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Toughing out classes, any advice?


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I have two lecture classes that give exams and I just got my first round of exam scores back. My "core" course for the program I'm doing very well in. In fact, I think I've gotten the highest score among the students in my program taking this class. The other, what was supposed to be a "basic introduction" to biochemistry is turning out to be a nightmare. Now I've had biology and organic chemistry before, and this is supposed to be a combined undergrad/grad crash course in biochem, but its nothing like I've encountered. At my undergrad institution our professors generally stressed concepts and our understanding of what different pathways were for and how they could interact etc. etc. This class the prof essentially has us memorizing the structures of each amino acid, carbohydrate, lipid, nucleotide, basically any molecule he thinks is important, asking us to draw it upside down and backwards on our exams. Needless to say, I totally bombed the first exam. It's the first time I've ever scored significantly below average on an exam. I have three more to get my average up, and I'm really starting to stress out because I need at least a B. I got tutoring help, I'm making my study time more structured, and I've got help from an older grad student who took the class already and knows how this guy tests. My question is, given that I'm doing really well in my other class, will it look really bad if I don't make a B in this one? I really don't want that to happen, and I'm going to try my hardest that it doesn't, but does anyone have experience in having to repeat or drop a course and retake it, and what consequences of that were long term? Also, if anyone has any crazy come-from-behind stories to share of how you dragged your grade up to pass a class, and have any advice for me, I'd love to hear it :)

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From my experience, making a B isn't that big of a deal. It's still a passing grade, and other stuff's more important.

That said, what your instructor is asking you to learn sounds very typical. My undergrad biochem classes, we had to be able to draw every structure, as well as every transformation at every point in each of the metabolic cycles, including biosynthesis of all of the amino acids. It's just a lot of time, and a lot of memorization.

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Have you ever thought that maybe its because your thinking style is more quantitative and conceptual, rather than rote-memory? I believe biophysics, bioinformatics or physical biochemistry would be better for you. The math isn't that intense (just standard 2 years of calculus + ODEs + linear algebra is good enough; everything else they'll teach you) and the concepts are difficult and interesting.

I know that if something isn't quantitative, I don't get it. If there's no math, it is hard for me to really know that I understand it or not. I bombed lower division biochemistry with a C-. That along with a bad research experience turned me off from anything bio related forever. It might be like that for you. I believe that math, when used right and in the correct amounts i.e. no 10 page derivations with obscure formalisms but at least explaining i.e. the diffusion equation and how it relates to transport across the cell membrane, give an example of how to calculate sugar diffusion into a sphere, etc, truly helps in getting to know the concepts i.e. passive transport.

See currently biochemistry is taught with not just a non-quantitative attitude but an actively anti-quantitative attitude. Biochemists right now literally scoff at math. But its a grad class, so it has to be hard *somehow*. If the math is not hard, guess where they're going to make it hard?

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Have you ever thought that maybe its because your thinking style is more quantitative and conceptual, rather than rote-memory? I believe biophysics, bioinformatics or physical biochemistry would be better for you. The math isn't that intense (just standard 2 years of calculus + ODEs + linear algebra is good enough; everything else they'll teach you) and the concepts are difficult and interesting.

I know that if something isn't quantitative, I don't get it. If there's no math, it is hard for me to really know that I understand it or not. I bombed lower division biochemistry with a C-. That along with a bad research experience turned me off from anything bio related forever. It might be like that for you. I believe that math, when used right and in the correct amounts i.e. no 10 page derivations with obscure formalisms but at least explaining i.e. the diffusion equation and how it relates to transport across the cell membrane, give an example of how to calculate sugar diffusion into a sphere, etc, truly helps in getting to know the concepts i.e. passive transport.

See currently biochemistry is taught with not just a non-quantitative attitude but an actively anti-quantitative attitude. Biochemists right now literally scoff at math. But its a grad class, so it has to be hard *somehow*. If the math is not hard, guess where they're going to make it hard?

I've always thought I was more comfortable with biology conceptually. I've never been good at math... although its interesting that you point out because I've consistently scored very well on the more quantitative tests I've had in my field that dealt with things like membrane potentials, ion flux, and electrical activity. I'm currently in a lab doing electrophysiology and loving every minute of it. That being said, I still need to pass this freaking biochem class somehow.

Edited by Marius
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See currently biochemistry is taught with not just a non-quantitative attitude but an actively anti-quantitative attitude. Biochemists right now literally scoff at math. But its a grad class, so it has to be hard *somehow*. If the math is not hard, guess where they're going to make it hard?

The rest of your post i agree with, mostly, but this I disagree with strongly.

A lot of biochemistry is very quantitative, but there's also a lot of memorization that has to go into it.

