Oberlin Blogs

Something about the chem/biochem department

May 1, 2010

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

I was recently asked to talk about the biochemistry program at Oberlin which is, frankly, a somewhat daunting task. But I'm going to try it anyway. Of course, for information direct from the source, see the department's website. Here, though, is a not very organized summary of facts and my thoughts. Feel free to ask questions as you see fit.

The biochem program is part of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. Requirements-wise, the two majors are fairly similar. Biochemistry, of course, focuses more on the biological aspects of things--a few biology classes are required, and only one physical chemistry class (as opposed to two for the chemistry major) is required.

As for what a four year schedule looks like, if you don't come in with AP credit, there's a chem class with a lab every semester. Along with that, there are two semesters of calculus, two semesters of physics, and two semesters of biology. The biology and the physics classes also have labs associated with them.

And that's pretty much it. There are also lots of electives to take--seminars where you read journal articles and discuss them and upper-level chem classes in things like inorganic chemistry. The requirements for the major line up rather well with pre-med requirements, so a lot of pre-med students are biochemistry majors. For the record, I am not one of those pre-med kids.

When I came to Oberlin, I didn't really know what I was in for. Lectures are as you'd expect--lectures. It was the labs that I knew less about, and that labs that I was more nervous about. I mean, they lasted for three hours. Labs in high school lasted, at maximum, eighty-four minutes. The labs are important, though, because not only do they reinforce things that you learn in lecture, they also teach you something very important and very obvious: lab skills.

Which brings me to another important thing to mention. When I was a freshman, someone (I don't remember who) once said that virtually everyone who gets a chemistry or biochemistry major also does some form of research outside of classes. At the time, I was terrified. And I remained in that state for quite some time, because--the way I saw it--I still had (read: have) a lot more to learn.

But, as it turns out that's okay. Now, I even dream about research. And I mean that quite literally. Last night, I had a dream where I drew all these complicated chemical structures and matched them up with various NMR and IR spectra. I'm not quite that good in real life (yet), but sometimes I like to think I'm getting there.

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