Welcome to chemsurvival.com, my corner of the web. My name is Professor Ron Davis, Jr and it is my pleasure to take you on a short tour of where I have been, where I am now and where I hope to take my career in the future.
My love affair with Chemistry didn't really begin until I was in college. My High School chemistry teacher, Don Ayotte, was fabulously entertaining and engaging. When I took his course in 1990 at Damascus High School I was entertained, but still uninspired. I actually started my college career as a history major! My goal was to teach secondary school in this subject, so I dutifully headed off to college to get my letters and start making a difference in the lives of students.
Just a year into my studies at Christopher Newport University, then just a small commuter college in the Tidewater area of Virginia, I came to a realization. I realized that questions about history rarely have a single correct answer. The 'best' answer usually came down to which one was best aligned with the opinion of the course instructor. Personally, I found this tough to deal with and I found myself longing for a discipline which offered more exacting methods, more technical involvement, and most importantly - a search for the genuine truth.
My instructors Dr's. Brunke and Chang at Christopher Newport were incredibly supportive, but at the time CNU offered no chemistry degree. So before long I found myself transferring to the other side of the state to attend Virginia Tech as a Chemistry major. While at Tech I not only studied science, but I taught as an undergraduate in the chemistry department as a recitation leader and tutor for the Navy ROTC program. Four years later, I emerged from Blacksburg not only with a B.A. in Chemistry, but a B.S. in Geology as well. Possibly just as importantly, I still had that love of teaching.
But before going further on my journey of teaching, I decided to get some work experience. After all, most students are preparing for private careers. It only makes sense that those who endeavor to advise them on their development toward this goal should have done some work in this area as well. So my next stop was what those of us in academia casually refer to as the 'real world'. I took a position as a Quality Control Chemist with Barr Laboratories (now owned by Teva Pharmaceuticals), a major generic pharmaceutical manufacturer. While there I learned just how structured a working environment can be. The free-running creativeness that surged through the teaching and research labs of Virgina Tech was replaced by the rigorous, structured, S.O.P.-driven world of FDA-regulated labs.
I lasted 11 months.
Even a change to a pharmaceutical research and development program at Middlebrook Pharmaceuticals in Maryland was not enough to satisfy my desire to create, explore and share. After a total of two and a half years it was extremely clear to me that I was not cut out for this kind of work. I had earned my stripes as a bench chemistry in the corporate world and I was beyond ready to get back to the environment that I love the most - school.
The final stop on my adventure as a student was Penn State University. I chose Penn State because I knew that its monolithic Chemistry program with over 30 tenure-line faculty would expose me to every possible sub-division and specialty in the chemistry game. I was right. As I attended seminars and courses on topics as varied as biological, organic, inorganic, materials and physical chemistry I found my interests leaning in the direction of biopolymers. Specifically, I caught on in the lab of Dr. Juliette Lecomte. Her research on the fundamental forces of nature governing the folding properties of proteins was fantastically interesting to me. How just a few types of interactions can lead to such a diverse and useful library of enzymes was a question that I simply had to explore for a few years.
In 2007 I completed my Ph.D. at Penn State and knew exactly where I was headed next - out into the world to share the knowledge and perspective that 11 years of college and nearly 3 years in the pharmaceutical field had given me. It was finally time to give back.
My first teaching position came from American University in Washington D.C. A simple one year appointment teaching for a faculty member who was on sabbatical seemed like the perfect transition. I would gain experience in teaching while searching for my permanent home in academia.
I found my home in academia shortly after that, landing a teaching faculty position at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. where I have been running Organic Chemistry teaching labs since 2008. In that time I have written a course manual, developed online 'fundamentals lectures' for my students. I have expanded into social media, offering what I like to call micro-lectures on my YouTube channel 'chemsurvival'.
More recently I collaborated with The Great Courses to produce a video course entitled Fundamentals of Organic Chemistry. This course is designed to appeal to all potential Organic Chemistry students, from high-schoolers prepping for college to curious life-long-learners. Short clips from my course are also available free of charge on my YouTube channel.
My experience with The Great Courses and their crack team of animators has inspired me to elevate my teaching techniques to new heights, incorporating animations and graphics created by professional-grade 3D rendering software such as AutoDesk's Maya or the open source application Blender. As I continue to build my skill set with these applications, I anticipate that my YouTube videos and classroom instruction will become even more eye-catching, accurate and capable of communicating more complex 3-dimensional geometries in a more effective way.
It has been an exciting twenty years since I first stepped through the doors at Virginia Tech as a student of chemistry. Bringing all of the experience, skills and connections that I have developed over that time to bear on the next twenty years should produce some interesting - if not amazing - results in teaching. I can't wait.
Thanks for reading,
Ron Davis, Jr., Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry
My Journey (so far)