Nomadic Professors and Other Thoughts from AnaheimApril 11th, 2011
I jotted down a couple of things from the recent ACS conference in Anaheim, where on the whole, I had a good—but not great—time. I think there is one big thing that is missing from ACS conferences, but that will be the subject of a future post. In the meantime…
Giving Total Synthesis a Fair Shake
I decided the program was a good opportunity to reassess my disdain of total synthesis. There is good total synthesis, and there is bad total synthesis; both were on display in Anaheim. Baran gave an excellent talk on palau’amine and some interesting chemistry that followed. At a later session, I sat through a 45-minute talk (by a huge name in synthesis) that was easily the most dull presentation (on insipid work) that I experienced during the entire conference. The student talks in total synthesis did a good job of framing the common trials and tribulations associated with the sport…in which I have no desire (or ability) to compete.
I attended most of a session on reaction methodology that comprised talks from grad students and postdocs. At one point, the room contained 14 people—yes, I counted. Why pay hundreds of dollars to travel to California when more people would hear your talk if you opened your office door and shouted down the hallway? And it’s not like this was one of those late Thursday sessions…it was on Monday afternoon. Yes yes, these students are gaining valuable experience in public speaking and they get to attend the other talks at the conference, but still…14 people? That is just sad.
Aside from the science he presented, Stephen Buchwald‘s talk contained two interesting tidbits of information which were not necessarily new, but were new to me. First, I was unaware that his ligand RuPhos was named after his cat Rufus. Second, Buchwald casually mentioned during his talk that John Hartwig is moving from Illinois to Berkeley. That struck me as peculiar, since it seems just like yesterday that Hartwig moved from Yale to Illinois. Perhaps it was fitting that Buchwald’s talk was in a symposium honoring David MacMillan, whose career saw him move from Berkeley to Caltech to Princeton in a span of 7 years. On one hand, you can’t fault someone for working his way up in the world (Illinois is an upgrade over Yale, Berkeley is an upgrade over Urbana-Champaign). Also, sometimes tenure, promotions, and lab upgrades play a role. On the other hand, such rapid movement has got to wreak havoc on all of the students/postdocs/families caught in the wave. I imagine there could also be frayed nerves among the faculties of the spurned schools, who probably went to great lengths to recruit the jumpy professors in the first place. When you live by the sword, you die by the sword, I suppose. Perhaps the most interesting case of professorial movement is that of Jonas Peters, who moved from Caltech to MIT in 2007, then back to Caltech again in 2010. And yes, I know of at least one student who made *both* moves.