9 months and the other at a big oil company research lab.  At the research lab, i was introduced to a creature known as iron bacteria, one that would[i] follow my career the remainder of my working days.
i loved what chemistry was becoming, i loved that it helped people, i enjoyed finding out "things".
As i finished my course of studies, i made a major move.
The move was not because of chemistry, nor a job, it was based on a search for spirituality and since this is about work and not my life, i will leave it as the only explanation, but suffice to say, chemistry followed.
My first job, after graduating, was in a corporate environment, a lab whose main function was to trouble shoot problems.  I found out things i was not allowed to talk about, that bothered me because some were true public health issues.
I was too young to think i should make copies and keep them "in case", but i did not.  I had a huge amount of curiosity and some times did extra tests that damaged instruments (such as trying to get an Infrared Spectra of methanol in vapor, which caught fire).  After nine months, there was a reorganization in the company and i was let go.
The next job came from an unlikely source, i was doing temporary work as an accountant at a large bakery and they needed someone to take over the main chemist job as she was going on maternity leave.  I loved the job and it gave me insight into a well run company that cared about what it produced, it was actually a family owned conglomerate. toward the end of my year, it was purchased by a corporation and the end of the lab onsite was coming to a close. While i was working, molds, shelf life, determining the quality and containments in the products used to make food that every one would eat were things i learned. I definitely learned more in this one year, than when i was in school, but they could not make my position permanent and i moved on.
A one year stint with an independent environmental consulting company, where i got to see more of the country, visiting and testing on site where we were hired.  I enjoyed this, but the parent company wanted testing of garbage.  This was only to determine combustibles from non combustibles, but the lab director fudged my data, as simple as it was, with as much error as it had doing the simple sorting that was necessary and i left.
A 2 week stint in a local cosmetic company doing quality control tests and my big, complaining mouth got me in trouble.  Truthfully, i was bored by the entire procedure, there was nothing interesting happening, just boring routine tests that really did not tell anything about quality of  the product.  I spoke my mind.  Maybe be i was looking for something wrong, maybe there really were problems, but they were following FDA regulations and i was not going to be a "squeaky wheel", they told me i was no longer needed.
It appeared that my loud mouth and attitude was going to have me hoping from one job to the next, but it was not so.



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