Obviously the title of this post is a vast overstatement, and this is probably one of the biggest first world problems out there, but sometimes it really does feel that way! Okay, slaves don’t get paid for all their hard work and have no rights, but masters students pay thousands of pounds to do a year’s worth of hard work which often doesn’t get credited.
Undergraduate chemists are taught lies about how easy reactions are to carry out, and how reliably everything works if you follow the instructions properly. Experiments in undergraduate teaching labs have been tried and tested literally millions of times around the world, so you have to be a really bad practical chemist to go drastically wrong (I still managed it once or twice, though). The reality is that molecules are massively unpredictable, and when you start doing novel research, nothing tends to work!
Just today I finished a reaction with high hopes of finally getting the molecule I’ve been trying to make for about six months, only to find that no reaction had actually occurred, despite me having followed the protocol to the bone, and all I can do for now is move on and try to use another method. At least if a slave cleans the floor, the end result is that the floor is clean, not that it is just as dirty as it was at the start.
Despite this, though, when things do work in research, the overwhelming feeling of “Take that science! I beat you!!” is strong enough to give you false hope and make you keep going. That is the reason why, despite the challenges I’ve faced doing research this year, I still love chemistry and why I still want to carry on doing research as a PhD student.