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Gen. Chem. confessions

| Monday, September 22, 2014

This semester has been markedly different than my past four for one important reason. Because of graduate school requirements, I am being forced to take general chemistry with roughly 1,000 freshmen.

If you know me, then you probably already know this fact because I talk about it a lot (I publicly apologize to my roommates). Let me explain. As a psychology major who last took chemistry during my sophomore year of high school, this class already has challenged me immensely. But, upon further reflection, I have realized there are indeed some silver linings to taking the class, and they may offer some insights about life.

I have realized, or rather have been reminded, how truly awful I am at all things math and science. I was (foolishly) expecting the first class to review things like “what is an atom.” Instead, we learned about quantum mechanics, which I still do not comprehend in the slightest. After leaving the first lecture absolutely mind-boggled, I was forced to ask myself what to do about my predicament.

On one hand, pride made me sorely tempted to stick my feet in the mud and try to figure out chemistry all by myself. Like the average Notre Dame student, I occasionally can get frustrated when I don’t understand something perfectly. But I knew there was no way I magically was going to figure out chemistry on my own, so I did what was necessary. I marched over to the Learning Resource Center and signed myself up for tutoring. I emailed my T.A. and met with her to ask about homework problems. I went to office hours. I harassed my chemical engineer roommate (Thanks, Amy). In short, I asked for help, and a huge amount of it.

It was not fun. It’s never fun to admit to someone that you have absolutely no clue how to do something because it can make you feel vulnerable and embarrassed. As Notre Dame students, we love to have it all together all the time. This sometimes can lead to us put forth a veneer of perfection, even if, in reality, we are struggling. But the few short weeks I have been in chemistry have been enough to make me realize that being vulnerable to others is freeing. The sheer amount of help and kindness I have received from friends, tutors and T.A.’s during the past month has been awesome to see. It speaks volumes to me about the integrity and kindness that people at Notre Dame possess.

So, the moral of my story is that realizing your deficiencies and asking others for help is a freeing experience. It allows you to admit that you are not perfect all the time (In my case with chemistry, I never have it perfect). It also is a wonderful reminder of how much people at Notre Dame love to give of themselves to others. So, next time you feel like being knocked down a few pegs, sign up for gen. chem. your junior year. I guarantee you will learn some life lessons along the way.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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