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Why Organic Chemistry Is So Difficult For Pre-Med Students

timothy posted about 10 months ago | from the easy-for-the-rest-of-us-of-course dept.

Education 279

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Science writer and 42-year old pre-med student Barbara Moran writes in the NY Times that organic chemistry has been haunting pre-meds since 1910, when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released a landmark report calling for tougher admission standards to medical school and for medical training based on science. "The organic chemistry on the MCAT is chemistry that students need to know to succeed in medical school," says Karen Mitchell, senior director of the MCAT Program. Basically, orgo examines how molecules containing carbon interact, but it doesn't require equations or math, as in physics. Instead, you learn how electrons flow around and between molecules, and you draw little curved arrows showing where they go. This "arrow pushing" is the heart and soul of orgo. "Learning how to interpret the hieroglyphics is pretty easy. The hard part is learning where to draw the little arrows," writes Moran. "After you draw oxygen donating electrons to a positive carbon a zillion times, it becomes second nature." But the rules have many exceptions, which students find maddening. The same molecule will behave differently in acid or base, in dark or sunlight, in heat or cold, or "if you sprinkle magic orgo dust on it and turn around three times." You can't memorize all the possible answers — you have to rely on intuition, generalizing from specific examples. This skill, far more than the details of every reaction, may actually be useful for medicine. "It seems a lot like diagnosis," says Logan McCarty. "That cognitive skill — inductive generalization from specific cases to something you've never seen before — that's something you learn in orgo." This takes a huge amount of time, for me 20 to 30 hours a week writes Moran. This is one thing that orgo is testing: whether you have the time and desire to do the work. "Sometimes, if a student has really good math skills, they can slide through physics, but you can't do that in orgo," says McCarty ."

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Good thing its hard (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317627)

it will slow down the Muslims making chemical weapons.

I agree... (4, Interesting)

mjpaci (33725) | about 10 months ago | (#45317629)

I wasn't pre-med, I was a chem major and the hardest class for me was orgo due to the same reasons mentioned above.

Re:I agree... (5, Informative)

EvilSS (557649) | about 10 months ago | (#45317661)

It's funny because organic chemistry was one of the easiest classes for me. Many of my classmates thought I was insane but I enjoyed it. Now P-Chem, that beat me up in left me in an alley for dead.

Re: I agree... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317679)

This x 100. Organic was a cakewalk compared to P chem

Re: I agree... (1)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | about 10 months ago | (#45318077)

absolutely; pchem is way harder then organic

Re: I agree... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317685)

Just the fact that they call it "orgo" tells me it's weird. Where does the second O come from?

Re: I agree... (5, Insightful)

cold fjord (826450) | about 10 months ago | (#45317813)

Just the fact that they call it "orgo" tells me it's weird. Where does the second O come from?

Frustration. You can't scream a "g" in frustration. Try orggggggggggggggggggggggggggg as opposed to orgooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

It's similar to Khannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn versus Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan.

Re: I agree... (2)

EvilSS (557649) | about 10 months ago | (#45317831)

I was a Biochem major in college and I've never heard anyone call it "orgo"

Re: I agree... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318491)

Probably because the rest of the world calls it "o-chem."
You know, like the rest of the courses...
Ochem, pchem, achem,biochem. what the fuck is "orgo?"

Re: I agree... (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317903)

Just the fact that they call it "orgo" tells me it's weird. Where does the second O come from?

Where does the 'o' in "won't" come from?

Re: I agree... (1)

Fjandr (66656) | about 10 months ago | (#45318531)

It comes from the "o" in "would," even though it is as often used as a stand-in for "will not." We just don't have a separate contraction (i.e. wiln't)

Re: I agree... (4, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | about 10 months ago | (#45318721)

Judging from the topic I'd guess from a substitution of ammonium nitrate and its acid group with oxygen.

Re: I agree... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 10 months ago | (#45318727)

. o O (and these people wonder why they have trouble with chemistry... tsk, tsk...)

Physics (2)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 10 months ago | (#45317731)

Ever tried physics? It's all about applying rules to situations you have never seen before and it is not just restricted to carbon-based molecules.

Re:Physics (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 10 months ago | (#45317811)

As I understand it, the physics which are potentially of use to a pre-med don't go much beyond "figure out which equation produces the units you want, and rearrange it until it solves the problem for you." That doesn't involve getting an intuitive sense for quantities and thresholds, whereas these skills are forced on you right from the start of reactions in orgo.

