Monday, August 17, 2009
Organic Chemistry - Preparing for the Future
Today is the first day of this blog...
For some time, I have been contemplating issues such as:
• The future shape of the biopharmaceutical industry
• How healthcare reform will impact the pharmaceutical industry
• How to manage the trend in offshoring chemistry activities to CROs
• Where big pharmaceutical companies will rebuild their pipeline of new drug candidates
• Where the chemists of the future will fit into this changing industrial environment
As if these topics aren't enough, there is always the question of
HOW CAN WE MOTIVATE THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS TO PURSUE CAREERS IN CHEMISTRY???
Regardless of the bullet points listed above, there can be no continuity in our scientific endeavors without an ability to guide the best and brightest of our youth into the direction of pursuing careers in applied sciences. While this is an obvious statement, I cannot emphasize enough that one of the main gate keeping subjects is organic chemistry. When students are first expected to confront this subject, they are presented with a textbook encyclopedic in size. The amount of information they are expected to absorb is daunting for anyone and many students believe that their only hope is to commit their coursework to memory. THIS WAS MY FIRST EXPERIENCE IN THIS SUBJECT!!!
As I progressed into my first semester of organic chemistry, I came to realize that memorization of the multitude of name reactions and all of their variants was nowhere near as important as developing an understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that underlie each reaction presented in organic chemistry. I abandoned all attempts to use chemical reaction flash cards and allowed my association of reaction names with chemical transformations to develop through osmosis. Instead, I practiced chemical reactions while incorporating each mechanistic step into my scratch pad. Using curved arrows, I kept track of the movement of electrons and gradually developed a strong appreciation for the value of this "arrow pushing" technique. My grades in organic chemistry improved and I continued to study this subject.
All of the above took place in 1984 - 25 years ago. Since then, I earned my PhD at MIT and am now a synthetic organic chemist having led and contributed to drug discovery efforts for over 17 years. During that time, I have experienced many facets of the pharmaceutical industry impacted by chemistry. These areas include:
• Drug discovery/development
• Patent law
• Business development
• Environmental health and safety
• Quality assurance/control
To those of you who feel apprehensive about studying organic chemistry, please stick with it. Numerous study aids are now available that present strategies to approach and master this subject. Remember, there is a huge world of opportunities that open to those with an understanding of this basic science - the chemistry of carbon.