New Job: 1st ”coffee hour”

When I lived in Sweden for a summer in college and worked at Lund University in the biochemistry department they had a coffee machine that could make all kinds of fancy coffee. Whenever I took a break from work I would go get a coffee…this lead to me drinking about 5-10 cups of coffee a day, giving me time to practice my Swedish with people from other research groups but when I returned to the US my blood pressure “increased a lot in a really short period of time” which the nurse thought must be some kind of mistake so I had to go back a week later to get re-measured. After cold turkey on coffee for a week my blood pressure was back in the normal range and it was no longer an issue. However, I had learned that good coffee, which in Sweden is often a meal like tea is in England, was a huge weakness of mine…

On my first day of work in the theoretical department I learned that they have coffee hour twice a day at 10am and 3pm. After finishing up talking to my boss and doing a few bureaucratic things with the department secretary, who as a side note is so sweetly Swedish and extremely efficient and organized (secretarial staff is the backbone of universities if you didn’t know), I attended my first coffee hour. 10am and everyone on the floor from both theoretical chemistry and physical chemistry came out for coffee. Every week 3 different people are in charge of making coffee, making sure there is milk, cleaning up afterwards, and running the dishwashers of dirty coffee cups (you know cause Swedes drink so much coffee that then need professional cleaning, not just the rinse out and take them home with you to clean them every few weeks like most offices in the US).

So first mistake at coffee hour is I accidentally sat with the physical chemists…”the theoretical chemists normally sit over here on the couch”…Note: while chemists/scientist in general think they are very funny, they are usually not…so this was definitely meant as a joke; I can just see someone reading this post and thinking…wow that’s not very nice; they are very nice, just not very funny J. So strike one I sat at the table not on the couch…now that I was sitting at the table I thought I should maybe say there for a while so it didn’t look like I was jumping up to switch teams. So after meeting some nice guys who work in physical chemistry, scientist question number 1: “What is your project?”, now as I had just talked to my professor (PI) about how he had gotten a grant based on a pretty specific project and I would need to do something toward that project before moving on to “something fun” I decided to answer this question in a general way…saying I was new and was going to work on molecules and molecular dynamics of light harvesting complexes for solar cell applications. 2: “No, what specifically are you going to do?” ahh scientists :). After a conversation about what I was planning to do as well as what my PhD work was, I cleaned up my cup and was going to walk over to talk to the theoretical chemists for a minute when one of the guys I had been talking to stopped me to tell me all about the experiments they were doing and “your worked on electron transfer so maybe you can help us out if we have questions.” Yes, as a purely theoretical chemist my job is now to help experimentalist explain their results they don’t understand…so of course (i) if I have time, (ii) if it is a simple calculation or related to something I am interested in, and (iii) will get my name on a paper I would love to help :). Note: for my PhD I did the same thing just for myself because I was doing both theory and experiments.

After talking with the theoretical chemists and hearing all about how even though my dad got his PhD at this university over 30 years ago they were sure they could drag out someone who knew him (I failed to mention the 3 people who I have met who work at the university who are good friends of my dad’s “from the old days”), I was headed back to finish up all my bureaucratic things and was stopped by a group of girls from the physical group who wanted to discuss my “lipstick”: the chemistry of the color and how it really wasn’t lipstick but one of those lip crayons. As we were discussing the toxicity of makeup and what kinds of metal complexes are often used to make the vibrant colors (like the red I was trying out) and how some of them are not allowed in Sweden/Europe because they are more cautious about these things, I began to feel like this would be an easy transition…I hadn’t been that worried but sometimes it is hard to make friends with the people you work with because everyone always talks about work, or the only way to get to know them is by hanging out outside of work…enter the daily (or twice daily coffee hour).

So day one of work summary: go to coffee hour, and scientist are the same everywhere…oh chemists 🙂


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