Course registration is fast approaching, and those who are planning to take organic chemistry have a couple of options. Two professors teach organic chemistry each term. One of these professors leads two different courses, a non-majors course and a majors course. The non-majors course consists of two lectures, a recitation and a lab each week. The majors course consists of three weekly classes where students solve problems in groups with a professor and TAs present, in addition to a lab. The material that students are responsible for in each course is identical. The only difference is the structure of the majors course versus the non-majors course — the same professor teaches both, but the majors students get the benefit of working in close-knit groups while being directly exposed to practice exam questions. This difference should not exist. NYU should not have a delineation between majors and non-majors for organic chemistry. Lecture courses should be replaced with small-group problem solving.
Organic chemistry is a notoriously difficult course. The preface to the textbook — which is used in both the non-majors and majors classes — discusses the difficulty of the course and heavily stresses group problem-solving as an effective method to learn the material. However, this emphasis on in-class group learning is not found in the non-majors’ orgo course. The structure of this class is more akin to a lecture course. It requires students to independently absorb the lecture material, consistently coordinate busy schedules to form small study groups on their own and apply conceptual knowledge to problems without immediate guidance from a professor or TA. The non-majors course essentially necessitates the re-creation of the majors course on top of attendance to lectures and recitations, which only further complicates an already difficult subject. Courses for majors and non-majors should not be so drastically different, especially when one course is structured in a way that seems to give an unfair advantage to the students in the other course.
Only a small amount of non-majors are allowed to enroll in the majors course each term. This number is further reduced for Organic Chemistry II, when only those who have earned a B grade and above in Organic Chemistry I are allowed to enroll in the majors course. The majors course presents a much more conducive way of learning the subject and should be made available to everyone taking the course, not just a select few. The delineation between majors and non-majors is further invalidated when considering the fact that organic chemistry is a required course for a vast number of students, not just Chemistry majors. When hundreds of Neural Science, Biology, Global Public Health and Prehealth students have to take Organic Chemistry, a separate majors course that teaches exactly the same material is unnecessary. Majors-only courses should be reserved for upper-level chemistry courses which are not largely required by non-majors.
Don’t make orgo harder than it is, NYU. Abolish the separation between non-major and majors organic chemistry courses. Reserve the exclusivity for other aspects of the university, like our D1 Quidditch team.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, November 7th print edition. Email Aparna Alankar at [email protected]