Re:Physics (2)

j-beda (85386) | about 10 months ago | (#45318263)

As I understand it, the physics which are potentially of use to a pre-med don't go much beyond "figure out which equation produces the units you want, and rearrange it until it solves the problem for you." That doesn't involve getting an intuitive sense for quantities and thresholds, whereas these skills are forced on you right from the start of reactions in orgo.

You're doing it wrong. The stated methodology (guess, plug, chug) is very ineffective and completely counter to the major reason to require physics courses for non-physics majors (and physics majors for that case.) The (often unrealized) hope is that the student in a physics course will learn to analyze a given situation with an understanding based on overall principles (energy flow, momentum, torque, etc.) decide on the items which are important and which are not and then apply math skills to come up with the desired result. As with "orgo" this can take a lot of challenging work before it becomes a natural process.

Students who never develop these skills and rely on memorization of formula are often unsuccessful in physics courses, even if they put in a whole bunch of work. I suspect that this is true of almost any academic subject. Heck, successful art history and literature majors don't rely on an encyclopedic knowledge of the details of their subject matter as much as an understanding on the relationships and consequences of those relationships. The causes of WW1 or the artistic development of cubism are not just a list of dates and events, but a complex narrative of influences and reactions which is the thing that (good) students are trying to be taught. Not the fact that Franz Ferdinand was shot on June 28th, or that Picasso used a lot of blue for a while.

Re:Physics (3, Interesting)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 10 months ago | (#45318653)

Medical students are great memorizers. All of them. Some of them are also smart.

Dad is a professor emeritus of chemistry at a University that includes a medical school. He has a lot of stories about med students who NEEDED and A but couldn't reason for shit. They just didn't get that there was nothing they could memorize that would get them As. Some of them couldn't even plug and chug but somehow got into a 6 year medical program, which implies an A in HS chemistry.

Re:Physics (0)

Richy_T (111409) | about 10 months ago | (#45318749)

I started out doing a chemistry degree and this was my biggest complaint (I don't know if it was specifically with organic but I think so). There are the rules then there are exceptions to the rules and then there are exceptions to the exceptions. After I dropped out (for unrelated reasons), when I went back, it was for a physics degree and I was much more comfortable with that. Reason, not rote learning.

Re:I agree... (1)

HairyNevus (992803) | about 10 months ago | (#45317775)

Heh, I was a Biology major, and Gen Chem kicked my ass. The whole time the professor kept telling us this is the worst of the chemistry classes, and once we took him for O-Chem things would get better. He kept baiting us by saying he taught O-Chem via synthesis of various drug compounds (LSD, MDMA, etc.). Shoulda stuck with it...

But it makes sense, then, that as a chem major you found O-Chem the hardest. I found Gen Chem to be no different from a math class (which is my weakest point).

Re:I agree... (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 10 months ago | (#45317859)

First-year general chemistry wipes out a lot of students, largely because it's when you discover your high school learning strategies are no longer valid. I squeaked by with a cool C- when I took it, but it was sufficiently scary to make me take all of my other classes seriously after that. Clearly, if the life sciences curriculum has this much synergy in it, it hasn't been molested enough by well-meaning politicos and deluded parents.

Re:I agree... (4, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 10 months ago | (#45317865)

He kept baiting us by saying he taught O-Chem via synthesis of various drug compounds (LSD, MDMA, etc.).

Heh. I liked that part too. Unfortunately, you start with three tons of acetone and end up with 0.2 grams of cocaine.

But organic chemistry has been nothing more than the crunch course for pre meds. The way it's taught in most places it is just rote memorization. Lots of rote memorization. And med school is little more than that (other than gross anatomy which is rote memorization in a fog of wintergreen-flavored formaldehyde.)

Which is a shame because organic chemistry is interesting in it's own way. However, the intro courses are typically not designed to initiate some love of inquiry and reasoning - they're designed to see how much you can stuff in your brain for a couple of weeks. The end result is lots of doctors who remember broad swathes of oft time trivial facts, but can't figure out basic statistics to save somebody's life.

Re:I agree... (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 10 months ago | (#45318417)

can't figure out basic statistics to save somebody's life.

To be fair, most non-statisticians can't figure out basic statistics to save their life. It's a deceptively hard field.

I wrote a one-page stats bible for my residency program called "How to Get Every Stats Question Right on the Anesthesiology Boards". Last I heard, they were still making copies of it six years later.

Re:I agree... (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 10 months ago | (#45318703)

First year * is the hardest because you have to listen to the bitching of all the future washouts that don't have the maths for real science.

Seriously, your prof wasn't being completely honest. It only gets easier because you're used to it.

Re:I agree... (5, Interesting)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | about 10 months ago | (#45317879)

In many respects, its unfortunate that chem majors (I was one, too) take O-chem alongside pre-med students.

