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Chemistry curriculum too heavily bio focused?

  1. Dec 28, 2012 #1
    I believe that the current chemistry curriculum has had a major increase in biological content in the past 10 years, and that this biological content has replaced valuable mathematical content.

    It used to be that the core classes of chemistry were, along with the basic math core of calculus, multivariable calculus, linear algebra and differential equations: 1 year each of general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry. In addition, there would be 2 single term classes on analytical chemistry and inorganic chemistry. Electives would be supporting labs or deeper theoretical classes into each of these 4 areas, or specialized applied classes such as polymer science, surface science, statistics, etc. which are highly used in industry.

    The current curriculum is much more heavily focused on biomedical fields. The chemical curriculum at many schools has phased out linear algebra and differential equations in favor of a required biochemistry class and lab. In addition, many applied classes have been canceled in favor of more biological electives, which are based on memorization, instead of mathematics and logic as most chemistry classes are.

    I believe that the decline in BS chemistry employment rates and relative wages is connected to the reduction of mathematical and physical content, and the increase of biological content, in the chemical curriculum. In addition, I believe forcing chemistry students to take biology is highly unfair to those who are interested in other chemical industry careers, and have no interest in the life sciences.

    I also believe that the method of teaching physical chemistry is antiquated. Indeed, just as we do not expect upper division physics students to take a single class on "Classical Physics" with one book, and instead divide it into mechanics and EM, why do we still force chemistry students to take a yearlong class from "one big book"? This is especially true for physical chemistry which constitutes 4 distinct fields: quantum mechanics, molecular spectroscopy, statistical mechanics and chemical kinetics.

    Indeed, I believe that it would greatly improve both employment prospects and graduate school preparation if the following was done:

    restore the complete physical sciences math core for chemistry students and restore electives not related to biology.

    move memorization based biology electives to the biology department. The only biology based chemistry classes should be physical biochemistry and computational biology.

    change physical chemistry from a yearlong class to a 4 term class with different books for each term since the 4 sub-fields are different, just as mechanics and EM are both classical physics, yet are different.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2012 #2
    Chemistry is a pretty unpopular major I think, whereas biology is too popular. Maybe they are trying to entice students to major in chemistry?
  4. Dec 28, 2012 #3
    I got a chem minor (I was physics and math major) in 2002 at a pretty good liberal arts college, and back then a chem major required one year (three trimesters) of calculus, 1 year of gen chem, one analytical chem, one or pchem classes, two orgo classes, instrumental analysis and one or two inorganic classes...and then you could choose to take a stat mech elective or quantum chem elective or biochem or another orgo or materials chem etc. They "strongly suggested" that all majors take diff eq and linear algebra (we had to take it for physics, of course) and I'd say about half of them did, especially if they were thinking about grad school.

    However, lots of them wanted to go to med school, so loading up on orgo and biochem made sense, whereas diff eq and computational chem didn't. I'm curious why you (chill factor) think that these changes have occurred. Why would the people (professors and deans) who ostensibly care the most about having an effective and useful curriculum make changes that are so detrimental? Don't you think that bio-based fields are perhaps growing and that demand has led to this change? Also, if people want students with chemical knowledge and a more analytical background, chemical engineering majors seem to fit the bill.

    I'll agree though that if a school requires a chem major to take bio 101 and memorize a bunch of stuff, that's probably a waste of time. Is this prevalent? I've never heard of this requirement.
  5. Dec 29, 2012 #4
    I believe that this has occurred due to the life sciences field getting big in 2002-2007, and institutional momentum has led to it being carried on in the past 5 years.

    Also the average citation rate in biochemistry is higher than that for other fields of chemistry, and there are more papers and journals with higher impact factors in this field, so loading up on biological faculty and students (and since these will be in demand, preparing more chemical biology majors) is a way to increase school rankings.

    In addition, the thing that in my opinion should have changed, the teaching of pchem from one big book, has not changed. Just as physics majors do not learn from 1 big book on "Classical Physics" since electromagnetism and classical mechanics are very different and instead there's 3-4 classes devoted to "classical physics", I believe that it is equally wrong to teach physical chemistry from 1 big book.

    Instead, it should be taught as 4 separate classes, since these 4 classes are very different from each other, perhaps not QM and molecular spectroscopy, but this is basically the equivalent of QM I and QM II in physics. After all, you don't have a class called "Microscopic Physics" and put QM and Stat Mech in 1 book right? That's silly. Why is it not equally silly to put QM, molecular spectroscopy, stat mech and chemical kinetics in 1 book?

    It doesn't add pressure to the student either. Chemistry majors have a relatively "easy" senior year free of required classes. Adding 1 required class per semester their senior year won't destroy their free time.
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