Sunday, June 24, 2012


    It seems one of the hardest virtues for me to willingly accept is patience.  This was made clear to me once again last week when I was in the lab.
    I ran into a predicament. In order to make my Zinc metallacrowns, I need to have an abundance of ligand (S-B-phenylalanine hydroxamic acid), which is one of my reagents. I ran out, so for the past 12 days or so, I’ve been trying to synthesize more. The procedure we’re following has been carried out before in our lab, so it’s not really research. It’s kind of like following a multi-step recipe to bake a cake. I figured it would be straightforward and only take a few days to work up, but I still don’t have any.
S-B-phenylalanine hydroxamic acid

    At one point I was discussing with a visiting professor from Italy, Matteo (he’s here on sabbatical) on why my synthesis wasn’t working and just yelled out, “I want my ligand!” We talked a bit more about the problem, but the thing I took away most was the last thing he said. “Michael, the greatest virtue of a chemist is patience.” (in a wicked Italian accent!)
    It seems when adversity comes my way, I always try to test the waters with patience, and mostly it comes back to bite me in the butt. Many times I’ve been injured from running, and I’ll somehow convince my athletic trainer to let me try running a week or so ahead of schedule, only to set myself back three weeks more than if I would have just waited and stuck to the schedule. Patience is one of the harder things to accept sometimes, especially when we’re anxious and feel like we need something immediately in our lives right here and now.
    Since my talk with Matteo, I’ve enjoyed less stress in the lab and know that things take time. Healing from a running injury takes time. Recrystallizing an ester in methanol takes time. Drying a solid in a vacuum takes time. Life takes time, and those who succeed most are the ones who accept their circumstances as what they are and focus on changing the things in their power.
    Another area I’m having to exercise great patience in life right now is the upcoming fall semester. In my last post, I alluded to the notion that I was confident that pursuing a graduate degree in chemistry wasn’t the chosen path for me. Over the past two weeks, the Lord has shown me more through this experience and through some conversations with people whom I respect and trust that God may have another plan for me based on what I want out of life.
    The career that’s appealed to me most so far has been physical therapist. In high school, I went through a phase where I really thought I wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon, but once I stepped foot in the operating room, I knew I couldn’t handle the blood. As a runner who’s been consistently injured over his career, I’ve really appreciated all the help and comfort I’ve received from PTs who have gotten me back to doing the thing I love, running. It would be rewarding to help and see other people resume their normal activities, knowing that I played a role in helping them. I’m not dead set on pursing PT yet, I still have a lot of thinking and praying to do. I just need to be patient in the process and wait for the Lord to point me in the direction He’s chosen for me.

I had to wear my first shirt and tie in 10th grade for my mentorship in orthopaedic medicine. I still wear that outfit for all formal occasions, we've been through a lot together. It's next appearance: August 3, Southbend, IN to present my research on Metallacrowns.

Getting ready to head into the O.R. with Dr. Aadalen. I didn't know what was coming!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

One Hundred Eighty Degrees

One Hundred Eighty Degrees

    It’s funny how fast things can change. Last week at this time, I was in the University of Michigan’s library, taking a practice Graduate Record Examination (GRE), preparing myself for the real deal this upcoming fall. Over the last few days, I feel that the Lord has revealed to me through several different ways that pursing a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry is not in His plans for me.
    Overall, it was a frustrating and difficult week in the lab for me. My graduate student who is assigned to mentor me had to leave for five weeks to get trained in for a Post-Doc he’s starting this fall. I felt stressed and had no reason to be. After spending a week in a graduate setting, I feel that I’ve already obtained much more insight into what life in grad school would be like – a life I don’t think is for me. Research entices me because you’re diving into the unknown, trying to make and do things nobody has ever done before.
    So far, I’ve synthesized a new Metallacrown in several different solvents, however my remaining time here will be spent trying to isolate it by growing quality crystals in order to further characterize my product using X-Ray Crystallography. Essentially, I’m this guy:

    The unfortunate part of research is that it’s 99% fail and 1% success. In the coming weeks I’ll be setting up thousands of different crystallizations, and even if only one succeeds, I will have accomplished a whole heck of a lot. Finding the conditions necessary to produce crystals is the Holy Grail of my project.
    The fear of failing doesn’t bother me; I already manage plenty of that everyday. The aspect I became most frightened about this week was the fear of my future. After some reflection, I realized that I don’t really have a plan B. If grad school didn’t work out, I wasn’t really sure what I would do. Maybe get an entry-level position in industry?
    After further evaluation, these thoughts left me discontent as well. The reason I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. was so some day I could be a professor at a small institution, and mentor young adults, offering them wisdom and advice to pursue and achieve their wildest dreams! I couldn’t really do that in an industrial setting, but this passion of mine, helping people in my profession, has lead me to strongly consider another profession which I think would be a great fit (but more on that next time).
    Right now, I feel a great sense of peace regarding my future. It’s somewhat uncertain right now, but I know that it will still incorporate science. My parents are wonderful and have been able to comfort me and offer wisdom throughout these few days. This story my dad sent me particularly resonated with my emotions. I feared that I was being sucked into the black hole of graduate school with no return. Headed down a path that wouldn’t lead to a satisfied life, a life where I’d have proper work-life balance.
    The most encouraging aspect of this journey for me has been God’s promises. The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, and these two verses offer great comfort:

The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one Rests content, untouched by trouble. – Proverbs 19:23

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and understanding, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight. – Proverbs 3:5,6

    I feel that the Lord has revealed to me that grad school is not in his plans for me. I remain uncertain of His plan for me, but I know because I’ve placed me heart in His hands, He will lead me to the career and place exactly where He wants me. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mission to Michigan

    I’ve been in Ann Arbor for four days now and things are off to a very good start! The first few days have been a bit overwhelming in the lab. Besides getting caught up to speed on the project I’ll be working on this summer, I’ve had to go through basic and specific safety training, become acquainted with new (for me) software and instrumentation (Electrospray Mass-Spectrometry and 1H-Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy) along with being in a totally new town. A lot thrown at me at once, but I really like it here so far! My lab group is awesome, I’ve got some cool roommates, and Ann Arbor is a great town! I feel so blessed to be able to study ground breaking inorganic chemistry for ten weeks.
    Besides enjoying a new town, taking in some new research, meeting new people, running new trails and hanging out with a cool new church, my decision to pursue this opportunity revolved around one central question that I hopefully will have a solid answer to in the upcoming months: To go to graduate school or to not go to graduate school, that is the question!
    The beautiful thing about conducting research at the University of Michigan is that it is essentially a ten-week preview of what grad school will be like. In my time here, I’ll be collaborating with current graduate students, post docs (those who received their Ph.D. in the last 1-3 years), and even a visiting professor from Italy! It usually takes about five years to earn a Ph.D., and after the first two years, it’s 100% research until you’ve made significant progress in your field and your adviser feels your ready to graduate.
    As of right now, I’m a bit on the fence on whether to pursue further education, but I’m definitely leaning towards it. I’ve been immersed in research since my freshman year at Drake, but it’s clear that those who thrive in graduate school are those who are passionately driven to discover the unknown. You don’t spend five years of your life putting 50-60 hours/week or more into your research if you just like it… you have to love it! It’s definitely a trans formative process, I have been praying that the Lord would reveal His will for my immediate post-Drake future through this experience. It’s going to be a summer of fun and soul searching, I’m ready for the challenge!