No Pain, No Gain

Hermione, the ultimate teacher's pet.

Hermione, the ultimate teacher’s pet.

Call me a nerd, a teacher’s pet, an overachiever, what have you, but I love going to class. Being snowed in so much at the start of this semester and having movie marathons has been great, but after a certain point, I start to get stir crazy and long to be in the classroom. A lot of it may have to do with how great the professors here are; they are truly dedicated to their work and love to see all of their students succeeding. But I also enjoy being in the classroom simply because I love what I’m studying. Especially now, with classes dedicated solely to my major and minor, getting up at the crack of dawn and walking up nearly 100 stairs to the Hamilton Math and Science Building is well worth it. You could even say that I’m excited to go and learn about polynomial series and bond angles and buffer systems (to which every non-science major friend of mine says, “Girl, you’re crazy!”).

That’s not to say that every single class I’ve been enrolled in has always been easy or enjoyable. There definitely have been a few classes that prompted some tears for one reason or another. Sometimes it was because the professor, as helpful and dedicated as he or she was, taught in a way that took me a while to catch onto. Other times it was because I just couldn’t grasp the material, no matter how hard I tried. Organic chemistry, which has quite the reputation for being a make-or-break class for future doctors and pharmacists, was one of these classes.

One of our first lab experiments caused me to have a near emotional breakdown just a few weeks into the semester. The goal of the procedure was to separate the three major components of a pain-reliever tablet. After working hard for nearly two hours and getting exact results, I reached the last step, and that’s where everything went wrong. The directions stated that sifting the mixture through a vacuum filter would leave behind a white solid, the third component. But when I poured my mixture into the filter, all of it went through–with no white solid left behind. I reread the steps in the manual over and over again and could not see any steps that I had missed. I had done everything right, and yet there was no solid! I kept my cool in the moment and said I would just come in another day that week and try it again. But behind the scenes, I was a mess. My mom ended up having to come to the school to calm me down. She had dinner with me that evening, and she even found the mistake I had made in the lab procedure that caused my solid not to separate. Thankfully, that was my only major mishap in the class, and I did eventually reach a place where I truly enjoyed the class. I’m even doing my junior research project on a topic in organic chemistry!

From an organic chemistry study session with my friend McKenzy. The problem said to "draw the axes of your coordinate diagram" (hehehe)

From an organic chemistry study session with my friend McKenzy. The problem said to “draw the axes of your coordinate diagram” (hehehe)

The important thing to remember with tough classes is that they really are not as bad as they seem, and you’ll only have to suffer for a little while. Do whatever you possibly have to in order to make yourself understand, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Go visit your professors in their offices. Each one has designated open office hours just for students to come and talk about hard topics or homework problems. They really do want to help you! You can also organize study groups with your classmates to toss around ideas and uncover solutions together, or you can meet up with your lab partner to discuss the data you collected and collaborate on the written report. Online video tutorials have been some of the most helpful tools for me. For my science classes, especially, I like to review the major topics using videos created by Freelance Teacher and Khan Academy.

One of the most valuable resources for difficult classes is the Tagge Center, LMU’s free on-campus peer tutoring services. Other students who have taken the class before and know just how difficult it can be have taken time out of their days to be available to help you, so don’t hesitate to go and see them. You can even make a weekly appointment to come back and get tutored on the current section you’re going over in class. Some tutors will even hold review sessions right before a big exam to hit all the high points and help you feel prepared to go in and take the test.

I really did buy this book. No shame!

I really did buy this book. No shame!

If you’ve tried and cried and suffered through it and nothing seems to be working, you can always drop the course and take it another semester. But be warned, this is a VERY risky decision. You have to maintain a certain number of credits to be a full-time student, and falling below full-time status could cause problems with your financial aid eligibility. You’ll also need to make sure it won’t hurt your academic standing. If you drop the class early on in the semester, it will go away completely and won’t even appear on your transcript, but if you wait too long, you could receive a WD or even an F for the course. Just make sure to go forward with the decision in a careful, thoughtful way, and don’t just drop it because it seems hard at first. It could turn out to be a lot better than you think, and you might even find that you like it once you’ve adjusted to the unfamiliar pace and structure.

Got any other questions about difficult courses or unusual teachers? Feel free to drop a comment below or email me. You can also subscribe to my blog using the button to the left to receive email updates on new posts and features.

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