A pep talk

Long long ago when I was an undergraduate in the 1990s at Imperial College we had rather different music and different tastes (or distastes) in clothing to today’s undergraduate. But there are somethings which are likely to remain constants. The late Neville Parsonage who was my tutor told me that before Christmas in the first years that the maths was the big source of trouble and distress to most of the undergraduates but after Christmas it was the organic chemistry. But there is hope, now I will tell you about two ways to view organic chemistry.

You can try to memorize every single reaction which crosses your path, this is a method which might seem to give you results. But you will need a bigger and bigger crib sheet either in your mind or on a sheet of paper.

The better way is to understand organic chemistry, there are very few reactions in organic chemistry. I estimate that there are only about five which a first year at Chalmers has to know. But this requires you to have an intimate understanding of the reactions. You will need to be able to recognize the key aspects and adopt the correct mental stance even under stress.

What I want to do with you as a class is to get as many of you to the point at which you can deal with the organic chemistry. When some organic molecule comes at a student I want you to be able to stop panicking about what the big bad molecule is going to do with you. When the big bad molecule comes at you in the exam I want you to have the mental tools needed to send it packing.

Rather than “Oh goodness, this can not be happening, oh please do not hurt me !” I want you to be able to think “Sit ! Now be a good little molecule !

Now this will not come in one day, by learning more and more chemistry and taking more courses I hope that you will become more and more like a Barbara Woodhouse for molecules. For those of you who do not know Barbara Woodhouse was an animal trainer from Ireland who was a horse and dog trainer. She was famous for dealing with “problem dogs“, she maintained that there was no such thing as a “bad dog” but there were “inadequate owners” who failed to assert their position in the dogs pecking order. She has strongly influenced other dog trainers like Victoria Stilwell.

Equally I would say that there are no “bad molecules“, but there are humans who are either unable or unwilling to deal with molecules correctly or in the right way. Hopefully soon you will be saying “Sit !” and “Walkies” at the molecules in a commanding tone, you will transform them from intellectual monsters into cute creatures who want to sit at your feet.