Or: Why My Group Hate Me #13572
Apologies for the recent silence - I have just started a new (temporary) postdoc, and I have been busy with the reading for that. I am now an alkaloid chemist! The next few updates will be brief while I settle in.
Many research groups seem to have a weekly problem session, or something similar. In my experience, this usually means a rota (or something less formal) where people take it in turns to set a few chemical problems for everyone to have a go at. Often a sheet is produced, and handed out a few days before so people can have a chance to think/put the structures into Scifinder.
The problems themselves can vary a great deal, and are nowhere near as predictable as, say, undergraduate exams. A common layout is the 'synthesis blankout', where a synthesis from the literature is redrawn but some key reagents and intermediates are missing, to be filled in by the attendees. Alternatively, sometimes a bunch of short reaction sequences are taken from several papers, because they're interesting, or illustrate a particular theme. I've also seen a few more original approaches, such as this one, which I think I downloaded from the Ley group website a few years ago:
In the group where I did my PhD, the sessions were always run by students and postdocs, attendance was optional and the boss never came. Although you might expect that without a scary professor most of the group would go, as we all have to viva at some point, this turned out not to be case, and there was probably never more than a third of us present at any one time. I was a regular, and used to enjoy problem sessions - much like I enjoy crosswords, pub quizzes and, well, being an organic chemist - for the challenge. They're also a great chance to focus on chemistry outside of what your own group does. My PhD was on the synthesis of largely flat - and if not, racemic - heterocyclic natural products, so I tended to set questions about selective transformations in large, stereochemically dense molecules, in order to vicariously experience the thrills and tribulations of modern organic chemistry. Unusual or baffling transformations on seemingly simple systems were another favourite of mine, and I really enjoyed these recent offerings from DrFreddy over at Synthetic Remarks. In that vein, I offer you this question, which I recently set for my group:
Answers in the comments, or via Twitter!