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Literally Everything about Academics (Or, How to Succeed at General Chemistry)

Posted by on Monday, May 29, 2017 in Academics, Admissions, Admissions, Books, College Life, College of Arts and Science, College of Arts and Science, Commons, Commons, Early Decision, Engineering, Exams, Exams, Finals, Freshman Life, General Information, Health, Internship, Learning Style, Peabody College, Pre-Med, Pre-Med, Professors, Professors, Student Life, Student Organizations, Student Organizations, Studying, Studying, Teachers, Year in Review.

Starting college is a blank slate. Suddenly, the SAT scores, valedictorian status, and various medals and distinctions don’t matter anymore. It’s just you, your textbooks, and that supply of pens that will mysteriously vanish until one day your roommate will look over and say “And Then There Were None.”

  1. Do not compare yourself. You are amazing. And when you do compare yourself, remember that you are just as smart as you need to be to fulfill your role in the world. You have been given no less and no more than what you need. Don’t compare yourself to other freshmen, and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to upperclassmen.
  2. One more time, don’t compare yourself to upperclassmen. They’ve been here for a while, and they’ve mastered the art of making everything seem put together when it’s not. Remember that behind “the guy who does everything” or the “girl who’s just perfect” is a(n) (probably very tired) individual who has a booked planner, friends they haven’t seen in a while, and a brain that’s going a mile a minute.
  3. If you just got a bad test grade back, be practical. You’re not going to have another test in that class for at least another three weeks, so after you look over your test, see what you did wrong, correct them, and email your professor for a time to go over the test to address the problems you still don’t understand, relax and let those cortisol levels go down. Be the person to ask someone else if they want to go to a campus event with you, go see a show at the TPAC (Tennessee Performing Arts Center), go to an off-campus restaurant. Just take a walk. Destress, take those deep breaths, and return refreshed. You’ll get there next time.
  4. Be prepared to listen, because everyone has the right to be vulnerable. Even if you just had the Worst Day Ever and failed everything, someone may be in a worse condition than you are. Or maybe they’re not, but they just need to vent about how they had ten points taken off. We’ve all been the person venting and the person quietly seething. Ungrit those teeth into something that looks like a smile, and give that person a hug and tell them it’s all going to be okay.
  5. Regardless if another first-year tells you that they’re planning on doing three majors and three minors (look, here’s an Excel spreadsheet!), they’ve likely started the introductory classes for their plan, not the twenty-seven plus additional hours that they’ll use to complete each major. They have a long, long way to go, and people’s plans change drastically in the first few months.
  6. First-round exam scores are not indicative of how you’ll do the rest of the semester. If you fail your first bio exam but still like the material¸ stick with biology and proceed to study as hard as you can. Make those flashcards. Hunker down in Stevenson or Central or Cohen. Turn your phone off and put it far away from you. Study, study, study.
  7. Go to office hours. Everyone will say it to you and most of y’all won’t go. Even if the class is easy and you’re doing well, just make it a point to get to know your professors. They’re cool people, I promise. I also promise you that Tara Todd, who’s one of the best GenChem professors, frequently has her door open and no one goes to office hours. Friends, go to office hours.
  8. Schedule appointments with professors. “Having class during office hours” (or hey, just not wanting to go) is not an excuse. If office hours are a brief window for you in a packed day of class, just email the professors with different dates and times that you are available, and they’ll get back to you with a date. Include the days, times (preferably three-hour spaces where they can choose a 30 minute interval somewhere in there), and how long you think you need. It’s also best to articulate what you want to go over, and to have worked on those problems or concepts in advance.
  9. Get to know your professors. I said this before, but I’ll go over it again. You’re reaching a point where you’re no longer a child, and your professors will not treat you like one. I highly recommend asking your professors to lunch, coffee, or to come be at your orchestra, band, or dance performance. Just remember to thank them afterwards for spending their time with you. And for the truly go-getter student, these interactions with professors can lead to stellar recommendation letters, connections to lab positions, and potential internships. (But be authentic).
  10. I’m putting this last in the list, though I’m sure you future premeds will be looking for it first. No, General Chemistry is not the worst thing that has ever happened to you. People do get A’s, I promise. However. Most people who are in General Chemistry who do well have taken AP Chemistry or some kind of Chemistry in high school. So, be prepared.
    • Do the online prep that your professor will send you in late July or early August (I can’t quite remember) so that you can get back in the swing of things. Also note: They did this in Fall 2015, when I became a freshman, so whenever you read this, this may no longer be part of the policy.
    • The class moves quickly, and you should definitely study after every class. Don’t take your first exam lightly, and make sure you study the notes, the powerpoints if provided, the challenge questions suggested, and the book. Do all the problems, read the readings, and you’ll be fine.
    • Most of all, focus more on concepts than just memorization of doing problems. If you can look at a problem and explain your way through it, you’ll be good. To validate yourself, there is also a solutions manual in Stevenson Library with explanations on how to do the problems, concept-wise. Just ask for it. It should be a red hard-backed book.
    • Definitely go to discussion and GO TO CLASS. Write down everything the professor says, not just what’s on the board.
    • If you know that you won’t be up at 8 AM on Monday, Wednesday, Fridays or Tuesday, Thursdays, for heaven’s sake, don’t take that class.
    • You can go to another class’s lectures if that professor is supposed to be “better.” The tests are all the same.
    • If you don’t like General Chemistry, it’s definitely okay to reconsider premed, but know that many premeds prefer Organic Chemistry (“Orgo” or “OChem”) to GenChem, because General Chemistry has many fractured concepts and Organic Chemistry is more of a story, with everything building on top of itself.
    • Addressing “grade deflation:” Vandy doesn’t give curves for GenChem. You’ll get bonus points if you go to Discussion (up to 3% of your grade), there is always TA help available, and you should definitely do all the problems. But there will be no curves.
    • Addressing “Weed-out Classes:” Fundamentally, GenChem, just like the rest of the premed classes, are hard for a reason. First, Vandy wants you to know the material. Secondly, the science courses required for premed are a predictor of how much you will like med school courses and how well you will do in them. Take it from the seniors I’ve seen go to medical school: Those who attend medical school just kept going and going and going. So, those who usually drop out of GenChem or other premed courses usually do so because they decided that they don’t want to do this anymore. And that’s okay.
    • Finally, you’re not going to know until you know. You can’t possibly try to predict your success in GenChem over the summer (I see you trying, premeds. I see you :)) Stop stalking College Confidential and looking for comments about “grade deflation,” “weed-out classes,” and the like, and spend some last time with those high school friends.
  11. And… there you go! Learning at Vanderbilt is a wonderful, wonderful experience, and you will walk away in a year with a list of your own. I hope this helps, friends! :) If you have questions about anything I said here, email me asap at Love y’all! <3

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