The most useful aspect of O-chem is learning to interpret the various spectroscopic results used to characterize organic compounds (particularly NMR spectra). This information is quite useless, however, to those who are not chem majors. We instead spend an inane amount of time learning hundreds of chemical reactions that neither the pre-meds nor the chem majors really need to know.

Even then, the course doesn't have to be as difficult as it's made to be, which I finally figured out the first time I taught organic chemistry. We simply make it that difficult to weed students out. Many students who probably would have made fine chemists saw their chemistry careers end in Organic II---all in the name of convincing a lot of pre-meds that they were never going to become doctors.

Re:I agree... (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317957)

We simply make it that difficult to weed students out.

I detest that approach, particularly when it involves something as meaningless and pointless as brute force memorization. If you want to weed out students, teach important topics to an advanced degree. Jumping though hoops is for seals. Your criticism has great credibility since you taught the subject.

Re:I agree... (4, Insightful)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | about 10 months ago | (#45318033)

There's a certain perverse logic in using Organic I and II to weed students out.

They're sophomore-level courses. They're also the most difficult two-course sequence all pre-med/pre-vet/pre-pharmacy students will collectively take during their first two years. Pre-med students outnumber the openings in medical school by at least 10 to 1. They must be weeded at some point. The sooner you weed them out, the sooner those students can stop wasting their time and tuition money on a course of study they will never complete.

I'm not sure I agree with it, but that's the logic as it was explained to me.

Re:I agree... (4, Insightful)

demonlapin (527802) | about 10 months ago | (#45318485)

You've got to weed them out at some point, and you're a heartless ass to let them go through an entire program if they really don't have a chance. Weed early and often.

That said, as a chemistry major who decided to go to med school when I was a senior, I think it would be better still if we went to British-style medical education. The needs of physicians and chemists are different enough that they should be taught in separate classes. As a trivial example, doctors don't need to know that Grignard reagents exist. As others point out, spending that time on a rigorous education in statistics would serve them much better.

Re:I agree... (1)

hibiki_r (649814) | about 10 months ago | (#45318601)

We'd be doing far better if we just weeded people out just because they can't cut it at the job, rather than because they are not in the top 10% of their class. Just train more people, and have supply and demand do its thing, instead of leaving things to organizations that want the supply of doctors to be low.

Re:I agree... (1)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | about 10 months ago | (#45318701)

And what exactly happens to all of those "doctors" with $400,000 student loans who now cannot work as doctors?

If we used your approach, no doctor would ever be able to secure a student loan again. The risk of default would be astronomically high. The only difference is that now the lenders would be the ones choosing who gets to become a doctor.

Re:I agree... (1)

blackjackshellac (849713) | about 10 months ago | (#45318343)

1) organic chemistry is part logic, part memory work
2) this is something that med students should be able to handle
3) I am not particularly good at memory related courses, but because I could hack away at it using the logic of reactions mechanisms I did suprisingly well
4) disclosure: phys chem was my major

If you want to be a farkin doctor, you should be able to handle organic chemistry. This article strikes me as whinging.

Re:I agree... (1)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | about 10 months ago | (#45318519)

Med students, whinging? Well, I never heard such a disgraceful slur in all my days!

Re:I agree... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318411)

I thought that this was easier than general chemistry, but the lab was a major PITA, took it over a short summer semester(2 recitations/labs / d twice a week not fun, esp if you end up with a crap lab partner), at least it was worth some credits for a lab.

caveat: by the time I took orgo I already had an MSE.

Drawing little arrows. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317635)

I hear there are these new things coming, they are called computers, I think. Can they do these tasks for us?

Re:Drawing little arrows. (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 10 months ago | (#45317693)

Solving organic chemistry problems is one of those things supercomputers and massively distributed projects are set up for.

Re:Drawing little arrows. (1)

speckledlemon (1822294) | about 10 months ago | (#45317907)

Solving organic chemistry problems is one of those things supercomputers and massively distributed projects are set up for.

Unfortunately, not yet; algorithms for solving these problems typically don't scale well past 8-16 cores.

Re:Drawing little arrows. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317701)

Way to completely miss the point of the argument.

I hope that was intentional since that otherwise would indicate a serious lack of reading comprehension skills, maybe due to an over reliance on computers?

It's the teaching methodology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317637)

When the brightest student in my organic chemistry class can only get about 60% of the answers correct on the first exam, that should tell you they are teaching the subject matter poorly. Then they graded up on a curve so she got an A, so as not to make the faculty look bad. She was a 4.0 student in biochemistry by the way.

