Did any of you take biochemistry as undergrads?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by emilioestevez, Sep 22, 2015.

  1. emilioestevez Suspended

    emilioestevez

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    Aug 25, 2015
    #1
    If so, got any tips for succeeding in it?

    I was expecting a sort of hybrid cell bio/organic chem class, but our first exam took me by surprise by basically being a gen chem exam (LOTs of pKa and pH and titration questions, hardly any biology). :(

    (I did well in cell bio, genetics, organic chem, etc.) This class has me worried.
     
  2. AustinIllini macrumors demi-god

    AustinIllini

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    #2
    The best BioChem degree will make you proficient in both. In order to merge the two, you have to get each side separately first. Most degrees are like that. Your impression of BioChem is dead on from what all my colleagues in that field had said. It's not the sexy science people imagine.

    My best advice (given I'm ChemE, so not exactly the same), don't give up. The Chemistry portion in particular is really valuable and there is a lot of work out there in that field.
     
  3. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

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    #3
    When I took biochem, I was a bit lost on exam 1, which was mostly cellular biology. I came into my own in the rest of the class, which as you've noticed is a lot of pH and buffer stuff. Later on, you'll do pathways, which are effectively organic mechanisms(a lot of arrow pushing).

    As someone went to grad school on chemistry and now works as a full-time chemist, I loved the class.

    My bio major friends-particularly the pre meds-had a somewhat different opinion.
     
  4. Don't panic macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #4
    I am a bit confused here. wasn't the exam based on what was covered in class?
    is there a syllabus for the course?
    what is your textbook? Lehninger? Voet?
    give a look at the text and how the chapters are organized, and it should clarify.
    also you will find a lot of overlap with some of the other courses you mentioned.
    maybe the professor needed to bring everyone up to speed on the chemistry basics? also consider that the chemistry involved is basically a subset of organic chemistry, mostly in aqueous phase and typically catalyzed by enzymes, with a ton of cellular and molecular biology attached.

    don't worry you'll get to the pathways soon enough :)
     
  5. A.Goldberg macrumors 68000

    A.Goldberg

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    #5
    I took biochemistry as an undergrad. I took biochemistry in pharmacy school, so I the focus of the course may be different than conventional classes (we spent almost zero time talking about plant biochemistry). I think biochemistry can vary quite a bit depending on focus and degree of difficulty.

    It's been at least 5 years since I've taken the course and don't remember the content too specifically.

    I do remember having a solid understanding of chemistry was very important. Chemistry knowledge goes a lot further than biology knowledge, though both are important. Memorizing the amino acids and their chemistry is essential.

    Don't be afraid to talk to your professor and let him/her know where you are at. He/she can help you brush up on areas you're weeks in. Some schools also offer free tutoring groups for tricky classes, so look into that. Don't be ashamed to get a tutor. I used them in many classes and graduated with a 3.8 GPA. I have often times found tutors (former students), despite not having the depths of knowledge as a the professor, are better at explaining the concepts (and letting you know what is important for the exams- if they had the same prof).

    General tips for difficult college classes-
    1) Dont skip classes.
    2) Don't rely on other people's notes.
    3) Study the material the same day
    4) Ask questions. If the teacher thinks you understand everything, they'll keep moving forward.
    5) Read the chapter prior to class
    6) Don't fall behind. In a lot of cases material builds on itself. Not understandings old concepts creates future problems.
    7) Seek help on topics you don't understand.
    8) Find a group of good students to study with from time to time. Vocalizing ideas and questions makes learning easier and content more memorable.
     
  6. A.Goldberg macrumors 68000

    A.Goldberg

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    #6
    9. Don't stress out too much. A little stress is a good thing- it's a motivator. Too much, or distress, is not.
     
  7. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

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    #7
    As someone who now stands on the other side of the lectern, I can't begin to say how important this is. Every professor has their own style of lecturing, but mine tends to involve a lot of interaction with the class. I will frequently push them to provide answers to complete my prompts, and encourage questions.

    I love getting questions in class-one of my standard "spiels" is that if one student has a question, there are probably a half dozen other people with the same or similar questions.

    There's often a connection in my mind that makes a certain concept make sense, but I may omit explicitly saying it because it doesn't occur to me that something could work any other way. As much as I try to avoid these type of situations, they sometimes just happen(my lecture notes are prompts for things to talk about, not a transcript of what I'm going to say). If the students don't make the same leap, the best time to correct it is during the lecture and I need to know that I haven't explained something clearly.

