Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Time is on my side

I was just talking with Catherine, and we can’t remember if “a week in the library will save you a day in the lab” or if “a week in the lab will save you a day in the library”? I guess if you’re starting a new project, maybe it’s best to set up a whole bunch of experiments to see what works (steering clear of the dogma you’d find in published papers). But if you’re nearing the end of a total synthesis, you probably want to play it safe with your milligram/sub-milligram quantities of your natural product and spend a bit more time in the library trouble-shooting problems…

What about other quotable quotes? Was RB Woodward right (“A scientist has to work very hard to get to the point where he can be lucky.”) or was Ralph Waldo Emerson right (“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”)? (The Google fight results are closer than you’d think…) Is time on your side or does time pass more quickly as your Ph.D./post-doc progresses?

What do you think/what’s your scientific philosophy? Does it match up with the prevailing philosophy of your lab? What other quotes (or song lyrics) come to mind when you think about the last six months of your scientific research?

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to set up a poll on the blog, so we’ll have to do it the old fashion way – please leave us a comment with your thoughts…


Joshua Finkelstein (Senior Editor, Nature)


  1. Report this comment

    Uncle Al said:

    Intelligence does exist, it can be measured, it does make a difference. A fantastically rich diamond mine is 1 ppm gem diamond in kimberlite or lamproite. Social engineering demands that 1 ppm is discriminatory. Any kimberlite or lamproite will do given admission and a full scholarship.

    Cornell University abuts a kimberlite dike that is not diamondiferous. (Follow the service road from Snee Hall parking area to its intersection with College Ave. The kimberlite dike crosses Cascadilla gorge just upstream from the College Ave. bridge.) Cornell seeks alumni donations not earthmovers. University of Michigan diversity admission does not lend weight to objective intellectual performance. Cornell should sell it mining rights.

    Hit the library – folks bled so that you might not make the same errors they did.

  2. Report this comment

    Catherine said:

    Upon further reflection, I think the saying should be ‘a day in the library will save you a week in lab.’ But, it really seems like a case-by-case basis: for example, any reaction scheme that involved running a column usually took me 5 times longer than the average scientist because of my great loathing for chromatography (is it any wonder I’m no longer in the lab?). So maybe each person really does need to think up their own phrase?

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    Carolyne said:

    Westheimer’s Discovery – “A month in the laboratory can often save an hour in the library.” – Frank H. Westheimer, chemistry professor.

    Runyon’s corollary: “A couple of hours on the Internet can frequently save a couple of minutes in the library.”