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Everything You Wanted to Know About a Career in Chemistry* - Part II (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

What constitutes a good scientific paper?


The reader will decide. I, for one, don’t like sloppy work seasoned with hype, excess superlatives, and even more excessive insignificant figures. I know these tendencies well, having practiced them more than once myself!

Some view citations as a mark of quality but I’m not convinced. A more important point for me is whether the work can be replicated – science advances through repetition and confirmation and if critical details are left out, you are off to a poor start. Consider the example of a paper published in Nature, which received a lot of attention in the popular press. I looked at the supplementary material referring to LC/MSMS of a potential drug in mouse blood. There was no mention of how the mice were sampled or the volume sampled and the LC column, mobile phase and flow rate were not fully specified. This aspect was not central to the paper, but it suggests that anyone studying the pharmacokinetics of the drug in future would have to start over.

Clear, concise writing is also crucial. Some say that people who write are driven to careers in law and those who don’t are driven to careers in science or engineering. Like many generalizations, this one should not apply to you. Don’t wait till the end of your studies to become an effective writer. There are a lot of great resources available to help develop writing skills in Purdue’s Online Writing Lab program. In the end, investing in your communication skills will pay off. Without it, you will find obtaining employment in science very difficult and you will not advance in the profession.

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About the Author

Peter Kissinger

Peter Kissinger is Professor, Brown Laboratory of Chemistry, Purdue University, and a founder of Bioanalytical Systems, Inc. (BASi), Prosolia, Inc., and Phlebotics, Inc. Indiana, USA.

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