Leaving the Research Group

Things To Do Before You Abandon Leave Us

So, you've decided to join that huge group of ingrates who, just when they're become true, independent collaborators who need almost no guidance from me, have the nerve to graduate! It's amazing how general this trend is.


Seriously, now that you're off to new adventures, you need to leave your bench and everything connected with it in the clean, orderly condition you wish you'd found yours in, or perhaps actually did. Specifically, you need to deal with four things: the lab notebook(s), chemical samples and intermediates, spectra, and any group job(s) you've been putting off, in hopes of being rescued by the end of the semester.

Lab Notebooks

By now, you've almost certainly tried to locate and use some information worked out by a prior researcher in the group. Maybe it was a procedure, perhaps some spectral data for comparison, or something else, but finding it, as you now know, makes your life much easier, and, more importantly, saves a bunch of time. So, before you go, your notebook should be in the condition that you think would be most beneficial to future researchers.


To do this, please check, and amend if necessary, these specific points:

  • TOC - your Table of Contents, being particularly sure that each reaction has a TOC entry.
  • Spectral Data/Physical Constants - every time an important spectrum is acquired on a compound, its primary absorbances are noted in the lab book. This goes for NMR, IR, UV, and other spectra. You know how nice it is to have a mp/bp when making something new!
  • Conclusions - Each experiment should have a one- two-phrase conclusion, This saves future researchers hours of time...

Chemical Samples/Intermediates

Even if you weren't in the group for that long, and even if you didn't have that much success (as measured by successful reactions), that has no bearing on how important your chemical intermediates might be down the road. We could be in the midst of a totally different project, or just need a molecule with the same layout of functional groups as one you made such a long time ago. So, here's the procedure:

  • Please place all of your samples in the smallest glass vials that will comfortably hold them. If you can't find the right size vial, ask me or the stockroom.

  • Label the vial with a small, self-adhesive label (we stock them in the lab), which carries the following data, in order of priority:
    • notebook code (e.g., HB-II-34-A) - this is the code you should have on all samples, spectra, etc., since it's the label system we developed when the group formed, and uniquely identifies things right to the lab book page on which they were made.
    • chemical structure - if it won't fit on the label, it won't fit. But if it will, it's really nice when we look through sample vials. A great way to do it - draw the structure with ChemWinow®, ChemDraw®, or Isis®, reduce it on the screen to small size, and print with good laser printer.
    • m.p./b.p. - good information to have, esp. if we want to quickly gauge the purity of the stuff.
    • (your) name - we're discovering that many people have the same initials, so your name is a real plus. Btw, if you do have a prior student's initials, I'll tell you what number to place immediately after your initials.
Wrap a piece of Scotch tape around the label, since almost any solvent will wash the label clean (of course, solvents will also eat adhesive tape, but at least it serves as a barrier).
Flush the vial with N2, and finally use Parafilm®1 - just a little - to completely seal it. Then, find a small cardboard box that will hold all of your samples.
Dispose of unusable, impure, unidentifiable samples - Do not leave them behind! This is NOT an exercise in labeling hazardous waste! Remember how you felt when you found, in the deep recesses of your bench, a vial of dark brown sludge, with no label? (It better not still be there!) Let's not place the next person at your bench in that position.

Spectra (IR, NMR)

After all of your time here, you've probably accumulated many IR and some NMR spectra. Treat these items carefully; they're the most valuable documentation we have.  The best way to organize spectra is twofold:

  • First, be sure that all spectra worth keeping (which is around 90% of them - when in doubt, keep it!) are labeled with the right notebook code and the structure of the compound each one represents.
  • Get a three-ring binder (or something similar), and place the spectra in it, in numerical order.

Group Jobs

A few group jobs entail keeping things in order and/or clean, such as Hazardous Waste, Vacuum Pumps, and Group Area Cleanliness. In the past, people have taken off, leaving overflowing waste containers, vacuum pumps/manifolds dirty and in need of maintenance, and group areas sprinkled with MgSO4, dust, and other gross stuff.

Well, that hasn't been a problem for awhile now, because it's a contingency of leaving the group in good standing to not leave any responsibility hanging, for others to do for you.

Consequences of Not Leaving Things Clean, Orderly, and Finished

Ordinarily, I wouldn't even include this section, but, not long ago, a departing group member challenged me - right to my face - as to what leverage I had any more to be sure he2 had organized his samples and finished some group job, now that he was out the door. BIG mistake.

Imagine his surprise when he opened his grade report to find an "I" for research - it was a couple of credits he couldn't afford to lose and still graduate. He called me and treated me to a series of attempted manipulations, including trying to convince me with "logic", pleading, cajoling, using the "poor pitiful me" ploy, getting angry, etc. After he was finished (I'd listened without a word), he said "So...can you let me off, just this once, I'll make it up to you (ha), etc.". I said one word: "No". This initiated another stream of invective, which I interrupted when he took a breath, and said simply that if it were done, I'd remove the "I"; if not, I wouldn't.

Reisgned to what had to be done, complete with grumbling, whining, and other behaviors more suitable to a five year old, he came back on a weekend day, finished the whole thing in under three hours, and all was well, although I'm sure his friends still hear about my incredible lack of understanding. This person had obviously not yet encountered truly abusive behavior - and, I suspect, had seldom heard the word "No!" when growing up.

I relate this, not only because it's a good story, but also to nip in the bud any strange ideas any group member might ever have in a moment of weakness..

1In sealing a vial or bottle with Parafilm®, cut off about as much as you'd need to go around the neck of the container 1-12 times. Remove the paper backing, hold the end of the Parafilm against the vial/cap interface with a finger, and slowly wrap around the vial, pulling and stretching the Parafilm as you go. Once you've gone around once, the Parafilm will anchor itself, so you can concentrate on the wrapping.  It should easily go around the cap twice.
     Parafilm should never be plastered all over a cap/lid to a container, used to seal anything except what's just been described, or used in any application which will get hot.

2.I'll use the masculine pronoun here, but this should not be construed to indicate that the offender was male...not at all...