Dear Ivy League Connection,
It's the end of another semester. This semester has been rather busy for me, but not much has changed from the previous semester. I am still working at my research lab, the general chemistry stockroom, and my parents' store. The only addition is that this previous semester, I was promoted to the Curriculum Director of BEAM, a student-run mentoring program I am a part of. I also shadowed a chemistry TA in his lab section as a requirement to TA myself in the future during the school year. Each semester has become increasingly busy since freshman year, but it was a slow and steady buildup. I would encourage freshmen not to overload on classes in their first semester/year. It's nice to be able to take a lighter course load in order to explore other things you may be interested in.
I'll try to focus more on BEAM this e-mail, as that's what's changed the most for me recently. BEAM stands for Berkeley Engineers and Mentors, and we are a student-run organization that sets up a weekly 1- to 1.5-hour science lesson at currently 8 different Berkeley/Oakland/Richmond elementary schools (most are in Berkeley), 1 middle school, and 1 high school. We basically go into schools with the intention of getting students excited about science through demos and experimentation instead of through textbooks and lectures. As curriculum director, I am in charge of a committee of about 6 people, and we each write 1-2 lesson plans to be taught that semester at the different schools. What I have to make sure happens is that each person gets his or her lesson plan written by the deadline and that the concept is straightforward and easily understood from the lesson plan, which means I need to try to imagine myself as an elementary school kid and see if I would enjoy the activity. Writing curriculum has really given me a greater appreciation for my teachers in high school who always tried to come up with analogies and different ways of explaining the same concept to try to reach out to as many students as possible. Writing curriculum is harder than just writing a procedure for an experiment; one must think about how the mentors should present the concepts to the students, how should we relate the concepts to the students? What kind of analogies, etc. I've really learned a lot about how to teach in BEAM versus just tutoring students, and I'm glad I took the time to look outside of activities related to school work to do something I really enjoy. I know that many college students look for extracurriculars that are related to and boost themselves up for what they plan to do post-undergrad, but I urge you to look outside of the usual resume boosters and find something that really interests you.
A little on the specifics of courses, I take mainly chemistry upper division courses now. I have to say that the chemistry I learn and use now is much different from what I learned in high school. There's much less focus on memorization (which for some reason always seems to be a focus in high school chem courses...) and a lot of focus on trying to understand and develop an intuition for chemistry and why reactions take place. Actually, chemistry is rather multifaceted... but it is definitely not a lot of number-punching, which it seems like in high school. So if you happen to like chemistry but can't seem to get past all the math, don't let it get in your way. Chemistry, and lab work especially, is based more on hard work and perseverance than it is on math skills.
Candidate for B.S. in Chemistry, UC Berkeley