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Chem major who hates Organic Chemistry?

  1. Apr 17, 2012 #1
    I am chem major currently taking organic chemistry.
    I am ashamed of admitting I hate organic chemistry. This is not even science. It seems to me though, it is a branch of engineering. You have stuff, you make new stuff. You increase your yield and figure out steps to synthesize something. I loved my gen. chem courses and decided to investigate more into chem and chose chem major. Reaction rate, kinetics, and nuclear stuff fascinated me the whole time. But now, I doubt about my major.

    I like calculations. I like physics and I am cool with math (want to minor in math)-currently in calculus. But I thought it will be more practical to major in chem, because of a broad area chemistry covers-not all mathematical. I want to become a chemist who does calculations and investigates the fundamental causes of chemical processes. It seems to me that would be physical chemistry and you get to describe chemistry in terms of mathematics. I think I am going to have fun with that. I am want to do my PhD in related field, too. This whole synthesis thing is okay, but why on earth should we memorize it? The tests seem to me that they should be open-notes. So we can be creative without worrying about nomenclatures and solvent names. It is pointless to memorize things, because it takes so much time to memorize all the things.

    My question is did I make mistake choosing chem major? Is it possible to be a chemist without knowing organic in detail? Or should I go and do something like physics or applied math? I sometimes now think that I am just kidding myself to become a chemist when I don't like what chemists are doing-looking from organic chemistry. Am I right?
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 18, 2012 #2
    What do you mean in regards to memorization related to synthesis? That should be a mechanistic process. You should know the properties of the molecules and how they should react. Unless, of course, I'm interpreting that wrong.
  4. Apr 18, 2012 #3
    -Thanks for the first answer. I just took my third midterm and I don't think I did half of it right. I should be lucky if I pass this course with minimum required grade not to repeat it.

    What I mean by memorization is the abbreviated names and nomenclatures-different reagents, their name and all the other nonsenses. For example, he ask "Write plausible reaction sequences of pentene when added chloro dibenzene-blah,blah using lithium dimethylcuprate" etc. I don't know what dibenzene chloro is and I don't know what that lithium dimethylcuprate looks like. So I can't do anything in that question-just ramble around guessing the structure of the reagents.

    I hate from heart memorizing things. That is why I switched from bio. It makes me mad how they want us to memorize things-wasting our time, we should be working on improving our problem solving skills, not intentionally memorizing names to be asked on later. I mean it is okay if names get memorized just by looking at them a lot during practice, but still it shouldn't be on test like that, right.

    So is it possible to do chemistry if I don't like this stupid class and get very poor grade and maybe even can't pass it. Would it matter to get in grad school? Would I ever need this knowledge in physical chem or even later in grad school career? I am not going to become synthetic chemist or anything, I rather do something else more fundamental and more physics oriented chemistry, but I might be misled, thinking o. chem is not necessarily important part of being chemist.
  5. Apr 18, 2012 #4


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    There is no subject that doesn't require memorization. Even in math there is a lot of memorization (think for example definitions; proof you can understand, definition you have to remember). Chemistry is not much different in this regard.

    Looks to me like like you have not spent enough time learning nomenclature, now you are whining it is chemistry's fault, not your own.

    Try to use flashcards to learn the names.
  6. Apr 18, 2012 #5
    Nomenclature isn't pure memorization. The names stem from the structure. The only thing you really have to memorize is the prefix for different numbers of carbons. I would expect you to know all the constituent prefixes like chloro-, fluoro-, etc.

    I'm honestly a bit flabbergasted that you don't know what benzene is.
  7. Apr 18, 2012 #6
    It's actually quite common for many chem students to hate orgo.
  8. Apr 18, 2012 #7
    Is it really? I am kind of an outsider to chem department, because I just switched to chem from biology. So all my chem experience was from chem courses for non-majors, so I don't know what chem students in general think.

    To me, o.chem is really pointless. I guess it is just not my interest and the fact that it requires so much work makes me mad, I guess. I am recently thinking of switching to physics, since there is nothing to memorize. I am good at physics and things I love in chemistry tend to be physics concepts. For example, I loved gen chem kinetics, thermodynamics and things.

    I don't want to be a quitter, but if this is what I am expected to know and think like, -No thank you, I'll be better off in physics.

    Anyone with chem or physics background to comment and help my decisions?
  9. Apr 19, 2012 #8


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    I always thought organic chemistry was a sanity test. You have to be insane to like it.
  10. Apr 19, 2012 #9


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    This statement makes no sense. Or rather - it makes about as much sense as "physics is really pointless". Organic chemistry is about finding best ways to synthesize new molecules, and as such makes perfect scientific sense. Yes, at times it can get pretty complicated and it may require you to understand tens of mechanisms that can be competing, but in a way they are all very similar, you just have to get past some initial steep slope on the learning curve.