Re:It's the teaching methodology (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317665)

Maybe you just go to a second rate school full of losers.

Re:It's the teaching methodology (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317759)

When the brightest student in my organic chemistry class can only get about 60% of the answers correct on the first exam, that should tell you they are teaching the subject matter poorly.

That's SOP for orgo (not 1st hand experience I admit), but why should people be able to get anything approaching a 100% on a test? Orgo or not, it means the ability to test how well a student understands the material is difficult because the detection curve is compressed towards the top. It also favors being able to regurgitate or recalculate what you've been shown, as opposed to really testing how well you know a subject. Give students problems that are so challenging that they're unlikely to get all of it, or at least unlikely to get all such questions.

It's tough for students who are used to being able to get almost all the problems. There was a prof at my alma mater that always took this approach and was very upfront about it at the beginning of the semester. He was not a sadist, or even a ridiculously hard grader, so he'd tell people not to get upset even if they thought they did poorly. Wait for the grade. Inevitably some girls would walk out crying (sorry for the stereotype, but it was true), and guys just asked directions to a train track to lie across. When they got their grades back, frequently they'd done well. It's a good approach, but you have to get used to it.

Re: It's the teaching methodology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317851)

The true task of an educator is to get every student to an A+ level.

  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkneoNrfadk

Re: It's the teaching methodology (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317977)

No, it's to get every student to do as well as they can. The best schools, especially in the early grades, work on that. Kids doing well don't need as much help as those who are not. However, it doesn't mean everyone has equal capability, regardless of how hard they work or how good the teaching.

College too hard? (2)

edibobb (113989) | about 10 months ago | (#45317645)

Dumb it down, just like everything else.

Re:College too hard? (4, Interesting)

ZeroPly (881915) | about 10 months ago | (#45317815)

The question is not whether organic chemistry is too difficult, the question is whether it is even necessary. My brother is a practicing physician, has been out of premed for 20 years, but can still look at a sketch of Ibogaine and understand what he's looking at. Which is completely useless in the context of his job.

However, he has no clue what Bayes' theorem is, or how it is relevant to his decisions. If I'm seeing a doctor who's evaluating me for an angioplasty vs Lipitor, I damn well want someone who understands Bayes' theorem and has a good intuitive handle on probability, not someone who can sketch complex molecules.

Re:College too hard? (4, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 10 months ago | (#45317921)

Pre-meds at my alma mater were required to take a second-year stats course, and were also exposed to Bayesian thinking in a special pre-med focused math course (which was mostly calculus but had some extras.) Mind you, this is in Canada.

Re:College too hard? (1)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | about 10 months ago | (#45317945)

The purpose of O-chem for medical students is to give them a fundamental understanding of bonding behavior of organic compounds so that they can later extrapolate that knowledge to biochemical processes.

The lack of proper training in statistics for the vast majority of physicians is a completely separate problem.

Re:College too hard? (1)

DeadDecoy (877617) | about 10 months ago | (#45317841)

The problem isn't that you need to dumb it down. It's that, as the op says, you need to memorize a fuckload of chemicals, equations, and the particular circumstances under which they occur. The memorization task is made particularly difficult when you're dealing with concepts that you don't consciously interact with on a day to day basis. I think the process of teaching ochem could be improved if we take into account the limitations of the human brain. The brain tends to have a capacity of remembering 2-5 things, but that capacity is significantly increased when we start chunking and creating meaningful links between those concepts. It might then be easier to group the ~50 items-to-be-memorized into smaller groups, to facilitate memorization. Or deal with fewer chemicals in greater depth. It might also be useful to stress skills in navigating the text rather than outright memorizing it. Eventually, a body of knowledge gets so big, that it requires a longer time to learn.

Re: College too hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317873)

Grades are about power and control, not learning.

Re: College too hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318585)

Says one who hasn't been that successful at school.

Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (2)

the_humeister (922869) | about 10 months ago | (#45317653)

Or maybe it's just me. I found physical chemistry more challenging.

Re:Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 10 months ago | (#45317749)

Indeed. So much so that I switched to mathematics in my senior year (well, that plus I had basically already completed the math requirements and I had terminal Senioritis).

Re:Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317771)

Problem is the AMA and the government control the number of residency spots. So if you get more applicants you don't get more doctors, they just make the testing harder. Doctors like this because it creates an artificial "doctor shortage" and keeps their wages up.

