Monday, June 11, 2007

Fighitng Boredom And Insult.

When one is bored and insulted at the same time, one can be easily fired up to do a lot of things. I was bored with the work in the Customs Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry after three months’ work there. I tried to improve the method of analysis of traces of lead and copper in wine. The method then in used was a very tedious and messy one. My Chief Chemist then, an expatriate officer, asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was using an ion exchange column to absorb the metal ions before analysis. This was a new but simple technique which was never tried before. The Chief Chemist reacted, as a matter of course, and told me that if the method was so simple as I described the British chemists would have discovered and introduced it for use long ago. His remarks were not meant to hurt me but it somehow did. It made me asked myself “Are the locals really that inferior?” or was it a myth I must break.

The Chief Chemist also told me that under the Department’s code of practice we must use “approved methods of analysis” for our results to be legally accepted. We could not change the methods of analysis as we like. The Chief Chemist’s comments almost killed my project on its track.

The Chief Chemist put his points very nicely to me but I felt greatly insulted by his remarks that the British chemists would have introduced this method if it was such an easy one. Fortunately I had worked on the procedure for 3 weeks already and had obtained some positive results. Politely I told him that I would make it work. This was my response, my commitment and my challenge. He had no choice but to let me continue. I had to continue and deliver or else. I succeeded to make the new method work. That saved me my job and gave me a new standing in the eyes of the Chief Chemist.

Then came the second point of what constituted an “officially approved method of analysis.?” I asked the Chief Chemist how methods of analysis were approved and who was the authority who approved them. It turned out that our own Department of Chemistry was the authority advising the government on this issue. The authority on this matter consisted of the Chief Chemist and his professional chemists. If any of the professional chemists was not happy with a method he had the right to make changes professionally in consultation and agreement with the Department. The removal of the general belief that the existing methods used could not be changed allowed me to change a number of methods used in the Department after that. The Chief Chemist – Dr. D. A. Frye was a perfect English gentleman. He was prepared to acknowledge and accept what was right. This may be a small incident but the effect on the Department and its staff was great. I myself had a freer hand to do what was professionally necessary after that. It was a very satisfying experience that we can do a good job. Do not wait for someone to push you into the corner before you react. It is within you to do this by yourself. . I have Dr. Frye to thank for initiating this change in me.

Lee Kum Tatt
6 June 2007

1 comment:

Elia Diodati said...

I don't know very much about the QA techniques used here, but was there any problem with using EDTA chelation + UV-vis spectrometry of some sort? Or were the amounts too small even for that?