    You don't like it - you don't have to. There are things I don't like either. But overgeneralizations based on misconceptions and misunderstandings won't get you far.
  11. Apr 19, 2012 #10


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    Organic Chem was not fun, IMO, but some courses a bound to be more complex that you expect. I loved Inorganic Chem, but things got a little more complex and "squishy" when moving to Organic.

    @OP, please try to work through it - it will probably help you, long-term. I had no illusions going into ChemE at Orono. The best students in the program were going to be routed to the 5-year Pulp and Paper track. Yes, the Sulfite and Kraft pulping processes were both Inorganic at the head-end, but once you have applied chemicals, heat, etc, to wood, you have to be prepared to deal with the Organic products, and you have to try to help the company comply with regulations regarding emissions, etc. Good luck.
  12. Apr 20, 2012 #11
    You speak truth.

    To the OP:

    Memorization is a one way street to failure in organic chemistry. Yes some things must be memorized but the idea is to able to work reactions out from first principles and knowledge of general reactivity trends.

    The only way to master organic synthesis is to become a professional arrow pusher and learn to adapt to a plethora of scenarios using those same principles of arrow pushing.

    After seeing enough of it you'll start to realize that there aren't really that many fundamental types of reactions and the more complex ones are really just variations on simple reactions or a few elementary reactions strung together.

    I do physical chemistry with a large side of organic for a living. I too am a math/physics minded chemist so I feel your pain with the seemingly handwaving fashion in which organic chemistry is usually taught. If you stick with it and learn some physics you can apply rigorous notions from quantum mechanics/statistical mechanics to this organic chemistry and really see the big picture of how all this happens.

    I too was never satisfied until I saw the orbital picture behind all the organic. Stick with it and study hard...or change to physics because organic-chem will never go away throughout your chemistry education. :biggrin:
  13. Apr 20, 2012 #12
    Here's the thing - if you want to do interesting physical chemistry, you will almost inevitably have to do some synthesis. You could just use stuff from commercial manufacturers, but that will eventually get boring. Now, if you have a biological bent, you can get the bacteria to do the synthesis for you (but the workup is all on you).

    I would liken organic chemistry to learning another language. It's not any better or worse, but it is unfamiliar until one becomes familiar with it.
  14. Apr 20, 2012 #13
    Good point. Not to mention that many interesting problems in physical chemistry are motivated by ongoing problems in organic and biochemistry!

    With no organic background, one may not recognize a good result from physical chemistry when looking right at it.
  15. Apr 20, 2012 #14
    That's riduculous. Once in school (I was a chem major) I synthesyzed alanine just for fun. You know, ammonia and acetic acid. It was more to me than just the experiment, a celebration of life. That's why I went to college. Most people live in a cloud of ignorance their entire lives and that causes much mental anguish for them. But to know causes great peace of mind. Comfort. Organic chemistry is a stepping stone into that window of knowledge, why we are here. Try and learn to embrace it.
  16. Apr 21, 2012 #15


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    I always thought that physicists were just frustrated chemists.
  17. Apr 21, 2012 #16


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    The way I heard it, the only use physists have for chemists is to grab them by the heels and use them to bash the heck out of an engineer. :wink:
  18. Apr 21, 2012 #17
    The issue is not so much that organic chemistry is "useless." It is actually quite useful, in fact. (Polymers are pretty useful in our modern world, don't ya think! :P) The issue is that most university courses on organic chemistry emphasize the wrong things. Memorizing specific nomenclature details and learning about only a handful of synthetic reactions does not make one a successful chemist. Nomenclature is important, however, and in some sense, organic chemistry has a language of its own that you must learn. Any competent biochemist can draw every amino acid and explain their properties, and for them, this is as basic as the alphabet. Learning the basics can be tedious, but eventually you will come to appreciate the subject and realize its place in chemistry. It is important to have a conceptual grasp of electronegativity trends, good leaving groups, acidity, steric hindrance, etc... These are the types of topics that will give you the tools you need to approach any organic chem synthesis and correctly evaluate the result. Carefully study the mechanisms of the synthesis reactions you are taught. Try to understand the underlying physical explanation.

    Many universities use OChem as a weeder course for the zillions of starry eyed pre-meds that come through their doors. They emphasize memorization precisely because medical school requires an insane amount of memorization. (Medical schools do this while still admitting students without a grasp of basic calculus! Sorry, that was snide.) Don't think of OChem as an obstacle, and don't let it discourage you from chemistry in general. Once you take physical chemistry, you will enjoy it much more because that course is far more quantitative.

