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When I started Organic Chemistry in the spring of my freshman year, I was absolutely terrified. The class is notorious for being extremely difficult and a medical school “weed-out” course. The fact I had to take it as a first-year also discouraged me. I heard stories of students having to re-take the class, biology students having to change their major because they couldn’t pass it, and people performing poorly on their exams despite how much they studied. At the time, I didn’t like chemistry, and I even struggled during Gen Chem 1 during a few units. Because of my previous dislike for chem and the course’s reputation, I was almost positive I was going to barely pass the class. However, my perspective soon changed, and I was able to get A’s in both semesters of Organic Chemistry.

The biggest lesson I learned from these classes was that you have to change your mindset in order to be successful. I had to accept the fact that the material was extremely challenging and that I was going to have to sacrifice a lot of my free time just to study for one class, even outside of my normal study schedule. No matter what, I was going to have to sit through the lectures, do pre-lab notes and weekly lab reports, etc. so I might as well try to actively listen and learn while I’m there. Once I really internalized this, I stopped dreading going to class and instead just showed up to do the work. Someone had also told me, “The only way out is through,” and this also helped me change my mindset.

Another lesson I quickly learned was that this class will humble you. All throughout high school and even during a few of my other introductory courses, I felt like I never had to study. All I had to do was pay attention in class, and I was still able to get an A as my overall course grade. If I did that in OChem, I would genuinely fail. For those of you who have taken it, resonance was one of the first topics we ever learned about in OChem 1. I thought simply learning the rules was enough to get me by, but I quickly learned you physically cannot do that. I found myself looking at the resonance problems on my homework having no idea where to start, and because of this, my study habits changed. I did have to memorize some general ideas, but I quickly learned you cannot just memorize your way through the class. Mostly everything is based on the application of the material, so the thing that really made me successful was doing practice problems. I have definitely carried this over to my other classes and have started doing practice tests I’ve found online, or even tried to make the tests myself.

Taking OChem also provided me with the means to develop a better school-life balance. I remember crying in the library because I was so overwhelmed and burnt out, but I still tried to force myself to sit down and get the work done. Obviously, this is not healthy, and I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my well-being for one test. It ended up being more productive for me to go to bed early as opposed to trying to force myself to study when I wasn’t in the right headspace. Being in my dorm was the one safe space I felt like I could truly decompress, so in the long-term deciding to go back to my dorm early during multiple study sessions was okay, too. My entire life did not have to revolve around one class.

Taking Organic Chem early on in my undergraduate career has been a tough road, but I am grateful for it. I even started doing undergraduate research with my Professor. I developed more mental perseverance and while it sounds weird to admit, I actually love how everything seems to fit together. While a course may seem super intimidating at first, just remember you will get through it, and sometimes, you’ll actually end up loving it despite what everyone else says.

Hey! I'm Nicole and I'm a sophomore Biochemistry and Sociology Major with a Women and Gender Studies Minor at Susquehanna University. When I'm not writing articles for HerCampus or in a science lab, you can catch me with friends, going to Dunkin, or cuddling up with my dog.
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