Monday, August 11, 2008

What do you want?

So, I've been really bad at posting on this blog. I'm not sure what my problem is. Oh! I know. I've been really busy at work with an impending accreditation review coming up in October.

So much for my summer.

Back in the day when I was pretending to be a premed, I had a med school interview. I was ready to answer all possible questions. So, I was taken aback when the doctor interviewing me asked me, "so, what do you want to know?" That was his first and only question. I didn't expect to be asked to ask questions. Perhaps I was naive. When all was said and done, I went to grad school. However, even before then, I was convinced I wanted to be a chemist. At the time I was just going through the premed motions.

So, I thought I'd ask you, my readers (both of you), what do you want to know?

What do you want to know about brewing beer? About teaching Chemistry? About holding your high school high jump record for 18 years (and running).

I know some things about these areas and will dispense whatever information I have about them free of charge.[1]

So, what do you want to know?

[1] I realize I'm overcharging you, but deal with it!


Liberal Arts Chemist said...

DesCartes was mentored by an earlier French philosopher named Montaigne who had a signature question ... "What do I know?".

What is your department / university doing about grade inflation or has it happened yet at your department / university?

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Where do you stand on the whole shaved versus bald issue?

Chemgeek said...

Grade inflation: A bane of higher education. I believe that much of it is in response (caving in) to the "entitlement generation." Students now days are expecting to get A's just for showing up and breathing in class. I could write volumes on my opinions of grade inflation. In my division, we have been able to avoid the inflation of grades. Being a small school really helps. I am the only Organic prof on campus. There is no other option. During the past 5 Organic Classes, only 12% of the grades have been A's. I don't try to be a hard ass or be mean, but I have certain standards that must be met. I owe it to my students to hold them to those standards.

Shaved vs. Bald: hmmmmm. A number of years ago, when it became quite clear most of my hair was going AWOL, I decided to forgo the awkward balding stage and shave my head. I don't shave down to skin, but I use a clipper and leave a fuzzy layer. I cut my own hair and have saved a certain amount of money. I do this every two weeks. The attempts to hide ones baldness is often unsuccessful, so I have decided to embrace it.

Ψ*Ψ said...

Alright, how do I hold the attention of a class of high school sophomores for an hour? And not get bored out of my mind repeating the same things to four other classes in the same day? Any suggestions are helpful. All I can come up with is that they might pay attention if I included ninjas in the talk. :)
(I'm going back to my high school as a guest speaker! Should be fun and terrifying.)

milkshake said...

To the last question from psi*psi: Tell them about all the stuff that interests you, describe in good detail what is it that you do in the lab and how you do it - without dumbing things down.

You can put in your pictures of "life in the lab' and shiny colorful crystals so that they are awed - but then you talk about the devices you build and how they are supposed to work.

Don't worry whether or not they catch every detail, try instead to have your excitement to rub off on them. (The most off-putting chemistry teachers are those that were never inspired by chemistry to begin with and were into teaching because they had no better calling in their dusty little brains).

Apart from keeping basic discipline in class (teenage kids like to mess with their teacher) don't be elevated, and don't talk them down - instead show them that they too can be like you in few years if they care, and that it is a worthwhile career because unlike many other jobs (=working at insurance company!)you handle these strange and nasty materials and have this secret arkane craft called synthetic chemistry and you actually invent new stuff and do very specialised things that nobody else does or you are just the one of handful people in the whole World who is currently working on this kind of system and if it ever works as intended it could be enormously useful and your professor boss becomes rich and very famous :)

Chemgeek said...

psi*psi: I suppose doing it topless is out of the question, but I'm sure that would keep their attention :)8=<

Milkshake is right. Make sure they know that you love what you do.

Most students that age have no idea how extensively chemistry affects their lives. From their clothes to cosmetics to food and even their cell phones. I think it's useful to point that out.

Good luck.

Lisa-tastrophies said...

I want to know why middle school kids can't understand the difference between Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide. Why 1 +1 = 11 to them and how I am ever going to resuscitate my dead brain cells after trying in vain to teach a 12 year old to wash his hands after using the john.
Is that too much to ask?

milkshake said...

