Rules of a Chromatographer’s Life


The Column

ColumnThe Column-11-23-2015
Volume 11
Issue 21

Incognito offers his rules for a chromatographer’s life.

Incognito offers his rules for a chromatographer’s life.

  The following came winging its way to me this week via my TwitterLinkedFaceApp feed:  

Rules of a Scientist’s Life

  1. See failure as a beginning, not an end 2. Never stop learning 3. Assume nothing, question everything 4. Teach others what you know 5. Analyze objectively 6. Practice humility 7. Respect constructive criticism 8. Give credit where it’s due 9. Take the initiative 10. Ask the tough questions early 11. Love what you do, or leave   It’s been around for a while so you may well have seen it. I’ve tried to trace the origin without success, so no credit I’m afraid.   I don’t like it. It’s sickeningly aspirational. It doesn’t speak to me as an analytical scientist working in modern times. I see a very different, much more cynical, scientist’s life. I’ve written what I imagine would be the typical “bench chemists” response to the list, below.   

Rules of a Scientist’s Life (Am I Really a Scientist?)


1. See failure as a beginning, not an end

I really don’t have time and the high throughput, data volume driven culture here makes me want to cover up my mistakes.  

2. Never stop learning

I’m not paid to understand – I just need to get these results out. I do what the specification says (honestly!).  

3. Assume nothing, question everything

I don’t have time to question – if something goes wrong I call metrology to fix it, if the data is out of specification I ask my boss what to do.  

4. Teach others what you know

This always takes too long and it always end up quicker if I just do it myself – besides, I want to keep my job, why teach someone else how to do it!  

5. Analyze objectively

I analyze chromatographically (sorry couldn’t resist that one!). My data analysis is usually done with a sense of trepidation in case the batch has failed.  

6. Practice humility

I’m an analytical chemist; therefore my status within the organization (one level below the ornamental fish in reception) instils humility on a daily basis.  

7. Respect constructive criticism

I don’t recognize the word “constructive” in this sentence. Failure means time and money to the organization and as such I do everything possible to avoid criticism by blaming the instruments, samples, and my colleagues so that I don’t end up on a disciplinary proceeding.  

8. Give credit where it’s due

I’ll do this when I see my boss doing it.   

9. Take initiative

I don’t have the time, budget, or resources for this type of nonsense. Besides, we’ve been pared down to the bare minimum over such a long time, I don’t have anything to take the initiative with. It would be nice to see what others are doing, but I don’t even get time to read the business to business literature any more, never mind the journals.  

10. Ask the tough questions early

What has the previous shift has left for me to wipe up?; Why is this instrument not working (or calibrated)?; Who on earth used this last?; How can I possibly get that many batches analyzed with two instruments down and two people away from the laboratory?  

11. Love what you do, or leave

Believe me, if there were other jobs to go to, I’d be gone.   You’re glad you don’t work with me right! But there will be few readers who don’t identify with at least some of the responses above.   However, I do like to present a balanced argument in this column (honest!), so, in the spirit of optimism, I began to create a list of very earnest and philosophically encouraging rules associated with analytical laboratory life. However, I quickly realized that this would take me far too long, so instead I decided to make a list of the rules that really apply to the chromatographer’s life.  

Incognito’s Rules of a Chromatographer’s Life

  1. There is no “column cleaning” wizard who lives in the column drawer – you need to do it yourself. 2. The right column choice for the next method development is not “Whatever’s on the instrument”. 3. 5pm system suitability results always fail. 4. “Bob’s method” isn’t robust – otherwise we’d call it by the product name rather than the only person in the laboratory who can get it to work. 5. Instinctively know that aqueous ammonium formate buffer isn’t basic. 6. Be humble enough to know that it is only your job to keep the balance tidy. 7. Accept that it is fate that brings you and the words “calibration due” together (and you must have been mistaken when you saw someone else use the instrument earlier that day). 8. The flame ionization detector (FID) igniter didn’t ever work – it’s always been lit using the “clicker”. 9. It really isn’t OK to ignore the calibrants that make the linear regression value fall below 0.995. 10. You CAN turn the column around to flush the inlet frit without ruining it for all time.  11. 0.1% TFA isn’t a buffer (and w/v and v/v produce different pHs!) 12. Yes, the reference wavelength, bandwidth, slit width, and sampling rate are all important 13. There is no such thing as “That setting works for all of our methods”. 14. The method of GC column installation wasn’t invented by Harry Houdini. 15. Instruments do not have a mind of their own, and they cannot choose to fail overnight rather than during the day. 16. It’s not cool to hoard micro-spatulas. 17. Safety glasses lenses are plastic – they melt when used to see if the FID flame is lit. 18. Buffers have ranges, and the person who developed the method didn’t know what they were. 19. The person who left the pipette tip dispenser empty really was called away on a genuine emergency. 20. HPLC system backpressure is inversely proportional to the number of people in the laboratory.   I know you will have similar rules. Send them to me at and I’ll publish a list of the best ones – my younger colleagues tell me it’s certain to go viral; probs!

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