Research Group

Ages ago, after two post-doctoral stints—one in Austin and the following in The Netherlands—I needed to make a choice between a science career as an academic or head into industrial chemistry at a company. For better work-life balance and a shyness in my thirties to lead, I choose the company route.

Nonetheless, I still dream about my own research group to mentor students through not only science projects but also life. I want to be a better teacher than some of my teachers. However, with the turn towards corporate life, I thought I shut the door on a research group.

My boss told me last week that I need to hire two more employees, one junior and one senior, to bring the size of my group to five people. Sometimes you get not what you want, but what you need. Sure, I may not work at a university, but I conduct weekly group meetings, train new employees on basic skills like chemistry and computer programming. I assign projects, schedule group presentations, and at least annually evaluate their careers. These folks—enthusiastic, brillant, accomplished—are my research group.

Over a year ago, I promised the team members awards if the company exceeded performance milestones. For the first level, I took them out to a one Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco named Al’s Place. For the next level, we went south for the day to taste wine in Paso Robles, dine that evening fancy again, and finished the day with a tour of a light display. For the final level, I promise them a weekend trip to Hawaii. We’re still far away from reaching that performance metric.