The 'b-cause I said so' approach does not work because he does not care one way or another. Tease your kid about it instead. Suggest him that since he likes to eat with hands that he just peed all over, he might as well start eating his buggers - they are green, salty and taste just like pistachios. You say it once in front of his friends and have them laugh at him, he will double-wash from then on.

Chemgeek said...

These are questions I can't answer.

Have you tried yelling at them and using negative reinforcement. That's what I'd do.
Especially the pee boy.

markmier said...

Lisa, 1+1 does not equal 11. It equals 10. Duh! :)

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Oh, I feel like a jerk. I was just busting out a Spongebob reference.

I always said that if I ever started losing my hair, like REALLY losing my hair, I'd go that route. My hairline is receding a little, but it hasn't bothered me at all. No way am I going with the comb-over, though. No freaking way. Ever.

Chemgeek said...

Fear not.

I'm completely secure in my balding/shaved head situation. I don't think it will ever happen, but I've alway thought if I'm going to go bald, I want to be a shiny-bald-head-type. I get polish if necessary.

Ψ*Ψ said...

...ew! i always get a little icked out to see people not washing their hands.
my favorite prof ever (who is the reason i am psi*psi) never engaged in grade inflation, and was not afraid to fail students. his classes were actually challenging, which is why i liked them. then again, he's an amazing lecturer who can write and grade perfectly fair exams, so students pretty much get out of the class what they're willing to put in.
the thing that's going to give me trouble with the high schoolers is that it's a baaaaasic organic lecture in a biology class! i'm hoping to get some supramolecular stuff across to them and relate icky living things to nice flat things. :) being excitable shouldn't be a problem, unless i'm very nervous!

Gerhard said...

OK, I want to know if i should be a chemist (go to grad school) or be a physician. Just pick one for me. I am very undecided. I think what keeps me from deciding to go to grad school in chemistry is my family. I have always wanted to be a doctor and everybody knows that but then i took Organic and i am in love with it. It really was not a part of my master plan but it is like something hit me and i don't know what it was.

Really, really hard decision to make. I dont want to be a doctor and then regret not having done Chemistry or vice versa.

Any advise???

Chemgeek said...


Good question. This type of thing comes up with my students a lot. The advise I regularly give my students is: Do what you are passionate about.

Pursue your passion. The road you choose now could be the road you are on for the rest of your life. If you are not passionate about it, you may always regret that decision.

I see a lot of students who feel a lot of pressure from their parents to become something specific. I've seen some give in to that pressure and regret it.

If you are passionate about chemistry, do it.

I was definitely heading to med school my entire life until I took Advanced Organic Chemistry. That was when I fell in love with Chemistry. It was a tough decision for me (I still applied, interviewed etc... to med school), but I choose to go to grad school and have never regretted it.

I learned that teaching Chemistry is my passion and I love it. I love to go to work.

Hope this helps.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

Ψ*Ψ said...

You CAN do both...a friend of mine just finished her first year of an MD/PhD program. Depends on which subfield of organic you're interested in, though.

Chemgeek said...

ugh...I should have given "advice" not "advise"

Haste makes waste...

Adam Man said...

Gerhard -
You can definitely do both. I'm currently starting year three of an MD/PhD program and working in an organic lab.
The best thing you can do if you're interested in pursuing both is look at MD/PhD programs and see what type of flexibility they have in the PhD program. Some schools try to stick with biomedical sciences, whereas others (where I am - UIUC) will essentially let you do anything for your PhD (at the expense of direct NIH funding... sigh...).
There are a large number of chemistry MD/PhD's here who have been quite successful, and in the end have the option to pursue either area (should one become more or less favorable than the other).

Chemgeek said...

I've always been fascinated with the idea of MD/PhD programs. Perhaps that is because it combines the two things that interest me the most: medicine and basic science.

I was/am too dumb to get into a MD/PhD program, so I'll just stick with my current career. Which I love, BTW.

Good luck, Gerhard.

Anonymous said...

I know what I wanted in life. But guess I spend too long looking for it. When I finally realized it, they tell me I am too old to be eligible for it. Irony? Like they are punishing me for not knowing what I wanted in the the first place. Till today, I am still fighting the "not eligible" clause. Still fighting, not giving up...