Re:Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317795)

Interesting - you're not the first chem major to say that here. I wasn't a chem major, and never took orgo, but in my basic chem I always found P-Chem both the easiest and most interesting. Probably belies my physics orientation. Everything else in chem, even short of orgo, always seemed like too much memorization, which I always sucked at. Probably why I liked physics, math, and engineering classes - nothing to memorize. Oddly though, I also like history, but the stuff you have to remember is easier for me because it has more context.

Re:Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (1)

speckledlemon (1822294) | about 10 months ago | (#45317893)

Or maybe it's just me. I found physical chemistry more challenging.

Usually it's one or the other, rarely both that people find "easy".

Re:Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (4, Informative)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | about 10 months ago | (#45318297)

P-chem is difficult because it's students' first immersion into quantum mechanics.

You learned the sanitized version of quantum in gen chem---all those rules about electron configurations and the funky shapes of atomic orbitals. But you simply memorized it. In P-chem, you were confronted with the actual wavefunctions from which all of that stuff is derived. If you've never seen a wavefunction or eigenvalue before, it's a total mind trip. And virtually nobody has encountered such things prior to P-chem.

And then you learn that, once you move beyond a one-electron atom, must of the equations become impossible to solve. And now you must introduce a series of assumptions and limitations to arrive at any solution whatsoever. And that's when the goo starts oozing out of your ears.

Somewhere at the end of it all, you realize that chemistry and theoretical physics are not distinctly different subjects.

Re:Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (2)

demonlapin (527802) | about 10 months ago | (#45318495)

I met up with my lab partners for drinks before our last P chem class, the one where the professor summarized an entire semester of quantum in one lecture. It actually made more sense when I was slightly buzzed.

Re:Wasn't that difficult when I went through it (1)

fermion (181285) | about 10 months ago | (#45318425)

Physical chemistry was hard for me. Did not take organic until later, at it was not easy either. What scares me is that doctors, who are supposed to be the smartest people on the planet, and therefore usually very well paid, seem to have problem with science. Here another thing that scares. Premed majors on average get the lowest score on the MCAT, yet we still have students going into premed to become a doctor. From the numbers I have seen, Physics results in the highest scores. Either the MCAT is not predictive of success in medical school, or we should be asking all doctors to major in physics.

Organic Chemistry BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317655)

This is such BS. You only need all the tricksy rules in organic chemistry because it is tought with total disregard for the QUANTUM MECHANICS that provides the simple explenations. Once you understand quantum, it all makes sense. But there is a hundreds year OCHEM GUILD that makes its living off of perpetuating this BS. And, of course, pre-meds suffer through it not caring to really question or understand -- so they can end up presiding in their own AMA GUILD. And then, from these MONOPOLIES, we wind up with type-2 diabetes exploding, ever declining quality of health care and now a nation bancrupted by these GUILDS. GATEKEEPERS of academia and medicine that blindly memorize the dogmas... inductive generalization my white wrinkly ass.

Re:Organic Chemistry BS (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317839)

It's one thing to understand the quantum mechanical underpinnings (thank you Linus Pauling) and quite another for the calculations involving same to be tractable. I've always loved the idea of chem as a branch of physics, but AFAIK it's simply not tractable. I believe some work is being done on it with supercomputers, but it's far from solving everything.

Re:Organic Chemistry BS (1)

pla (258480) | about 10 months ago | (#45318089)

Dude, calm down. You need to rotate your time cube 20-30 degrees coreward.

Re:Organic Chemistry BS (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 10 months ago | (#45318427)

Once you understand quantum, it all makes sense.

Well, ....until you come to measure it.

OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 10 months ago | (#45317657)

Students learn organic by memorization. It is unfortunate but it's the truth. That said, we expect med students to excel at memorization and regurgitation so OChem is a good tool for learning that. The problem though is that we de-incentivize actual comprehension as the students learn that they won't need >90% of what they memorized in OChem later on (if we exclude that which is acceptable to look up in a reference later).

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (4, Interesting)

Shoten (260439) | about 10 months ago | (#45317703)

Students learn organic by memorization. It is unfortunate but it's the truth. That said, we expect med students to excel at memorization and regurgitation so OChem is a good tool for learning that. The problem though is that we de-incentivize actual comprehension as the students learn that they won't need >90% of what they memorized in OChem later on (if we exclude that which is acceptable to look up in a reference later).

Quite true. My father is a clinical chemist, having a Ph.D. on the topic and even having taught at an Ivy League university. As a child, I read some of his tomes on things like toxicology and diabetes, just out of boredom. (I read a lot as a kid.) His advice to me when I was going to college? "Don't take organic chem if you don't need it." I've always been good at science, but the gist of it is that orgo is just a long litany of exceptions, like a nightmarishly inconsistent language. Hence the memorization...and the difficulty. Yes, mapping out the electrons helps a bit, but in truth that's more used like a requirement than an aid in keeping straight what is really going on at the molecular level. At one point I took a peek into orgo, and entirely understood the advice I'd been given all those years before. Holy crap...

