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Chemistry Survival Guide


  • Choosing a lab

  • SDSU has a list of all the research labs separated by their subfield- physical, organic, inorganic, biochemistry, analytical

  • I would recommend looking into joining a research lab at the end of your freshman year or sometime sophomore year. You will really stand out if you put yourself out there in the beginning of your undergraduate career because it takes a little while to learn the ropes in a new lab. Keep in mind that they usually do want you have taken chem 232 and 251. The sooner you can find a lab, the more experience you will have for graduate school or finding a job once you graduate.

  • WSS also has meet and greets with research labs. Even if you’re not interested in the labs that will be there, it’s still a great idea to go because 1) you could fall in love with an area of research you didn’t expect to 2) it’s great experience to chat with PI’s for when you find a lab you want to join in the future

  • Skim all the different research going on in the chemistry department and make a list of a handful that interest you

  • I sent emails out to four labs over winter break of my sophomore year. Three out of four got back to me. One lab told me I was in, another asked to meet with me on zoom and the last asked me to come in once school started and chat with all of his grad students to see if they were accepting undergraduates and if I clicked with any of them.

  • All labs do things slightly differently as you can see from my experience. I think it’s really important to go into the labs and see what kind of environment you will be working in. It’s important to find the right fit as you will be spending a lot of time here and you’ll be more successful in a lab you love!

  • When meeting with a lab’s PI or graduate students, be curious, ask lots of questions and find out if what they’re researching and doing on a daily basis is what you’re interested in


  • Office hours are your best friend, I promise the chemistry professors aren’t scary once you get to know them. If you show up once a week and come with a few questions or ask for some sample problems to be done, you’ll get super comfortable with them. This could help at the end of the semester if you’re on the edge of a grade.

  • condense your notes OFTEN. I condense all the key concepts, laws, rules and equations so I have them in one centralized location. This gives you a great “cheat sheet” to help with homework and practice problems, it also gives you a guide you can reference when you’re done with the class. If you condense them a little bit every few days or weekly, you won’t be overwhelmed when it’s exam time. Lots of midterms overlap and it can be a stressful season. I see this as a way to trick myself into studying, but it doesn’t really feel like studying. It helps me retain much more information than just reading over my lecture notes.

  • GO TO ALL your classes, even if they have zoom recording. It really helps to be exposed to the concepts as soon as posible, so you have time for them to sink in. Some of them are esoteric, giving it more time to sit in your brain will help it stick.

  • Go to SI. It’s just students that have taken the class the semester prior and give you a mini lecture, some good study tips and tools, and practice problem. This is a great place to meet other good students that you can study with before exams, and even make new friends in your major!

  • Most people aren’t doing as well as you think they are. Focus on learning the material, getting your assignments done and you’ll do well!

  • The greatest resource I could give you is chemlibretext, it’s an online FREE text book that covers ALL chemistry topics in simple terminology in a concise manner. It is a credible, written by professors all over the country. My favorite part about this online text book is you can type in the exact topic you’re studying into google for example “Chemlibre SN2 reactions” and it will pop up with the exact section of that chapter. It’s always one of the first options on google. I understand that opening a textbook and thinking the information you’re looking for is somewhere within a chapter can be so overwhelming. Chemlibre does a great job of breaking down chapters by subject, they write about any given topic in simple terms, it’s a quick few paragraphs to read with examples and diagrams. It really helps overcome that inertia of feeling like you don’t know where to start with a specific topic or you have some holes in your understanding.

I hope all of these tips show you that being a chemistry major is manageable and can be done. I remember everyone telling me how hard organic chemistry was going to be before I came to college. It ended up being one of my favorite classes AND the research lab I decided to join. In short, don’t listen to other people warning you about “weeder” classes. You may be thinking that I have no life and all of my time is dedicated toward school, with all of the above tips, I am able to spend time with my friends, work out pretty much almost every day, be a member and blogger for WSS and see the sights of San Diego. Good luck with the last few weeks of the semester!

- Violet

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