Out of My Element: Thoughts on the Chemistry 31 Series

Posted by at 6:12PM

The closest I'll come to Chemistry this year: stumbling for chemcat memes...

Oh, Stanford. I could write odes about the many, many, MANY things about you that I adore: the fact that it is December and a clear, breezy, perfect 74 degrees outside, the smell of eucalyptus wafting through campus, free laundry machines, the Nutella waffles at Coupa, the Bender room, the visual orgasm that is the quad and the oval, oh… and the beyond enviable world-class education that I am receiving and the oodles upon oodles of mind-blowing opportunities that gush out of the pipeline of resources that this university affords us. Don’t get me wrong. I am high on Stanford. I still wake up every morning feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. I still bike through campus and marvel about how I stumbled into this incomparable place. I still wonder how on earth I could have survived without Ike’s. And I’m not usually one to complain. But I do have one teensy, eentsy question that baffles and frustrates me about the Farm: why is the Chem 31 series only offered in the Fall quarter?!

Admitedly, it’s probably my fault. I’m sure that the “Approaching Stanford” materials mentioned how, if you’re interested in bio/premed you should consider signing up for the series. But for those of us (I’m sure I’m not alone) who weren’t 100% sure the minute we set foot on campus that the bio/premed route was our intended path and consequentially didn’t submit ourselves to Chem 31A/B/X right out of the gun… well, it seems we are a little bit screwed.

Maybe I am a little neurotic, or confused, or needlessly freaking out. Perhaps there is an obvious solution that flew over my head before or after I realized my dilemma. But it just seems pretty absurd to me that if you don’t take chem in autumn quarter of your freshman year, there is very little you can do to catch up with everyone else. Yes, you can take it in the summer. I get that. But for people who don’t want to or can’t pay for summer classes… they’re in a bit of a pickle. I guess it simply amazes me that the primary prerequisite for the core of one of Stanford’s most popular majors is only offered the first quarter of the main academic year. I’m sorry, but this seems like no-brainer. I’m fairly confident that there would be a large group of students interested in taking either the 31 A/B or 31X track starting in the winter, thus still allowing them to enroll in the bio core, or higher level chemistry classes for a premed track in the beginning of their sophomore year.

Again, I realize the importance of being organized, of putting considerate thought into your academic plan before arriving at Stanford. But people are human. People change their minds. People are unsure. For those of us who have epiphanies later in the game and don’t realize that that they want to do the bio thing until say, week four of their freshman year – should we be penalized for our realizations or changes in heart? Doesn’t Stanford encourage exploration in different areas of study during the freshman year? Isn’t that one of the main reasons we have GER’s? Isn’t that one of the reasons we don’t declare until the end of sophomore year? I simply think that this is one issue that Stanford didn’t exactly think through. And if Stanford doesn’t want to add additional quarters where this class could be offered, the university could make it loudly, explicitly, and repeatedly clear that if freshman have even the SLIGHTEST interest in maybe, possibly, conceivably studying bio or going premed that they should SERIOUSLY and ABSOLUTELY consider signing up for Chem 31 or, if nothing else, take a placement test. And – AGAIN – perhaps the university does, and it’s 100% possible that I missed it. But for those of us who need a little extra use of bold, underlined, and indented fonts and reiterated messages to hear a message, it would be abundantly helpful.

I’m hopeful that there is considerate reasoning for the rather inconvenient organization of this series. But at this moment in time, I don’t get it. It frustrates me, and it is going to be one of my more demanding scheduling issues in the future. For the sake of future frosh, I simply hope this can be resolved in a better way.



8 Responses to “Out of My Element: Thoughts on the Chemistry 31 Series”

  1. Danny Crichton says:

    This is totally true, and you are not the only one that found out about this before it was too late. Actually, it remains completely fascinating to me, because of all the tracks available at Stanford, pre-med is the one where a single class in freshman Autumn determines whether you can do it or not. There are no warnings about this that I remember (and I was quite organized).

    If you are still interested in pre-med, the alternative is to go to HumBio, since it doesn’t require the core in order to take it. Unfortunately, it does mean that you will take almost every pre-med class out of alignment with your graduating class, but I guess that’s a small nitpick.

  2. Anon says:

    I completely agree with you! Can you take 31X in the winter instead and then take 33 in the spring? That’ll get you back on track

  3. law says:

    Sounds like the series has changed since I graduated some 20 + years ago. I must say tho’ not sure what the 31 series is now – when I was there it was only one quarter – inorganic during my time. From chem 31, we switched to organic for chem 33 – which is where I had difficulties – so I finally gave up hope for a clinical career in Health Care, and went to hc administration – years later I decided that I wanted to go clinical, and took organic at Santa Monica College – passed it with flying colors – and believe me I worked my rear off for that A.