    Furthermore, I LOVE having students come to my office for help. I encourage this regularly in class, although few students take advantage of it. When I'm working with a student one on one, I can tailor my teaching/explanation style to how I perceive the student to be learning. I also can make absolutely sure that a student doesn't leave until they are 100% clear on a topic. That's typically not possible in a lecture setting.

    This is true of all chemistry(and many other subjects). I don't explicitly make all exams cumulative, but typically the first part of a class is building foundations that will later be used for more advanced concepts.

    If a student gets off to a bad start in a particular class, they need to either put in the time to get caught up and be sure they understand everything or drop the class and try again. In Biochem, for example, it's hard to teach about(and understand) protein structures without a really good foundation in amino acids-not just knowing them but knowing how the side chain affects the structure of the protein.
     
  8. crazinavy, Sep 23, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2015

    crazinavy macrumors newbie

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    #8
    First test is always gen chem to make sure everyone understands the fundamentals of acid/base reactions

    The rest of the class will still use these concepts, but it will go more into more of the chemistry of biological molecules (proteins, lipids, etc) :)
     
  9. A.Goldberg macrumors 68000

    A.Goldberg

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    #9
    You're exactly correct here. A lot of lectures just ramble and don't ask the class questions to test understanding OR will only ask "do you guys understand this", no one will respond, so they will continue. In the latter case, I've noticed on some occasions people so confused as to what's going on they don't even know what to ask.

    Said perfectly here. Even if exams are not cumulative, it doesn't mean the information does not apply in the future.
     
  10. impulse462 Suspended

    impulse462

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    #10
    Biochem is a tough class, but definitely doable. You should know the structures of all the amino acids, general structure of lipids, and general structure of nucleotides. Having this familiarity while you approach the text is pretty useful once it is second nature. For things such as enzyme kinematics, its best to practice different types of problems, or for other things such as plasmid/vector addition. For metabolism, that is really just rote memorization. Sucks, but if you put enough time into it, you can score pretty well. It honestly depends on what your professor asks you. Memorizing DNA replication/transcription/translation is fine, but usually my exams consisted of looking at readouts of gels and making connections of what I saw based on genes I knew and how they interacted with other gene expression manipulators such as transcription factors or enhancer sequences.

    For experimental techniques, definitely understand via first principles what they experiment measures and in what situations they are used (e.g. affinity chromatography vs size-exclusion chromatography) Once you get these down, practice different questions involving different scenarios and see what is the best technique to use. This also involves asking your prof questions and getting to know their test style. The more you can think like your professor and as well as how he/she asks questions on exams, the better you'll score.
     
  11. Easttime macrumors 6502

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    #11
    It's been 40 years since I took those fascinating classes. Glad I slugged through it all, had a great career. But still have the odd bad dream where I wake thinking I have a midterm tomorrow that I forgot to study for. Thinking exams would stop after I finally got out of school turned out to be a pipe dream. It's all worth it though. Enjoy the learning, don't forget to smell the flowers.
     
  12. AutoUnion39 macrumors 601

    AutoUnion39

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    #12
    Majored in chemistry for undergrad. Working on a Masters currently.

    The first Biochem test was a slap in the face for me. But I eventually pulled through. Just have to read before class, and rewrite your notes and go over them after. It didn't help that the year I took the first semester of Biochem, it was a new prof who just got the job. She had no idea what she was doing either.

    Some of the hardest classes I remember taking were Biochem 2 because I hate memorizing pathways and spitting them back out for exams and my chemical instrumentation classes, where we learned the fundamentals of NMR and other various techniques.
     
  13. AutoUnion39 macrumors 601

    AutoUnion39

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    #13
    And I agree with the sentiment that Biochem is one of the worst classes to skip and rely purely on the readings and other people's notes. It's a hard subject with massive amount of material.
     
  14. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

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    #14
    I guess the reason why I ended up with a masters in analytical chemistry is because I thrive on that stuff :)

    I LOVE NMR...
     
  15. lowendlinux Contributor

    lowendlinux

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    #15
    I took out a bio chem major in college a couple times..does that count ;)
     
  16. AutoUnion39, Sep 24, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2015

    AutoUnion39 macrumors 601

    AutoUnion39

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    #16
    You guys deserve more credit than is given my friend. Analytical chemistry is ridiculously tough.


