Sunday, December 30, 2007

College Advising - Organic Chemistry Vs. Biochemistry

Which course is more difficult: organic chemistry or biochemistry?

Well it depends on how your mind processes information! Orgo is analytical; its all about finding patterns and some spatial recognition (looking at and manipulating molecules in 3-D), and predicting the most likely outcome. Orgo is almost like algebraic chemistry. In algebra there are negative numbers and positive numbers, and there are a few operations (adding, multiplying, etc) that u can do to these numbers. Once you know how multiplication works, you can multiply any two numbers. In orgo there are big molecules; a big molecule may have slightly negatively charged areas and slightly positively charged areas; these slightly charged areas are usually the places where the big molecule will react with other reagents. All you have to do is determine which parts or 'functional groups' (like hydroxyl groups) make that big molecule slightly negative or slightly positive. Orgo is also like a 3 month IQ test; maybe that's why many people say it’s so hard. But it doesn’t have to be so hard. Like multiplication, orgo never changes. The exam questions never change; if I take the same IQ test 5 or 6 times, eventually I could score high. All you have to do is breathe and realize that nearly 90% of orgo questions just ask you 'where is the positively charged area of the molecule? Here? Ok, now you know that opposite charges attract, so if my reagent is negatively charged, what’s going to happen? Oh, well duh, the two are going to react and yield this product'.

If orgo is all about breaking down things and analyzing each atom or molecule or functional group, then biochemistry is more about looking at the BIG picture to come up with generalizations. Yes, you do analyze molecules in biochemistry, but there isn’t as much emphasis on analysis. The emphasis is more practical. Histidine has slightly charged regions, and so histidine is slightly acidic because histidine's ring is able to donate its Hydrogen. So what? Well histidine is a good pH buffer because its pKa is close to physiological pH (7.4), and it’s no surprise that hemoglobin contains many histidine residues in order to (for example) buffer the pH of the blood. Biochemistry can be easy if you take each relevant biochemical fact and put them together to see the BIG picture. In other words, grow a biochemical rationality so you can say things like ‘oh, it makes sense that eukaryotes have compartmentalized organelles; this allows each cell to perform many different reactions (at different pHs and substrate concentrations) at the same time'.

So! In conclusion, neither course is necessarily harder than the other is. And that’s not really important. The important thing is that orgo is all about knowing a few general rules and taking molecules apart, while biochem is all about synthesizing information derived from orgo to come up with many general rules and being able to connect these general rules together. If u realize this and are able to differ your approaches when you take these courses, you’ll find both courses easier than what everyone makes them out to be. Don’t believe the hype; decide how to look at these courses yourself today and in 3 months you can decide how to celebrate your A’s!

5 comments:

the pseudoneuro - renzy said...

wow! you've got the brain of einstein! you're so damn wicked. well, fyi, im a freshman biology major studying at the most prestigious university here in our country, that is, university of the philippines. god. i will take organic chem and bio chem next semester. HAHA. if i had any questions about some confusing topics of orgo and biochem, will you help me? HEHE. im sure you will.

thank you and godspeed.

dance teacher said...

Hey Alex,

I'm all over the theory you laid down of the difference in methodology between organic chemistry and biochemistry. But I'm interested in the college advising part. How do you convince a terrified, non-analytical student that they too can understand both organic chemistry and biochem? I'm asking because as a dance teacher, I ALWAYS get the student who says they can't dance...and sometimes they're right...but I digress. But seriously as an advisor, tutor, teacher, mentor, coach, counselor, the first step has got to be self-empowerment of the learner. When a student believes they can learn the material, you can lay any theory on them and they'll totally get it, because they'll believe they can.
I'm likin' the blog! Nice work kid... -Avis

Mercedes said...

Thank you!

That really straightened out a lot of questions I had. I've been wondering whether to go into chem or biochem. I definitely have an analytical mind, so I was leaning towards chem. The fact that there's still so much organic chem in it, I'm sold!!

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