Hi, this is my first post. I'm generally more of a blog/message board reader than a contributor, but there's really been something that has been eating away at me, making it difficult for me sleep at night. (Note: long post coming up)
Last semester in Organic Chemistry I, I made a huge error, which caused an explosion that had the potential to really hurt someone (no one was hurt, thankfully, because I placed the shield down, as I always do, when I operate that machine). It was on a "TONS-OF-RAM" pressure-exerting device that compresses finely powdered solids into a disk than can be fed into an IR machine. Like many of the lab-related posts I dug up on this website, I do suffer from SA and so I appear
more frustrated and lost during labs. So, all in all, I looked like the lab lackey that everyone felt sorry for last semester. It takes me a tad bit longer to follow instructions, but while I tend to be one of the last ones to finish the lab, I am by not
by any means unusually slow.
This semester, I took steps towards being prepared for labs ahead of time and I am generally comfortable with the labs I am doing. However, my lab instructor and lab assistant seemed to already have me pegged as a disaster case. I am constantly told to "read the directions" by my instructor even though the questions I raise are not questions that even my fellow labmates can answer (and asking my lab mates first before approaching the lab instructor is how I know my questions aren't unreasonable). I suspect I look
lost and confused because my countenance during concentration is that of a grimace. Consider the following cases:
1. I was given an unknown compound, different from the ones my classmates received, and the goal was for me to use certain tests to figure out the identity of the compound. I ran a 2,4-DNP test and got a negative for ketones and aldehydes. I continued on to other tests and later asked my professor of my progress. He asked if I heated the 2,4-DNP test tubes and I said no, to which he responded with an annoyed tone of voice that I should "read the directions." So I reconduct the test and realized that the tests revealed a positive. I told him that I really should have followed the directions all the way through and I didn't know why I didn't carry them through: "I was just impatient, I guess" is what I told him.
A few days later, I realized that I didn't follow through because the lab assistant told me that heating was "generally unnecessary, although you could do it if you wanted," and that (!) was the real reason why I didn't follow through. What was implicit in her message was that doing so was not the most efficient use of time.
2. Later on in the experiment I was running the appropriate derivative test to confirm the compound from two possible remaining compounds I had narrowed down. I was doing a recrystallization and I encountered a novel situation of the solution "popping," and a drop of the solution had already bounced out of the Erlenmeyer onto the hot plate (not safe). So I lowered the temperature and considered out loud that perhaps I should drop a boiling chip into the solution. A lab mate who is considered to have better laboratory techniques (who had already finished the lab) counseled against it and came up to me and showed me how to control the popping by using a glass pipette and lightly scratching the bottom the Erlenmeyer during heating... only to have the professor come up to me as remark that "this is not how a recrystallization is done." He basically sat down and did the recrystallization for me. I stood there next to him looking helpless.
I am aware that the a recrystallization requires a rolling boil, but I have never recrystallized from a solution that pops out the Erlenmeyer, and in the context of this situation, I lowered the temperature dial for a bit to get everything under control first. The professor didn't even give me a chance to explain. The lab mate who initially tried to help and saw the whole thing basically apologized, but I realized at that moment that while the professor generally assists other classmates with a softer tone, I don't get benefit of a helpful attitude.
3. Properly reading the labels of a reagent bottle is an important skill in lab. Mistaking one label for another with a slightly different name can have disasterous effects. I misread a label once, and got the same annoyed reaction from my lab professor, only to have someone, who is considered to have superior lab skills by the professor, whisper in consolation that he, in fact, had made the same error (but was not caught).
All in all, I had made it a point to be extra safe this semester by reading the instructions more than once and by asking the lab assistant or professor when I had even the slightest bit of doubt. I just want to note that in lecture, he is one of the best professors I've ever had: kind, understanding, entertaining, and able to teach very well. In lab, however, he is less sympathetic and much more judgemental. He basically said at the end of the semester that laboratory isn't my area.
The only thing running through my mind right now is that he will continue to find more mistakes if he continues to watch over me EXPECTING to find something wrong. The lab assistant will actually come up and look at the bottle of solution I've taken out to make sure I didn't misread.
NOW, I WILL NOTE HOW THIS POST DIFFERS FROM THE MANY SIMILAR OTHERS POSTED ON THE SITE: I'm a bit weak in lab, but this is something I want to do.
Lab itself isn't a nightmare for me like a few others have posted. It is the opinions/attitude of the instructor that makes it a living hell. Most people gravitate towards things they are good at, but my interests are not dictated by my general aptitude. So, to have a generally easygoing instructor tell me in a serious tone of voice that I just don't have what it takes to work in a lab is quite traumatic. I've heard many say that in terms of lab, you either can do it or you can't, but I refuse to believe that a lab class is different from any other class. If you fail, you'll just have to retake it. I don't think any instructor goes up to his/her failing students, whether it's psychology or english, that they just don't have what it takes to study that respective field. Failing one class is hardly grounds for the university administration to drop a student from a major (I am actually at a junior college, though).
Anyone here with advice? I look up to my professors/instructors as life mentors, as well, and when the relationship gets slightly less than amicable, it becomes quite the traumatic situation. And if my SA and lack of affability is the culprit, what should I do? A good friend has told me that my tone of voice comes out as condescending sometimes, even though she knows I am not trying to communicate such a sentiment. But like the speech impediment I also have of lisping, it is not something I can correct if I can't even hear it myself.