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318533)

PhD chemist here. Organic chemistry is perfect to weed out people who will not make it as doctors. In truth, organic chemistry is not a "hard" science: it does not come from basic principles, like say phys. chem. The only way to succeed at organic chemistry is to memorize, memorize, memorize. The more you memorize, the easier it is to see similarities between the cases, which are just like law cases or medicine cases. Hence, I would support mandatory organic chemistry for pre-med students. For chemistry major students, not so much...

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (2)

Lanboy (261506) | about 10 months ago | (#45317773)

As my two brothers whom are doctors say, If you want to learn to think, go to law school, medicine is memorizing. It is a generalization, but a fairly accurate one. This isn't what separates good doctors from bad doctors, it is what separates doctors from non-doctors.

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317861)

Our anatomy professor said anyone could be a doctor. You just needed an iron ass. Becoming a doctor means sitting and memorizing.

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (0)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317889)

As my two brothers whom are doctors say ...

It should be "as my two brothers who are doctors say ...", otherwise you have two objects and no subject. Sorry for the pedantry, but I can't resist now that Slashdot has become a forum for demonstrating that nerds know English :)

P.S. I think you comment is very accurate, and it jibes with what I've heard from many others. It also explains why I could never be a doctor.

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318065)

... now that Slashdot has become a forum for demonstrating that nerds know English :)

P.S. I think you comment is very accurate ...

*ahem*

Couldn't resist, sorry. ;)

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (3, Insightful)

sunking2 (521698) | about 10 months ago | (#45318121)

More like if you want to do memorization without killing someone if you are wrong, become a lawyer. I've yet to meet a lawyer who has impressed me with their ability to think.

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 10 months ago | (#45318529)

It's not that it's all memorization, so much as that you have to memorize an enormous body of work before you can even begin to understand the basic questions. It's difficult to explain the hard parts of any given field to other doctors who did a different residency.

Re:OChem isn't learned by logic or intuition (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318607)

Students learn organic by memorization. It is unfortunate but it's the truth. That said, we expect med students to excel at memorization and regurgitation so OChem is a good tool for learning that. The problem though is that we de-incentivize actual comprehension as the students learn that they won't need >90% of what they memorized in OChem later on (if we exclude that which is acceptable to look up in a reference later).

Funny story: I taught "physics review" for MCAT students a number of years back. Needing to actually USE a handful of equations to solve projectile motion problems was far-and-away more difficult for the average pre-med than memorizing hundreds of rules for organic chem.

No memorization ! (2)

mbone (558574) | about 10 months ago | (#45317699)

You can't memorize all the possible answers

Horrors ! What's a premed to do? Surely they don't expect them to actually understand something?!?

Article is exactly wrong (4, Interesting)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | about 10 months ago | (#45318243)

I have a PhD in chemistry, so I've been through all the classes mentioned.

Organic is, in fact, the only one you absolutely CAN memorize. Unlike the math-based chemistry classes where you have to learn principles, which the pre-meds struggle mightily with, the memorization-heavy organic chemistry is the one that is considered to be similar enough to medical school that it is used as a weed-out.

This is particularly true of organic *synthesis*, vs. organic *mechanisms*. Mechanistic organic is often presented as a first semester organic class, and that does actually require knowledge and understanding. Synthesis, however, is nearly straight memorization, even if you don't want to.

I was happy when the pre-meds stopped taking the major-level chemistry classes (mostly after organic). It made my physical chemistry classes much more interesting. It didn't keep the one pre-med in the class from whining the entire time that he wasn't getting the answers spoon-fed to him from the book, though.

So I don't know where the author is coming from, because they completely got it wrong.

quote from James Watson (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317705)

I was not faced with the prospect of absorbing chemistry until I went to Copenhagen to
do my postdoctoral research with the biochemist Herman Kalckar. Journeying abroad initially
appeared the perfect solution to the complete lack of chemical facts in my head, a condition at
times encouraged by my Ph.D. supervisor, the Italian trained microbiologist Salvador Luria. He
positively abhorred most chemists, especially the competitive variety out of the jungles of New
York City. Kalckar, however, was obviously cultivated, and Luria hoped that in his civilized,
continental company I would learn the necessary tools to do chemical research, without needing to
react against the profit-oriented organic chemists.

from "The Double Helix" (emphasis mine)

Chemistry major weighing in... (1, Informative)

gatkinso (15975) | about 10 months ago | (#45317719)

(Actually I switched to Math in my senior year).