    I'm leaning more towards organic for my Masters.
     
  17. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

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    #17
    It's been quite a while since I took my biochemistry class, but you absolutely should follow this bit of advice
    if you want to have any hope of it all coming together in a cohesive way. Acid/base reactions are fundamental, so don't just let it go in one ear and out the other just because you've seen it before. It all builds on itself; I assume you've figured that out, as that's how learning works. Reflect on and review your material from other completed courses. It's all related to each other. Also: have fun, and take breaks. (And please take some statistics/probability classes.)
     
  18. ejb190 macrumors 65816

    ejb190

    #18
    Love this thread. I had no idea there were so many chemistry types around here.

    I am a plant physiologist by training. Biochemistry was hard for me. I set there kind of stumped as the material was flying by me and waited way too long to "figure out" the structure of the class and the teaching style.

    Not going back and making sure I had it down solid made some of my physiology courses harder. I never dropped or repeated a class. But man, in the case of biochem, I wish I had taken it again. The plant physiology survey class I took in grad school was basically applied biochemistry covering a different pathway each week! Not having the mastery of biochem that I should have really made it rough.

    I can't find the post now to quote it, but concerning the new professor... I had an entomology professor who I now work with professionally (20 years later). We were talking and I mentioned I took his course the first year he taught it. He turned to me, put both hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, "I am so sorry." I have also been on both sides of the podium. Sometimes it's not you. Teaching and learning requires two way communication to be done right. If you don't tell the prof he left someone behind at the last rest stop, he's going to keep on driving!
     
  19. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

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    #19
    If you want to do organic, head over to MIT and join EJ Corey's group :)

    (BTW, I started out doing organic, and my first advisor was a Corey group alum. It was a miserable experience, although that may have been more of a personality clash than anything).
     
  20. A.Goldberg macrumors 68000

    A.Goldberg

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    #20
    I think overall finding a teacher you really connect with is hit or miss. Everybody has teachers they like others don't. And then there are the universally hated teachers- who may or may not in retrospect be that terrible.

    I never had a first year professor that I know of, but I did have a couple lecturers who would came in to teach 1-2 classes based on a specific topic, usually something they specialized in (i.e. Anticoagulants). I experienced 1-2 that appeared to be their first time teaching... and they were atrocious. At the same time, there were also some fantastic lectures who came in, who never held a full time job in academia, but we're just very good at what they did.

    On the other end of the scale, I feel a sizable percentage of the long time professors forget what it is like not to know the subject they teach. They make vast assumptions about what students prior knowldge is (usually more than it actually is). These types are also more likely to have a less interactive class. I'm thinking about my Organic Chem teacher who had taught at my school alone for either 46 or 48 years. As far as I know, he's still there (~6+ years later).

    Unfortunately, there are good and bad teachers, but at the end of the day you need to learn the material if you want to be successful. In that regard, you must tailor yourself to their style, rather than expect them to cater to your specific needs.
     
  21. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

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    #21
    One of the things that I think needs to be emphasized is that most of us in academia have no formal pedagogical training. We know our subject well, but learning to teach it is often "trial by fire."

    I'm still new at this, and I can tell you that every semester I feel a lot more confident and feel like my lecture style improves.

    Even so, I got a lot of really positive feedback on the first class I taught. I can't begin to tell you how important evaluations are, and most professors really do read them. I appreciate constructive feedback and will certainly listen to it even if it's not possible to fully implement a suggestion(i.e. how can I have more more exams with fewer material when I barely have time for the exams I give? Why should I switch to using Powerpoint based on one students' when my entire lecture style is based on chalk talks and using that toward in-class questions and answers from the students?).

    I also managed to get ripped to shreds by a "state certified educator" who used a lot of K-12 "code words" in their evaluation to make a case that I shouldn't be permitted to teach because I didn't know how to present the material. Unfortunately, that student felt so strongly about the quality of my teaching that all I got was three paragraphs about how terrible I was and no suggestions for how to improve...but that was also one out of 60 evaluations, and the only negative one out of the bunch.

    So, if you feel that your professor is not up to par in some area, please by all means fill out an evaluation. If you feel that they are doing a great job, fill out an evaluation. Part of the purpose of those is to help US improve.
     

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