notes from undergrad

Most chemists who blog seem to be either in grad school or the great beyond. I'm in neither category, though, since I don't graduate until the end of the year. A few others share my predicament. Tynchtyk, though he hasn't written often of late, used to post Friday Night Retrosynthesis. One of his former labmates has started writing more recently. Felix of Chemical Quantum Images does a killer job with molecular modeling and seems to know where to find all the free software for this purpose. The most notable blog by an undergrad appears to be The Half-Decent Pharmaceutical Chemistry Blog, which is written with more authority than I can bring myself to fake in anything I post. If you're not satisfied with the glowing solutions pictured from time to time at CBC, Mike puts up a few from time to time. Naturally, his are more bio-oriented than are mine. Maz at Chemical Forums Blog is an undergrad, too, as is Echiral of A Zephyr in Time (warning to organikers: this blog contains math). I think Kutti is an undergrad as well, but I'm not sure because my German is, um, completely lacking. Since some of the group listed above (and perhaps some who don't write) are currently lost in grad school applications, I thought I might direct them to a recent post at The Power of Goo that mentions a few things that are easily forgotten in the process.

Since I've gone through the trouble of calling out the other undergrads out there, I might as well point them in the direction of a little something George Whitesides said in the cover story for this week's C&EN.[1] I'll quote him here:

We might also consider our undergraduates, whom we tend to treat as little
colleagues and encourage them to create their own curricula. They do so, but
with a sensible eye to minimizing the workload and seldom by volunteering to
take the most demanding subjects. They might benefit-as might chemistry and
society-if we asked them to do more.

Of course, I have my own thoughts on the matter. But I'll leave those out for now and hope for an open discussion to evolve...

[1] The address itself is pretty interesting, but there are also lots of pictures. A few of these actually caught the interest of my significant other, who is about as far from being a chemist as I am from being the Pope. When working in a field rife with abstract concepts and complex systems so small they can't be seen, bring your camera if you wish to make yourself understood.


Mitch said...

Funny how a majority of those undergraduate bloggers are Chemical Forums regulars... :)


Matt Jenks said...

George is right...you shouldn't be taking the easy way out. You REALLY should be doing more, already.

*folds arms across chest*


Ψ*Ψ said...

If you look at the course requirements for PhD students here, and you look at the classes I've taken, I'll have satisfied all but one class by the end of next semester. (Excepting, of course, research credit and seminars--which I attend anyway.) Sure I should be doing more?

Hap said...

Professor Whitesides has (at least one) book with Felice Frankel with pictures of his research - he tends to have lots of pictures of his research, although at least part of it is because the objects of his research tend to be easily represented by pictures. The group still makes pretty ones, though.

I know of at least one undergrad out of Profesor Whitesides's group who had a JACS communication (not as sole author, but one of three authors, with a postdoc and Prof Whitesides). That might be what he means, though you're already doing research and can't make it do what it doesn't want to do. I would have been better served doing more research as an undergrad.

Chemgeek said...

I just had a conversation with a colleague who is finishing his PhD in Education (or something like that). He is studying trends in higher ed.

He pointed out a survey give to incoming freshman over the past 30 years.
Two questions were:
What do you expect your GPA to be when you graduate?
How much time do you expect to study each week?

Over the 30 years, the expected GPA has consistently gone up and the number of expected hours has consistently gone down.

Majoring in chemistry is not conducive for what more and more students are expecting out of college.

Whitesides may be right.

Matt Jenks said...

Are you, perhaps, referencing that whole p-chem bombing your gpa. Or at least mine?

What? You haven't completed ALL the requirements for graduate-level students as an undergrad? It's time to double...no...triple up!

milkshake said...

I think prof Whitesides got decoupled over the years from his undergrad experiences. Exortations to his colleagues "to make the undergrads to do more" completely passes over the formative problems of being an undergrad: Cramming on test while hungover, procrastinating on a crappy term paper asignment, trying to get hold of lecture notes from last 5 clasees that you missed - because the lecturer is an intolarable mumbly fogey and the class starts at 8:30am.

