During the first day of my Sophomore Organic Chemistry class (the second semester portion) I waxed philosophical. We were reviewing first semester stuff just to get everybody's brain (including mine) back into gear.
Occasionally, I like to put this class into some sort of context for my students. Organic Chemistry at this level can be bewildering. Organic Chemistry can be bewildering at ANY level, but I've noticed that at about two-thirds of the way through the first year, students start to get really weighed down by the subject.
This course is the typical 2nd year Organic Chemistry course. It covers all of the basics, from nomenclature to physical organic to reactions etc.... We cover a ton of material but only cover the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
I try to put this course into context using an analogy. Doing Organic Chemistry is like learning to write.
To learn to write, one must learn about all of the grammatical pieces and what purpose they serve (i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions etc...).
Students first learn what a noun is and how a verb makes it "do" something. The boy walked.
After mastering that, the student can add prepositional phrases. The boy walked into the store.
Eventually, through the employment of many different grammatical elements, the simple sentence can convey a great deal of information. The young boy slowly walked into the pet store and bought a dozen goldfish.
With the proper practice, this sentence can be combined with others to create a paragraph. Eventually, a number of paragraphs can be combined to form a story. The quality of the story can certainly vary, and writing a good story requires great skill.
This process is the same in organic chemistry. Right now, I am teaching my students how to use the nouns and verbs of organic chemistry. Eventually we will be able to use prepositional phrases. However, even though we cover a ton of material in this class, we will not get beyond that stage.
That is unfortunate (albeit, necessary). In my Advanced Organic Chemistry course we finally get to "read" a story: a total synthesis. Towards the end of that class, they learn to write their own paragraphs.
It is usually in grad school where they will get the chance to write a story (i.e. a total synthesis) on their own (or at least contribute significantly to one).
There is great beauty in organic chemistry. Sadly, it is hard to see during the early days of ones education. I never truly appreciated organic chemistry until Advanced Organic Chemistry during my senior year. There we read the "stories" and I was greatly impressed.