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What does a typical day involve for chemistry researchers?

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Robert’s Answer

A typical day for a chemistry researcher is different in the academic/non-profit and the for-profit spheres, which may be why you've not gotten an answer to this yet. I can't speak much to the latter, but in a grant-funded environment (that's most academic and nonprofit institutions) you will have a few different types of days:
1) Research days - days you actually do hands-on research in the lab. You'll do fewer and fewer of these as you move "up the ladder," but early on they will constitute most of your days
2) Analysis days - days you analyze your data and figure out what, if anything, it means.
3) Communication days - days you write out your findings, present your (interpretations of) your data, etc. These become more common as you move "up the ladder:" you start presenting and writing about work others in your lab did
4) Money days - where you try to get funding: by writing grants, talking with donors, filling out forms, etc. These you may not start until later, but as you move "up the ladder" they will become more and more your concern.

Throughout every day, you will be trying to think of new interpretations of your [lack of] data, new experiments you might do that could attack a problem form a new direction, reasons why what you are doing is not working or might be tricking you, and interacting with other people. You do less of the front of the list and more of the back of the list as you go "up the ladder."

You didn't ask this, but in research you have to be patient, driven by curiosity, and adaptable. At the frontiers of science, most of your ideas will not work, and/or will turn out to have already been done. You have to stay aware of what other researchers in your field are up to and have done in the past, by reading a lot of research papers. If you don't find Science or Nature or the like to be interesting bathroom reading, that will be painful. If you are frustrated by doing everything "right" and things still not working, research is not for you. Also, if you don't like going on and on (in print and in talks) about what you discover, academic research is not for you.

Robert recommends the following next steps:

Get a copy of Science, Nature, or JACS (these are the titles of research journals) and see if you can find an article on a topic that interests you. Then see if you find it interesting to (struggle through) attempting to understand it. Doing that regularly is part of the life of any researcher.
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Chuck’s Answer

Using personal protection equipment. Sitting in a fume hood. Mixing cool liquids. Measuring yield of final products. :)
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