Spring Semester Summary ’13

I have been told many times in many ways that sleep is one of the most important tasks. I’ve written about how important it is many times. This past semester I neglected it and became a zombie. That wasn’t good. Beyond that fundamental lesson, I also re-learned some other things in the past few months.

  • Scientific papers are really interesting. But only if you have already read about three on the same subject and just need to skim the introduction. By that point, you know the jargon and can actually focus on the cool discovery. Before that point…it’s a nightmare.
  • Because it is a nightmare to read scientific papers, you should not procrastinate. Indeed, simply skimming the paper is better than doing it “right”, because that way you might pick up some of the jargon. Obviously, however, procrastinators do not learn from nagging (or teacher’s warnings would yield results) nor do they learn by example (or procrastinators would not remain procrastinators), but maybe they learn from other people’s examples. Allow me to mention the twelve-hour take-home test and the night-before presentation of this past semester and the five-hour ODE homework and the two-day massive essay of the semester before as well as the people who waited until the end of the last semester of senior year to write their thesis.
  • Most importantly, try to have fun with it. Because if someone is just in a career for the money/prestige, it won’t pay nearly enough for the headache. And if being in school isn’t somehow a means to an end, where that end is either a dream job (which you will enjoy, and which will use the things you are learning now, no?) or enjoyment of the new found knowledge, then why are you even in school?
  • No matter how many times I learn these things, I always ignore them and end up a frustrated sleep-deprived mess. My professors do their utmost to reassure me that it’s never as bad as you think it is. Or perhaps it is, but freaking out never helped anyone.

I’ll admit that wasn’t a summary so much as a list of un-learned lessons, but I’m sort of trying to learn them. This past semester I took Physical Biochemistry, Instrumental Analysis, Chemical Thermodynamics and World History I. The semester before was actually a bit harder and involved Advanced Organic Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Quantum Mechanics, and Ordinary Differential Equations. I will now compare my classes in the fall and spring semesters in excruciating detail.

  1. Advanced Organic Chemistry was meant to be a laid-back sort of class. We could have notes in the tests, but there was a great deal we had to figure out on our own using “chemical logic”. I don’t feel that I was very good at it. Physical Biochemistry was similar, although there were a lot of papers out there we could look up to figure out why proteins fold the way they do. Both also introduced a lot of biology which I had been avoiding since high school. Surprisingly, however, that was really helpful, making both classes really interesting. And from the sound of my Physical Biochemistry teacher’s dark murmurings, I’m going to need to know biology as well as math, physics, and chemistry to do drug delivery research. Maybe I’ll actually be a halfway decent researcher.
  2. Analytical Chemistry was actually taught by one of the most laid-back teachers I have ever met. He flew through the material, and always seemed to assume that we were a great deal smarter than we actually were, so I was exposed to a great many things, but without the depth I would have liked. Instrumental Analysis was like a second semester of analytical chemistry, only it was taught by one of the more detail-oriented professors in the department (who is also the Physical Biochemistry instructor) so we got a focused description of certain aspects of electronics and lasers and spectrometry, it was rather an interesting contrast, especially as the laid-back analytical professor taught the lab in a sort of Socratic-independent-experimental manner. I discovered that I really am rather interested in electron transitions, but I almost felt it should have been much harder. Perhaps that is where independent study comes in. (My Structure and Bonding professor for Fall ’13/ new research PI heard me say this, cackled with delight and gave me the textbook he will be using so I can study over the summer.)
  3. Quantum Mechanics and Chemical Thermodynamics were both taught by my original PI, but they were very different. Quantum exposed me to the math of electron transitions before I actually knew what it was for (but was rather cool in a confusing sort of way). Thermodynamics was very specific about what the math was used for, but it also became evident to me that we were looking at very simplified systems. Quantum was also simplified. The mind boggles.
  4. ODE and History present an interesting contrast. ODE was a pain in the neck. I am positive that it was simplified to fit into one semester, but it was also amazingly awesome and interesting. The professor, who was a good lecturer, made the homework a pain in the neck by using Web-assign, which gives no partial credit whatsoever. And he gave homework for which we were not allowed to use mathematica or maple. For example, we had undetermined coefficients problems involving the third derivative of two or three sets of the cosine and sine of expressions of things like (2x +4)3x. Each time you take the derivative of a term like that, you get an additional term [For cos(2x^2+12x), you get -(4x+12){sin(2x^2+12x)}.] so if you had five terms originally, and derive three times, you get 5*2^3=40 terms if you have not messed up somewhere. Anyway, it was a pain. History, on the other hand was taught by a sweet lady who told stories, always let us out fifteen minutes early, and gave multiple-choice tests. I wish I could have heard more of her stories.

So that was not only my spring semester but my fall semester as well. It’s been fun, if a bit dramatic on my part. And if you made it through that long description of my year without feeling an urge to kill me, then you might be a chemistry major. Come join me!

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