Welcome to “Orgo Hacks”

by James

in Teaching

Cal Newport’s excellent blog, “Study Hacks”, inspired me to think about the problem of how to learn things in the most efficient manner possible. To many students, my field of organic chemistry (or “orgo” in the undergraduate parlance) –  has a fearsome reputation both as a weeder course and a notorious time sink. So it occurred to me that developing an online resource about learning organic chemistry in an effective manner would be a valuable thing for many people.

Hence, “Orgo Hacks”. These two words describe exactly what this site will be about.*

Over the next little while, here are some questions I want to explore on this site.

  • What is it about organic chemistry that makes learning it particularly hard in the minds of many students?
  • Given a limited amount of time, how does one optimally study for this course? What are the most important strategies and tactics for learning organic chemistry efficiently?
  • What are the most important concepts in undergraduate organic chemistry? How are these concepts best communicated and learned?
  • How do you tell the difference between things you just  need to memorize and things you really need to understand?
  • What types of questions can one expect to see on an exam? Given that,  how does one optimize one’s exam studying strategy?

Here is what this site is not about:   This is not a site about how awesome organic chemistry is and how you should really be majoring in chemistry instead of pre-med.  There are plenty of other sites that exist to tell you about “the magic of chemistry” and all that jazz. Organic chemistry is awesome in my opinion, but proselytizing is not the purpose here. There are also chemists who will tell you they wish they had spent their college years writing bad poetry on the banks of the Seine instead of pursuing a career in chemistry.** To each their own.  I assume that you are the  person to best decide your own educational path. Most likely you are taking organic chemistry for one simple reason: because you are thinking about med school and organic chemistry is a requirement.***

That being said, I will say one thing: as a student, you will find organic chemistry to be a worthy adversary. It is broad, it is deep, it values both the theoretical and the practical, and there is rigor underneath it all, even though it will not become completely apparent to you in this course. In order to master this course, it will require your full attention. I know: everyone says that. If you need to make your own mistakes instead of heeding the mistakes of others**** I do hope for your sake that you experience your first failure quickly – when the consequences are minor – and learn this for yourself at an early stage rather than near the end of the course when you realize you are hopelessly screwed.

Let me say it again: the point of this site will be to help you harness the limited resources you have at your disposal – your attention and your time - in the most efficient manner possible to maximize your understanding of organic chemistry.

*  Yeah, I’m stepping on Cal’s toes (among others) by calling it “Orgo Hacks”.  The world probably doesn’t need another “Hacks” blog.  At the same time, I like to think I spent more than enough time in front of this thing, in this place (leading to significant time spent here) to be worthy of hitchhiking on this MIT meme.

**OK, maybe not many, but you get the idea.

***But really: do you know why you want to be a doctor?

**** This also happens to be a personal flaw, alas.

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