    Edit: Also remember that in real life, you can usually look a minor detail up. :)
  19. Apr 22, 2012 #18


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    Believe me. You don't want open book tests so you can be more 'creative'. That's like asking a first grader to write poetry after teaching them the alphabet. Nomenclature rules are important. I had a young chemist come to me in a panic because she couldn't buy a solvent...MEK. She was moments away from calling her client and telling them she just wouldn't be able to do the work because nobody sold the chemical required by the test method. Apparently someone told her to talk to me as a last resort... maybe I could SYNTHESIZE it! I sat there in my office in stunned disbelief as she jabbered on about how she just couldn't find a supplier and she was down to her last 4 liters... Oh the humanity!
    How is it that a chemist (a chemist!!!) doesn't know that MEK is sold as 2-butanol? She probably hated O-Chem too!
    Once I was asked about a reaction to produce a grignard reagent from 4-chloro-nitrobenzene! And he was a PhD who had received his 'degree' researching methods to couple aryl groups with silanes using GRIGNARD reactions! Study your basic reactions and mechanisms! Don't look like a total loser when you eventually become a useful member of society, ie you become employed as a chemist.
    If that seems too trivial for you, by all means, change your major to physics or mathematics or accounting... I'm sure you'll never be troubled with memorization or closed book exams and your creative Id will be satisfied!

    Oh, the humanity!
  20. Apr 22, 2012 #19
    MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) is 2-butanone, not 2-butanol, but your point is well taken ;-)

    I wrote a rather involved exhortation to Tuya (lost to some automatic logout)- it happens enough when I attempt to comment that I should know enough to Copy and paste from an external editor, or copy my composition to a notepad, in case it logs out.

    The gist is that, Tuya, you would be well served to note how jargon is prevalent in each science or math field and is part of the way that concepts can be succinctly described.

    I also added that at your university you will be able to find and attend research seminars in all of the departments, and here is where you can attend with minimal permission. You will see how creativity, ingenuity, and succinct language go hand in glove to make an effective seminar speaker, and I dare say at least one will inspire you!
  21. Apr 22, 2012 #20
    Yes, you can be a chemist who hates organic chemistry. Physical chemists do not have to have a detailed knowledge of organic chem - or inorganic or analytical for that matter.
  22. Apr 22, 2012 #21
    Then the poorer for you...

    There is a reason that the core cirriculum in graduate chemistry includes Q-chem, Analytical and Inorganic as well as Organic... Molecular orbital calculations and concepts are now central to an organic synthesist, and you won't get anywhere in evaluationg your reaction products without a deep sense of the separation and spectrochemical concepts involved in analytical chemistry. Activation of functional groups to reactions are being ingeniously devised with core inorganic catalysts and tweaked by a knowledge of how ligands can affect the energy profiles of the intermediates.

    The real point here is that a knowledge of the basic jargon and language of each field is important in describing succinctly the average scientific problem that is being solved by a cross discipline team. At least at the average industry and university graduate level, you won't find any problems that are left for the niche learner that hasn't grown his or her scientific and mathematical knowledge beyond their little world.
  23. Apr 22, 2012 #22

    Not even one graduate school I applied to required analytical chemistry, and the vast majority did not require any inorganic or organic chemistry as a physical chemistry student. That being said, I never claimed you don't need inorganic for organic or analytical or any other permutation of those three. I claimed physical chemistry students do not need detailed knowledge of inorganic, organic or analytical. Which they do not, and frankly, generally any amount that is needed can be learned as necessary in lab.

    Knowing jargon and language is not detailed knowledge. I'm not sure why you added mathematical knowledge, I never said a physical chemist should not learn extra math or classes beyond the prototypical physical chemistry sequence. Infact, that would be a better way for a physical chemist to spend time as an undergraduate instead of organic chemistry. Or computational chemistry, or spectroscopy, or pure physics courses.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2012
  24. Apr 23, 2012 #23
    I heard it from some TA's in chem department doing phys.chem research. They don't really know the details of organics and don't even care. Because of this fact and considering not many of chem undergrad courses concern the true fundamental causes for chemical processes, I am really considering to change into physics. The rules they use in organic chem is not quite accurate and they don't explain why the heck it is like that. I am not satisfied with following arbitrary rules set out for reasons I don't know. I might finish up organic 2 maybe over the summer, but I not sure.

    Agree completely. I don't want to learn jargon just to sound smart to somebody. Jargon is not knowledge- in fact, quite many students in o.chem, just memorize the reactions and nomenclatures with not much understanding. The class is too quick for those who want to understand it truly. I think I better invest my time into extra math and programming courses than stupid jargon memorizing exercises. Don't get me right-organic chemistry is useful science I am sure-it is just the way they are teaching and testing, I am not sure is helpful for anybody.

    I have a meeting with physics adviser to talk about majoring in physics-my worry here is I might be too out of touch from chemistry if I go to physics. It is hard to say.
  25. Apr 23, 2012 #24
    I disliked general chemistry but found it necessary. Upon taking organic chemistry I became a believer.
  26. Apr 23, 2012 #25


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    I loved inorganic (especially the labs). I was not so happy with organic and its load on my class-time, but that's just me probably. I became a "believer" after getting hired as a process chemist, and trying to help my employer (very large new pulp mill) control emissions of nasty sulfides. HS was innocuous and pretty easy to address, but move up to methyl mercaptan (used as an odorant in gaseous fuels) di-methyl sulfide or di-methyl di-sulfide or other variants and you have some real stinkers there.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2012
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