Organic Chemistry was a breeze compared to Physical Chemistry. Just my opinion.

Step 1: Stop calling it orgo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317727)

People actually call organic chemistry orgo?

As the son of two medical doctors ... (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | about 10 months ago | (#45317745)

... I can attest that anything that keeps them humble is not a bad thing. Yes, my dear MD, you are human, too.

Re:As the son of two medical doctors ... (1)

Lanboy (261506) | about 10 months ago | (#45317797)

Unfortunately, confidence is a requirement for the job. An indecisive doctor is a shitty doctor.

Re:As the son of two medical doctors ... (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | about 10 months ago | (#45317901)

True, it is a delicate balance that is required. Nonetheless, I don't think it hurts to remind practitioners and prospective practitioners that there is more in Heaven and Earth than they can wrap their heads around.

Re:As the son of two medical doctors ... (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45317997)

An indecisive doctor is a shitty doctor.

But one who thinks they know everything and always make the right decisions is even worse. Confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive.

thanks timothy (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317777)

I always wondered by orgo was so difficult (my friends took it not me).
Thanks for teaching me something Timothy.

Did you get a speeding ticket today? [wikispeedia.org]

Half true (4, Interesting)

pla (258480) | about 10 months ago | (#45317805)

First, a disclaimer to prove I don't mean this as bragging - I sucked at gen chem. I found it painfully tedious - Basically 100% having humans do things that computers do much, much better.

But I aced Orgo with fairly little effort. It just makes sense, once you master those basic rules - You have your carbon skeletons, your functional groups, your resonances, then mix in chirality, spice it up with a few inorganic substitutions, and bam!, the rest becomes like a good, satisfying puzzle - Spin the structures around in your head, and see where the electrons "want" to go.

If Orgo has a reputation for being hard, it has that only by virtue of having boring ol' gen chem teachers trying to explain something outside their comfort zone. I consider myself lucky to have had something of a "reformed hippie" for a prof, with a godlike skill for getting us to see not what happens, but why.

Put another way - If you can't solve the problems without consulting lookup tables and using a calculator, you have no shot whatsoever at understanding something at an intuitive level. When you can memorize all the rules in your first month or two, the rest becomes just fun.

Then again, a "friend" of mine did a lot of psychotropics back then. That might have helped. ;)

Sounds like programming (1, Interesting)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 10 months ago | (#45317817)

The same C like syntax in almost all modern languages that are desktop oriented where you need to keep track of things like registers on the cpu, bottlenecks, and then in advanced object oriented classes how abstract java based frameworks work.

What makes success? Time and desire to finish your program.

Hibernate and java 2 EE or Drupal can take months to learn how they work before you can do anything useful which I find irritating.

Journalism and art majors have things quite easy compared to chemistry, medicine, engineering, or computer science ones. Business can be easy too if you do not focus on finance or statistics but even that is half way between the time and hardness of art vs medicine.

Easy explanation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317891)

Pre-med students, are, in general, just not as smart as actual chemists. So, when you put them both in the same class, and grade them on the same curve, it doesn't go so well for the pre-meds.

org chem is like a cookbook (1)

tommeke100 (755660) | about 10 months ago | (#45317925)

The problem is that there is no inherent logic, like math or physics.
It's a (big) bunch of rules and exceptions on how to mix 'ingredients' together.
So if you can let lose of all the 'but why?' questions and just follow the recipe, you'll do great.
That wasn't me, though. I've never really got the hang of it, although I love science, so I was happy to leave all those carbon rings behind after high school.

A- my ass..! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45317943)

Does the reaction depicted in Figure 1 of the article bother anyone else? There's no way that would occur!

Re:A- my ass..! (1)

EvilSS (557649) | about 10 months ago | (#45318321)

I know the answer but I'm curious: Please explain why you believe "There's no way that would occur!"

Pre-Med Orgo Requirement (5, Informative)

windwalker13th (954412) | about 10 months ago | (#45317965)

After having talked to numerous doctors on whom have been part of admission selection committees for different medical schools this is the consensus I have reached as to why Orgo is required for medschool. Orgoanic chemistry is looked at as a weed out class. In particular, they believe that good grades from second semester (quarter 2,3) in Orgo prove the ability of the student to be able to solve complex problems because the later part of most organic chemistry courses focus on synthesis. They believe that good grades in second semester orgo will translate into a doctors ability to see the long term solution and that good grades are indicative of an ability to plan a multistep process for patient recovery.

