How to tell the difference between those who ‘do’ and those that parrot.
There is so much advice available on the internet these days (oh god, I sound like someones grandma) and not all of it is good. In fact, it is safe to say that the vast majority of it is bull crapola really, not because it is wrong, but because it isn’t really likely, possible, practical or applicable. When I’m talking like this I’m focusing on my pet subject, chemistry.
As far as I know chemistry still isn’t drawing in the crowds like other degrees seem to. Law and Medicine remain eternally popular but the humble old chemistry is just a bit too hard, too abstract and too……. full of chemicals I guess. So basically we live in a technically advanced world but one in which very few people know what the hell is going on. Interesting turn of events that.
To illustrate this I had a meeting today about a new cosmetic ingredient that is essentially a feat of chemical genius in spite of it being totally and utterly natural. In fact one could use this ingredient to make nature greater! Playing God or just being smart? I’ll take both and dunk my biscuit in it.
The trouble is that in a world that is almost chemically illiterate ingredient ideas like the above are poorly understood, supported and invested in until they can quite literally spell out their advantage in the kind of plain English that a 5-year-old would grasp which is a shame as there is so much more beauty, enjoyment and satisfaction to be had in life once we understand the detail.
But anyway, this type of situation plays out all over the net every day. In the past year or so I’ve noticed a marked increase in people who come along to the help desk I man overwhelmed and deeply confused after receiving (or reading) so many conflicting reports of what is what on the internet. This is not surprising, I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before but I do want to say it again.
Cosmetic chemistry is an applied chemistry, the devil is in the detail, there is usually more than one answer to a question and not everything that is possible is probable.
I find it relatively easy to discern between the ‘do’s’ and the ‘parrots’ and I think you should be in on this because it saves time:
- The ‘do’s’ will always be happy to say ‘you know what, I don’t really know but I think I know how we might be able to find out’ and no, they don’t mean they will ‘google’ it.
- They understand chemistry AND formulating enough (including how the product is to be manufactured) to be able to break down with you the reasons why certain ingredients will work well together and why others might not.
- They will give you confidence to try to explain what to look out for when (if) things have gone wrong.
- They ask you (and this is VERY important) LOTS of questions about what you are doing BEFORE they jump in with an answer.
- They pre-empt your ‘rookie’ questions and answer them pro-actively to save you the embarrassment.
- They tend not to give blanket ‘just use x’ type answers or use them with a caveat knowing that ‘x’ isn’t the answer for everything.
- They feel happy/ comfortable in sharing how they know what they know, where they went wrong and how they recovered their bad situation.
- They either have evidence to back up their suggestions based on their experimentation or can point you to real third-party science data that will do the same.
- They ask you questions and encourage your input into solving your own problems – teaching by empowerment.
On the other had there are the Parrots.
Parrots generally invest much of their time outside of the lab, listening in to what everyone else is saying before parroting it back louder and stronger so as to sound as knowledgable and authoritarian as possible. Questions you ask are given straight, direct no-if’s, no but’s answers ‘this is what you need’ type of thing and coming back with more questions quickly becomes tedious to them as it means they have to take that question on notice while frantically running around looking for the answer usually without ever setting foot in the lab.
So is what I’m saying nothing more than lab snobbery? ‘Im a chemist’ stuck-up-ed-ness?
No, you don’t need a chemistry degree to do this.
What I’m talking about is lab-reality.
We all know the scenario – we were all going to be perfect drivers that never changed lanes without indicating or daydreamed for a few too many seconds before catching up with the traffic jam BEFORE we got behind the wheel after a long and stressful day’s work…
We were all going to be the perfect pet/ human parent feeding only organic hand-made nourishment to our beloveds BEFORE we got ourselves a family.
We all knew how to make the perfect serum/ shampoo/ moisturiser/ sugar scrub BEFORE we tried to do it for ourselves and make a commercial go of it….
Life, it doesn’t always ‘go’ by the book.
And chemistry is no different.
I enjoy the fact that cosmetic chemistry has been accessible for so many more people and that it is easier than ever (in some respects ) to start-up your own brand – at least here in Australia. But what I do worry about is the growing reality that many people seem to be fumbling around in the dark looking for guidance. Sometimes it’s best to just turn the bloody light on.
Get into the lab as often as you can as there really is no better teacher than real, practical hands-on experience.