It's not really any different than having to know a bunch of integrals or derivatives, or having to know a bunch of organic transformations.

At some point, there's a lot of bulk material that you're going to have to learn. It's not about making it hard "somehow", but about requiring you to learn all those things that you need to know if you're going to work in the field.

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"See currently biochemistry is taught with not just a non-quantitative attitude but an actively anti-quantitative attitude. Biochemists right now literally scoff at math. But its a grad class, so it has to be hard *somehow*. If the math is not hard, guess where they're going to make it hard?"

I majored in biochemistry in undergrad, so I might be able to offer my perspective.

Depending on which division of school your biochemistry department belongs to, things could come off as non-math or lots-of-math. For example, at my undergrad, our biochemistry department is coupled to the chemistry department (as Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), our courses are more chemistry-oriented where students are exposed to math, physics, physical chemistry etc. There are some schools put their biochemistry department under medical school division (like the biochemistry program at my current school), it becomes more biology heavy. My PI is affiliated with the Biochemistry department, and from my perspective the overall sense of the lab is very biology-oriented, but she calls herself a biochemist.

Like Eigen pointed out, a lot of biochemistry is very quantitative. For example, enzymologist use a great deal of differential equations to study enzyme kinetics. In some other stuff people do within biochemistry field, like structure biology, is more physics-based, so you'd see professors with physics background working there.

Edited by Tall Chai Latte
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I've always thought I was more comfortable with biology conceptually. I've never been good at math... although its interesting that you point out because I've consistently scored very well on the more quantitative tests I've had in my field that dealt with things like membrane potentials, ion flux, and electrical activity. I'm currently in a lab doing electrophysiology and loving every minute of it. That being said, I still need to pass this freaking biochem class somehow.

If you have done well on the quantitative parts, you can create a sort of game with yourself that makes you learn in your best way.

Take a stack of flashcards separated into piles for amino acids, nucleotides, carbohydrate, etc., label them as to what they are with small print on the back, and draw only their side chains. shuffle them.

Then put them into different stacks based on their category; this exploits the same sort of pattern finding skill that is used in math. Once you've done that, reshuffle them, and "complete their structure" on a different piece of paper by drawing out the complete molecule and labeling the name of the molecule.

Go back to your book and check the answer. If it is wrong, repeat.

This gets sort of hard for lipids but it works for other things.

EDIT - also don't forget to eventually time yourself such that you get within time limits. I've tried this technique before and its the only reason I passed o-chem.

Edited by SymmetryOfImperfection
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Now I've gotten an email from the professor saying that he recommends anyone who was 10% or more below the class average should at least "consider the option of withdrawing from the class". I was exactly 10% below the class average. I was thinking, hey lets do this, but now I'm worried. It seems as though the professor doesn't think, at least historically, that students who didn't do well on the first exam will be able to recover on the later exams. Totally freaked out now.

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Now I've gotten an email from the professor saying that he recommends anyone who was 10% or more below the class average should at least "consider the option of withdrawing from the class". I was exactly 10% below the class average. I was thinking, hey lets do this, but now I'm worried. It seems as though the professor doesn't think, at least historically, that students who didn't do well on the first exam will be able to recover on the later exams. Totally freaked out now.

Can you go to the professor with this concern? Tell him you were thinking of trying to stick it out but now you're worried. Ask about previous years' records and also about ways in which you can improve your performance. Have people who got lower grades done well eventually, and if so what did they do to make it so? This professors seems to be trying to help you out, so he might have some useful tips.

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Now I've gotten an email from the professor saying that he recommends anyone who was 10% or more below the class average should at least "consider the option of withdrawing from the class". I was exactly 10% below the class average. I was thinking, hey lets do this, but now I'm worried. It seems as though the professor doesn't think, at least historically, that students who didn't do well on the first exam will be able to recover on the later exams. Totally freaked out now.

If this is not a core class, withdrawing is OK. Seriously consider it. It won't be a permanent and potentially terminal mark on your grade the way a low grade would be.

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Can you go to the professor with this concern? Tell him you were thinking of trying to stick it out but now you're worried. Ask about previous years' records and also about ways in which you can improve your performance. Have people who got lower grades done well eventually, and if so what did they do to make it so? This professors seems to be trying to help you out, so he might have some useful tips.

I am going to meet him during office hours. However, it is a required course.

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Then I'm confused about why the professor is suggesting for people to withdraw. Anyway, yes, going to office hours sounds like a good idea.

It might not be required for everyone, but it is required for my program. I did have a discussion with the professor; he said as long as I can get at least Bs from here on out I will be fine. I'm just going to be studying a lot to try and get out of this hole.

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