Re:Pre-Med Orgo Requirement (4, Interesting)

the gnat (153162) | about 10 months ago | (#45318059)

Orgoanic chemistry is looked at as a weed out class.

Yup. As someone who both attended classes with and later taught pre-meds, I had an immediate gut reaction to the article title: "maybe because so many pre-med students are retards?" Seriously, after seeing some of the people who wanted to be doctors, I've never been able to fully trust the medical profession. Like some of the other posters, I thought orgo was relatively easy, and I've always felt that anyone who found it an impossible obstacle had no business making decisions about other people's health.

Simulator / interactive learning (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318001)

If there was ever a topic best taught as an interactive game this would be it.

Walter White (5, Funny)

Gocho (16619) | about 10 months ago | (#45318003)

Have Walter White teach it.... where do I sign up?

but why do they need it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318063)

I have a PhD in molecular biology, an taught medical students
I don't think they need to know much organic chemistry; it us just torturing them cause...thats how we have always done it.
The idea that a clinician needs to know enol/keto tautomerism, or acid base stability of esters and amids, or stuff like that is laughable

Why Organic Is Chemistry So Difficult For Pre-Med? (1)

carpefishus (1515573) | about 10 months ago | (#45318081)

>>Why Organic Is Chemistry So Difficult For Pre-Med? Cuz it's hard. Duh. Physical Chemistry was my hardest class in getting a ChE.

Doctor's perspective (5, Interesting)

cosmin_c (3381765) | about 10 months ago | (#45318155)

I've graduated from med school about 9 years ago and I still remember organic chemistry just as if I've closed the book yesterday. I had to learn it in high-school, I had to learn it in medical school. It is hard to learn, but it does help a lot. Fact is you can't know all the drugs that are out there being prescribed. But if you ask the patient for the box and have a look at the active ingredient name, you can immediately place it in one of the major groups. At least you will not confuse a pain relief drug with a psychotrope or an anti-hypertensive. It's just as useful as most of the disciplines studied in medical school. It helps a future doctor form reflexes towards substance recognition that will baffle even some of their colleagues and impress the hospital pharmacist :)

tu3girBl (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318177)

project. Today, as Purposes *BSD is grandstanders, the NetBSD posts on The channel to sign Romeo an'd Juliet

42-year old pre-med student (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318271)

There's your problem. Despite middle-aged people's delusions, things just don't work as well or as fast at that age.

Re:42-year old pre-med student (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318453)

I am guessing you are under 25. If you make it to 42, expect to think your younger self was an absolute fuckwit.

Re:42-year old pre-med student (2)

germansausage (682057) | about 10 months ago | (#45318631)

My younger self was an absolute fuckwit, at times. He also managed to last long enough to turn into my older self, who tries to not be too smug about how much he has improved. My younger self also was busy making the mistakes my older self has learned from. As a completely off topic example it took me about 5 years to figure out there were some things I did that women absolutely hated, and another 5 years to figure out that maybe I should stop doing them.

Nor organic for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45318407)

When I started college, one of my prime requirements for a major was that it had no requirement for organic chemistry. Judging by that article, it's even worse than I imagined.

Time or difficulty? I say time. (1)

dicobalt (1536225) | about 10 months ago | (#45318577)

It's a lot of work, but it's really not that hard to understand. I aced my chemistry classes in college. The only reason my classmates didn't do the same is because they didn't review study along with studying current topics, and they didn't do enough sample problems either. The problem is it's a lot of work, not that it's hard. I think the main problem in chemistry classes is trying to jam too much material into one semester when not everyone has enough fortitude (or time) to spend on a single class. Professors themselves are often overcome with how much they are expected to cover in a single semester, often rushing though material in a way that can't be considered a learning process. I have had multiple professors tell me to keep studying after classes are over to make sure I am ready for the next class. I even study for classes before the term starts by finding the syllabus for the class ahead of time.

Every major should have its killer-subject (1)

acroyear (5882) | about 10 months ago | (#45318737)

College ain't supposed to be easy.

In CS, the killer is usually electro-magnatism or calculus-level probability.
In Physics, it is usually diff-eq's.
In math, it is usually partial diff-eq's.

Yes, the exceptions to the "rules" in org-chem is maddening...but if it wasn't, prescriptions and pharmaceuticals would be easy. Instead, they are rife with mistakes, side effects, false-positives, and a lot worse, and if you don't have the background to understand at least to a degree why, then I'll be damned before I let you write me a prescription for anything.

But seriously, this is college leading to one of the toughest post-grad programs our society has to offer. It is supposed to be hard. Deal with it or get out.

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