For those of you who can’t read 0.2 size font, the molecule shown in the featured picture is oxytocin. Eh? Eh? Get it?
Anyway, this course truly was everything I wanted and more. Unlike many of my classmates, I took Neurochemistry as basically the only elective I will be able to take in my undergraduate career. (Filling requirements for a chemistry major, a math major, and all the liberal arts core classes that a Concordia degree requires takes quite a bit of time to complete without overloading or going insane.) Actually, during my sophomore and junior years I considered dropping my math major to pursue more coursework in neuroscience, thinking that ultimately I’d go to graduate school for neurochemistry. Thus, discovering that the neurochemistry class offered here fit into my schedule my senior year, I was pretty darn ecstatic. However, I noticed that the class did not have a lab associated with it which was different from any science class I had taken, so I was a bit wary of what would be in store, especially since it was attributed as a senior capstone class. Capstone classes are, by definition, writing-heavy classes, and writing papers is not one of my favorite things to do, to put it lightly.
Despite my pre-semester concerns, however, this class turned out to be not only enjoyable, but extremely useful as well. I think that one of the weaknesses of the chemistry classes I have taken thus far is that they don’t take much time to connect the course material with what is actually happening in the field. Granted, most just don’t have the time to do this due to the tremendous amount of material that needs to be covered in a short time, but it is still very important to those that are going to do research at any time in their chemistry careers. From my summer undergraduate research program, I have discovered that reading these sorts of articles comprises an almost unbelievable portion of one’s time spent in research. A person needs to gather foundational information on the material and instrumentation to develop a method for their project, make sure that someone hasn’t already done the same experiment, and in some cases search literature for an initial topic that is important to the scientific community. This course not only encouraged reading scientific articles and reviews, but the required reading was solely these articles. Scientific journals are a very different form of writing than most prose, and in order to read them fairly quickly and effectively, a person needs practice. With our weekly journal articles, we both gained familiarity with this style and learned how best to go about dealing with the information presented. Each week we worked together to understand the overall message of the article, determine what was important and what was trivial, and communicate our findings with the non-science world. This last portion is the reason for this blog series, and definitely an important step in the research process; although it’s necessary to effectively communicate with the rest of the scientific community, it’s extremely important to share our progress with the rest of society to gain support and feedback to continue or reevaluate different aspects of a project. Working within a fairly specific group of probably like-minded people, one’s perspective can easily become skewed; communication with other groups helps to ground oneself.
This class has been so beneficial to me that I would suggest that it become part of the required curriculum for an ACS Chemistry major. For a person going into research, learning how to process information from scientific journals is a necessity and something that isn’t really done in any other chemistry class. Peer discussion on research was also emphasized, which is unlike other courses, yet essential to most jobs in the field. This course has, in short, most strongly conveyed the link from my undergraduate studies to skill application in the field than any other course I’ve taken. I recommend it to any and all science majors. It’s fantastic.