Organic Chemistry Trick #5: Don’t over-emphasize the organic chemistry lab section

One of the biggest complaints that most TAs hear is that the  organic chemistry lab section is a lot of work for just one credit.  There are no two ways about it…this is a true statement.  Think about it.  If you were to do everything most TAs require for the lab, you would spend at least one hour prior to the lab preparing for it, three hours in the lab itself, and two hours analyzing your data and writing your report.  This equals six hours of work per week for one lousy credit.  Compare this to your organic chemistry lecture class, which is usually three hours of class for three credits.

organic chemistry lab

Yep, that sums it up for me.

We can’t change the system, but we can learn how to work it to our advantage.  With respect to the pre-lab preparation, one trick we have found that works well is to get together with a group of labmates and split the work on the lab preparation by alternating who does the lab prep for that week.  Some TAs want to you to have the MSDS sheets for all chemicals to be used, in addition to answering pre-lab questions about what you are going to do in lab that day.  By alternating who does that each week, you could save hours of time that could be devoted to the lecture portion instead.

The report to be written after each lab exercise is another place that many students waste countless hours.  Remember that the most important part of the lab is to do the calculations correctly.  It does not matter that your data is crappy, it matters what you do with that crappy data.  Second, do not spend a ton of time on the narrative portion.  Concisely write what you did and leave it.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your TA is going to go over this with a fine-tooth comb.

Many will find this to be a controversial statement, but we have found that a “B” in the lab section is not going to preclude you from going further in science, whether that be to a graduate degree or medical school.  The one credit from the lab section does not factor that heavily into your “science GPA” or overall GPA.  If you could spend three hours less per week on the lab and focus that time into studying the lecture portion, you are much more likely to see a tangible benefit down the road.  Further, would it be worth spending that extra three hours on the lab portion if it were only going to raise your lab grade a little bit?  (For example, from a “B” to a “B+”)  This is even more true if all you want is to pass the lab section and don’t care about the grade.

There is worse in life

There is worse in life

Do not mistake what we are saying here, as the lab portion can be a fun and rewarding experience.  We are only advocating that for some students it may be helpful to not over-emphasize an organic chemistry lab class that is only worth one credit.

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