April 2019 Limerick Project

Organic Chemistry

“ The topics in classrooms organic
Can sometimes seem roadblocks titanic.
My advice?  Simply, I’d
Heed the Hitchhiker’s Guide…
First and foremost, remember: ‘Don’t panic.’ ”   

The April 9 limerick takes a detour from General Chemistry learning objectives, taking an overall look at the traditional second-year chemistry courses through the lens of a science fiction classic.

“The topics in classrooms organic/
Can sometimes seem roadblocks titanic.”
Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 together constitute an undergraduate course sequence that can inspire significant foreboding.  “O-Chem” often is the last chemistry coursework a non-major has to complete; it is a common hurdle across many pre-professional curricula (pre-med, pre-dentistry, pre-vet, etc.); it involves the mastery of a tremendous amount of material in a two-semester lecture course; it often involves a significant lab component.  All of these facts can loom large to a student, as can the substance of the course material itself!

“My advice?  Simply, I’d/ Heed the Hitchhiker’s Guide…/
First and foremost, remember: ‘Don’t panic.’ ”   
From my own experience, I can say that Organic Chemistry can be a fun and inspiring challenge.  Where General Chemistry involves a broad range of topics; Organic Chemistry is more consistent: it’s highly visual, involving an emphasis on spatial reasoning, and it involves mastering some key techniques and rules, then applying them to several types of interesting molecules and reactions.  However, most students enter the classroom already aware of the challenges discussed above and thus more than a bit apprehensive.  

I’ve thus always thought the textbooks would benefit from a treatment similar to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the central text from Douglas Adams’s 1979 novel of the same name.  Adams describes the interstellar encyclopedia: “It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON’T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters.” 

Most textbooks have molecular structures or chemistry-related pictures on the front; while certainly not intentionally alienating, they are not as reassuring as Adams’s famous motto!