Between undergrad and grad school I worked for 3 years in a lab at Rohm & Haas (sal-LUTE! we would shout, every time we passed it on the highway.) I worked with "pressure-sensitive adhesives. ("What?!") I made tape and stickers. In many ways, the 3 years there shaped me more than college did.
I was lucky. My boss was great, and my group was interesting and fun and smart and mean. It was fantastic. They reminded me that science was fun, and research is what you make of it. We talked science a lot (but at lunch and after hours, no work talk was allowed). We quoted Elvis Costello, played phone pranks (I don't know how many times I answered the phone to get an earful of handcream and the sound of about 5 guys hooting with amusement), swapped baking tips, and tried to stump each other with useless trivia.
The boys pushed me to play sports. Not me, I said, I'm awful. But Lou had a convincing argument: "We're chemists, Ang. How good do you think we are?" So, I played softball. Then volleyball. Then I was the scorekeeper for the basketball league. Then I formed the all-girls golf team (Babes with Balls -- we were very popular.) They taught me how to hit a softball properly, how to set a volleyball, "drive for show; putt for dough." They took me drinking afterwards.
At work, I was the girl who could get it for you. Sure, we were only allowed two ovens in our lab, but I had access to six, which allowed my boss to try all sorts of wacky experiments. Tim would just make requests: "I need glass plates..." "How many? What size?" "About 10, 12 by 12, quarter inch thick." "See you in an hour." An hour later, I'm handing over a stack of glass plates. Tim squints his eyes: "Do I even want to know?"
They pushed me to go to graduate school and then pushed me to go to a good graduate school. They wrote recommendations and told me what to look for in a school. And then they gave me advise to get me through grad school. ("Remember: grad school is pass/fair." "Grad school is not about being smart; it's about being tough.") (The best one: "You will hate grad school. It's awful." "Why are you telling me this?" "Because, when you are hating it and wishing you had picked another school or another program or advisor, you will remember that no matter what you did, you would hate it.")
I am a scientist because of them. A real scientist. I will always be grateful for everything they gave me.