I was on a project with a clever greek guy who got an awful undergrad research asignment and managed to discover a new catalytic raction in the process. His problem was not lack of motivation "to do a more advanced stuff". Getting enough sleep while working in the lab and taking the required 4+ classes (and passing them with reasonable grades) occupied him enough that he had no time to go insane.

Excimer said...

P-chem and advanced math classes ripped apart my GPA like Superman with a phone book- it's the reason I decided to become an organic chemist. I'm massively not left-brained (or is it right-brained? I dunno, the side that does math good- I don't have that).

I had a very unproductive undergrad research career- that is to say, I was put on projects that didn't pan out well, though I worked a lot on them (not enough, apparently). Coupled with my inherent ability to waste my time more when I feel like I'm wasting my time, and I can't look back on my undergrad career with much fondness. Crappy GPA and subpar research skills- I am quite literally only in grad school cause I like (and am relatively good at) organic and materials chemistry. If that love ever went away, I'd be out of here, fast. Of course, my story should be a shining beacon of hope, that even the dumbest of you can go to grad school and be semi-productive.

Ψ*Ψ said...

As for undergrad "research"...in a lot of cases, that isn't the right word for it. I know of several undergrads who either wash glassware or attempt to replicate results produced by grad students. In many cases, there is no possibility for authorship of a paper if one is written, even if the vast majority of the work was done by an undergrad. The bright side is that some PIs have no problem giving undergrads first author on a paper. (This is why I've switched labs...three? four times? but am planning to stick around here for a while.)
Chemgeek is dead right about the disparity between the work required for a chem major (I suppose physics and engineering could maybe be included in this category as well) and most other majors. Rumor has it that the degree requirements for an ACS-certified BS in chemistry are under review and may change within the next few years.
Milkshake is apparently familiar with another problem. Six upper-division classes in a semester along with work? Too much. Keeping enough hours to remain a "full-time student" is important for many scholarships, without which some people would not be in college in the first place.

Tynchtyk said...

I switched labs often, too.
The more you change them the more you have fortune to not publish something.
The last time I was very close for writing a paper, but me and my mentor fell out and I left that lab

Mike said...

Some thoughts on authorship and undergraduates:

They do so, but with a sensible eye to minimizing the workload and seldom by volunteering to take the most demanding subjects.
I can only talk about the british system in this context (to be precise: my deparment). And here the above applies for most students, as research is still mandatory in third year. There may be some literature based projects to avoid lab-based work, however that only accounts for a minority of projects. One can imagine that students with the urge to leave biochemistry as soon as they graduate aren't the most motivated ones.

Hence, my deparment changed the third year policy and next year's seniors aren't obliged to do research. Although, I disagree with the concept of awarding a science degree to people who hardly did a week of lab-work in total, this approach will certainly alleviate the burden some supervisors have or had to carry.

If I were to change the british undergraduate systems I'd introduce a mandatory full-course unit for every year. Practicals may be nice, but I damn well remember our "molecular biology" experiment where we digested pre-digested DNA with water, so no-one was de-motivated by bad results (of course we weren't told so).

albert said...

Although I'm not a graduate student, technically speaking, at the end of my 5 years-long degree course (September 2008, hopefully), my position will be exactly that of a British/American student who has been awarded a master's degree.

Kutti said...

I am not quite sure whether I am an undergraduate or a graduate student because we do not have this classification here in Germany. You usually get your B.Sc. degree after 3 years and afterwards your M.Sc. degree. After another 3-5 years you finally get your PhD. As I have been studying chemistry for four years now and as I will take my M.Sc. degree in spring 2008, I suppose I´d be a grad student?! How lang have you been studying chemistry?

Kutti said...

Meanwhile, I looked up the term "Graduate student" in order to see what I am actually. What I have found out is the following: Grad students in Europe may be Master's degree holders pursuing a doctorate. Ahhh!
According to that definition, I am a undergraduate student as I only have a Bachelor´s degree and pursuing my Master´s degree right now.

Mike said...

Nope, Kutti. You are officially a grad-student then. As soon as you graduated (which you unavoidably did when you finished your BSc) you became a graduate.