Saturday, September 26, 2009

the summer of our discontent...

For most of you, the seasonal changes of fall have begun. The leaves are starting to change color and fall, college football games every Saturday morning, and the cool subtle breezes from the north have started to cool the air.

In Doha… it’s still fuckin’ hot. But at least it’s under 100°F at night now...

This summer was a little sour for me and most of the people I know over here. It started off fantastic with my trip to Thailand. But once I got back into town, there was a strange negativity in the air all summer. Much of it has to do with the heat and humidity that arrives mid-June, but there was much more than the punch-in-the-gut wall of heat. My employer was faced with some financial constraints brought upon by our benefactor, the Qatar Foundation. Limits were put into effect that caused our school and departments to tighten our belts and cut some spending. Of course, the first things to get cut were the little perks that we had all enjoyed sans consequence for several years. Free lunches, business class travel, and nearly unlimited mailing privileges were all dramatically cut. None of these things were promised to last forever, but when the things you take for granted are taken away… well… that’s when the shitstorm occurs.

People were pissed off… a little too much for my taste. Unfortunately, these episodes lowered the general morale of my coworkers and friends. Last summer, there were parties and poker games every weekend… not so much this year. Many of my friends were traveling, looking for any excuse to get out of Qatar for a vacation. In all… there wasn’t very much going on at all.

Thankfully, the boredom did allow me some free time to get in some research. I asked my Lil’ Boss if he had any systems that I could work on while we were waiting for some chemicals to arrive. He came up with a gem of a carbonyl-transition metal complex for me to study. After a week of trial and error, we came up with a research game plan and he let me loose with the lasers. I spent almost a full month measuring the displacement kinetics of chromium carbonyl complexes by photolyzing them with an ND:YAG laser and a rapid-scan IR spectrometer.

Kick-ass shit really…

I was able to get enough data with help from the new post-doc… let’s call him Ernie, to hopefully be published in a journal. The number of journal publications you have is how scientists measure their dicks. Top quality professors can have over a thousand publications. And just how many do I have??? Two. But both are quite awesome.

One really good piece of news to arrive this summer was the announcement that the research I performed last summer with Jeremy (see June 2008 entry) was finally published in the Journal of Inorganic Chemistry. So yes… I am officially a published scientist!! I’ve done tons of research before, but nothing that merited publication in a major journal. So if anyone wants a copy of “Displacement kinetics of η2 bound furan and 2,3-dihydrofuran from Mn and Cr centers: Evidence for the dearomatization of the furan ligand” just let me know and I’ll send you a copy along with a signed 8x10 glossy photo.

Strange thing about the publication announcement… I wasn’t on it. Now I did the work, and was told that I was the second author (first guy writes it, last guy pays for it, middle people do the grunt work). Problem is that according to the university rules, a teaching associate is not suppose to be doing research unless they are graduate students. Damn. Lil’ Boss pulls me aside about an hour before the email congratulating him (and not me) on his fine academic work to let me know that my name will be missing from the announcement. Oh well… as long as all of you know the truth… I’m fine with it. He did coat the medicine with some sugar though… he’s going to send me to the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco next year to present a poster on the research we did this summer. Very cool…

Another piece of good news from the summer was that I got promoted to Chemistry Technical Laboratory Coordinator. Basically, I have the same job, I still have to teach the labs, but now I get to handle the ordering and general maintenance of the labs. Longer hours and more responsibility… but at least I got a nice pay bump out of it.

The semester began right at the start of Ramadan, so for the first month of school we all had to hide our coffees and waters inside of paper bags and scuttle off to our offices like hobos carrying around 40oz of Rocketfuel Malt Liquor under an overpass. The hardest part of Ramadan isn’t the minor restrictions of no eating, drinking, smoking, or sex in public (was that right?) but it’s the general crankiness of the Islamic staff. According to law, all Muslims only have to work six hours a day during Ramadan; which meant that most of our faculty and all of our staff were working short days right at the start of school… which made things difficult of those of us that had to pick up the slack. On top of that, a lot of students (and faculty) use fasting as an excuse as to act like assholes. Oh well… you get use to it. But come Easter they better be prepared for the raging asshole I’m going to be due to my overindulgence in Peeps and chocolate bunnies!

During Ramadan we were blessed by a return visit from Jeremy (once again, see June 2008). Of course this time… it was Dr. Jeremy! He defended his thesis right before the trip, so he was almost officially a doctor… he’ll make some Jewish man’s mother very proud! This time, he brought along grad student Ross to help out, and together with Ernie they were able to get almost none of their originally planned research completed. Sometimes, that is just how it works. You can plan and hypothesize all you want, but sometimes the shit just doesn’t work. We still had a great time though! We toured the new Museum of Islamic Art, ate some great late night Turkish meals, feasted on tajine style baby camel, and for the coup d’grace… got makeovers.

Actually, I took them in for haircuts and massages, but somehow they both ended up getting the scalp treatments and full facials… oops. My Hindi must be getting rusty. I had a great time with them both, and wish Jeremy best of luck as a post-doc in Virginia!There were some other happenings this summer, including a trip to the camel races and a totally awesome 80’s costume party. All of which will be discussed later… mainly since I can’t find the pictures for either of them.

Instead, I’ll just have to avail myself in telling the story of the two trips I took in September. The first one was a long weekend in the secluded islands of the Maldives. The second trip was a fast paced week touring one of the most fascinating places I have ever been… China!