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Organic Chemistry Courses


Organic chemistry is like initiation for pre-meds: occasionally entertaining, but inevitably painful and unavoidable. So if you are unsure about being pre-med, do yourself a favor and decide before taking “orgo.” Otherwise, when you later switch to Economics, it will count as an elective.

Assuming you still think you’re a pre-med, or you are one of those rare types who take orgo out of “interest,” it’s time to pick your poison: 17/27 or 20/30?

Chemistry 17/27 is the typical pre-med track, usually taken sophomore year. Chem 17 is a crash course on, well, everything. Fortunately, Professor Jacobsen has no trouble with this. He can erase with his right hand while writing with his left and draw chair conformations in two seconds flat. Needless to say, the class’ female population describes him as very charismatic and his office hours are always packed. Although the class is difficult, most students (guys, too) find it quite worthwhile.

The same is rarely said for Chem 27. Unfortunately, the material—the organic chemistry of biological systems—is rumored to be quite important for the MCAT (hence the pre-med preference for 17/27). But after 17, the workload isn’t so bad.

Chemistry 20/30 is orgo for Chemistry concentrators and pre-meds desperately seeking to appear hardcore. The classes cover essentially the same topics as 17, but in considerably more depth (seeing as how there are two semesters). Although 20 is a gentler introduction to orgo than 17, Chem 30 is very difficult but thorough. The difference is evident when 20/30 alums also decide to take 27. (Why? Apparently because they actually like orgo and want to learn about its biological applications. Or because they are legally insane.) They are routinely excluded from the grading curve in order “to be fair” to the 17 alums.

The greatest drawback of the 20/30 classes is that Garry Procter is no longer teaching them. Professor Matthew Shair, who taught 27 last year, will take over 20 this spring. Not to worry—he has certainly (read: hopefully) learned by now that copying notes from a binder to the board and reading them aloud is not an effective teaching style.

Lastly, a note about the difficulty of orgo: half the challenge is the problem sets and three midterms. The other half is the relentless competitiveness of certain pre-meds, against whom the class is curved. But, do take heed: it is possible to do well without taking up permanent residence in Cabot Library, and you can still get in to medical school if you score below the mean.

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