    Off – handedly I spoke of my chemistry experience at Stanford to my professor – Ph.d from Cal – and compared it to SMC, which I had found to be a much better experience the Stanford in the Sciences – I also took Anatomy & Physiology there: Really small classes, smaller lab classes – the ability to raise your hand and have a question answered by the prof. I found it contrary to what I thought a JC had to offer, particularly since I am a third generation Stanford-ite.

    His answer really opened my eyes. He said yes, Stanford was a great school, but it did not surprise him that the classes were large lecture halls with 300 + students and where one could hardly see the chalkboard, He mentioned that research departments were not interested in teaching – what they were really interested in researched funding — not teaching !!

  4. Andy says:

    I definitely don’t think all is lost. I think a couple of options you (and other Stanford students who missed the Chem 31 boat) can consider is jumping into Chem 33 winter or spring quarter–then just take Chem 31X in the Fall next year. Or you can save it all for next year and do it concurrently with Bio 40’s series. I don’t actually think the prerequisites are hard-wired on Axess, and I think there are a fair number of people who would agree that the prerequisites don’t necessarily help you too much (like if you’re doing the Bio core, chances are, knowing about racemic mixtures won’t help you with your Punnett squares…)

  5. Donald says:

    This happened to me as well. I started being pre-med sophomore year, and started the chem series then as well. Scheduling it all was challenging, and I won’t be done until my final quarter at Stanford, and I’ll probably still have to take a class or two postbac. My freshman year I just had no clue that chemistry was such a key track for doing anything bio related.

  6. Halsey says:

    speaking of chemistry, I’d also recommend that people take Engineering 31 instead of 31X if they can. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about 31X, and E31 has a great prof and is a fair amount of work, but nothing ridiculous. I’ve actually enjoyed chem a lot this quarter by taking it through the engineering department. Apparently either will prepare you for chem 33.

  7. Ronald R. says:

    Great post, Leigh! As one who has had to suffer the inhumane atrocity that is the Chem 31 series, let me add my two cents.

    Natural science course planning at Stanford blows HARD. Chem is not the only sequence to do this:

    -Bio Core (required for premeds/bioE/bioComp) has three classes; each is offered one quarter of the year.
    -Physics Core (20, 40, 60) series has about three classes; each is offered one quarter of the year.
    -P. Chem Core (Chem 31 A/B or X, Chem 135): only 31X offered twice (and requires placement exam); all others offered once a year.

    Compare this to other popular subjects at Stanford:

    -CS Core (106A/B or X, CS 107): 106A, 106B, and 107 are offered EVERY quarter.
    -Math 50 Series (51, 52, 53): Each is offered EVERY quarter.
    -Econ Core (1A, 1B, 50, 51, 52): Each class is offered in two out of three quarters every year

    From my experience, here is why: Natural science professors hate undergrads. With the passion of a 1000 fires. Many were hired here for research, not teaching. Everyday, they have to waste time they could be spending trying to win Nobels or grant money and teach 300 kids a subject who they feel just come to class to get an ‘A’ and could care less about the class. Not only is this belief demeaning, but it hurts interest for the natural sciences. When you come out of Chem31A do you feel like you learned something useful or are set for future Chem classes? Absolutely not! Rather, you get a feeling roughly equal to 1 part air sickness and 1 part bashing your head against a wall. This year, Chem31A tried to legitimize it’s outreach program by offering an extra credit for “Chem31AC”. Outreach used to be for “remedial help” but you pretty much went or did horrible on tests. How absurd is it that you have to TAKE A CLASS TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS IN ANOTHER CLASS? WHAT?

    Compare that to Math, CS, and Econ which receive much better reviews and course evaluations. Sure Math 51 might be hard (without any prior linear algebra, I thought it was). But, they offer two sections a week for help and multiple professors.

    It’s why I switched my original major in Bio to engineering. I love Bio, but classes like Chem31A and Physics 41 are unbearably bad. One of my pieces of advice to freshmen (and all interested in chem/physics), unless you have to take it for a requirement, avoid the classes at the top above.

  8. Jiwon says:

    I thought I wanted to do Bio but missed 31 as well in my freshman year. I just went straight into 33 in winter with apprehension, and it turns out 33 doesn’t really require all that much material from 31 after all! I had a blast with 33 – passionate and funny professors who know how to explain difficult concepts to confused undergrads, helpful TAs, and I thought it was a generally fun and organized course. When I took the Bio core in my sophomore year, I realized that none of the material had really anything significant to do with what either 31 or 33 covers. So I agree that if you missed the first year’s chem sequence, it is perfectly fine to dive right into Bio core. Unlike Econ, which actually kicks you out if you haven’t fulfilled the prerequisites, the Bio people are more lenient and lets you take whatever you can handle.


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