Posted by: jackterrett | March 24, 2010

Week Two: St Albans and Hatfield

It’s the second week in England, and I’m starting to settle into a routine.  The daily schedule is very simple: get up, eat breakfast, walk to work, work, eat lunch, work, walk home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed.  Not terribly exciting, but it’s comfortable to fall into a regular, predictable life, at least for the time being.  Work itself is picking up – rather than reading safety documents and signing forms, I’m beginning to do some actual Chemistry!  My job is straight-forward enough.  Basically, I’m synthesizing various organic compounds that will be used as pre-cursors for further compounds of interest.  This is work that would usually be outsourced and can cost thousands of pounds per compound, so they’re saving a lot of money by hiring me!  Shame I can’t charge those sort of rates… I’m also used by the other chemists to do their menial tasks, whatever they may be – I’m glad to see a PhD makes their time too valuable to register and weigh out compounds!  Nevertheless, it looks like I’ll get a great deal of experience doing different types of organic reactions, so that is exciting!

Funny differences in the “lab-speak” always keep arising, each one taking me a bit by surprise.  Frequently entire concepts and instructions are lost on me because of slight changes in pronunciation of chemicals or equipment.  Over the last six years in the US, I’ve stubbornly continued to spell hemoglobin: haemoglobin, sulfur: sulphur, and aluminum: aluminium.  But, seeing as I didn’t learn any Organic Chemistry in the UK, my entire knowledge and speech is Americanized.  Here are some of the notable differences (if you’re not a Chemist, feel free to ignore this section!):

US: Erlenmeyer flasks                       UK: Conical flasks
US: Ethyl (“eth-il”)                            UK: Ethyl (“ee-tharl”)
US: Methane (“meth-ane”)                 UK: Methane (“me-thane”)  (note though, I learnt this word before moving to the US so I’ve stubbornly stuck to the UK way!)
US: Carbonyl (“carbon-eel”)              UK: Carbonyl (“carbon-arl”)
US: Aniline (“an-ill-in”)                      UK: Aniline (“an-ill-een”)
US: Amide (“am-id”)                         UK: Amide (“ay-mide”)

There are so many differences like this, but I’ll stop now because I know this is boring.  Slight pronunciation differences like these (and all sorts of chemicals with those endings are the same) can make instructions at work very difficult to understand.  So, we’ll have to see whether I stubbornly hold onto my American habits or try to adopt the English way, at least for the duration of my Internship.

In addition to working, I’ve done my best to make friends, albeit ones at work.  I went over to a “house-warming” party on Wednesday night to eat snacks, socialize, and watch the Champions League match between Manchester United and AC Milan.  I was the token Chemist, surrounded by Biologists and Pharmacologists, but it was a fun night out getting to know everyone a little better.  On Saturday, I went and explored the local area of Hatfield and St Albans.  Hatfield: not really worth a visit (I’d give it 0 Michelin stars probably) unless you want to go outlet shopping (which I did) at the Galleria.  St Albans: a nice taste of history after putting up with two weeks in 20th century-built Welwyn Garden City.  An old Roman city, it has some beautiful streets and buildings, including a clock tower and cathedral (see photo above).  I got the bonus of visiting the city on market day too!  The day served as a brilliant trial of the local bus system – Uno – provided by the University of Hertfordshire, which proved to be great value for money…that is, if you want to go to Hatfield…or St Albans…or Watford.  On Sunday, I went out for my first run in Welwyn, which was long-overdue and a lot of fun, despite just running around suburban streets.  Slowly and surely though, everything is starting to feel a little bit like…home.

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