Stuart Cantrill’s blog pointed me to an online copy of this article, “Researchmanship”. I was given a copy of it from the (now defunct) ACS Chemtech in the 1980s, while I was in grad school, so it had a great effect on me. It recounts the techniques of one James J. Pudvin for getting through his degree program:
All professors expect a student to have an all-night session in the lab once in a while. Perhaps they feel that if they as students did so, the present generation should suffer in a like manner. Do not disappoint your professor! Pudvin “worked nights” at least twice a month, and his simulation of suffering was so successful that often his professor told him to “go home and get some sleep before you have an accident.” Pudvin’s approach, which is by no means the only one to take, was as follows.
In the afternoon Pudvin would announce his intention “to make a night of it.” He would sign up for the preparative GLC unit for the hours 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. (How else can I get 25g of starting material?”), and would decline all invitations to go to the movie, play bridge or pool etc., preferably when the professor was within hearing distance. When everyone was getting ready to go to supper, the professor included, Pudvin was seen carrying flasks, GLC receivers, syringes, coffee pot, radio and a green eyeshade to the GLC room. Next morning at 9.00 when the professor arrived, Pudvin would be found, haggard, pale, noticeably thinner, proudly displaying a 50 ml. flask of colourless liquid. “100% pure” he’d cheerfully tell the professor. After such concentrated devotion to duty it was not unexpected that Pudvin was not seen in the lab for the next two days.
Actually Pudvin’s nightly exertions were spent in strenuous, but pleasurable activities not related to chemistry in the remotest way. At 8.30 the previous evening he had left the laboratory, being careful to leave the lights on and a sign on the door (“BACK IN A MINUTE”. The radio played all night, and the coffee pot remained on “reheat” until Pudvin’s return at 8.00 a.m. The flask that he so proudly displayed was filled with 100% pure ethyl acetate.
Some of the advice is a bit outdated – waiting for the JACS to come back to the bindery, for example – but a lot of it is (for better or worse!) timeless.