5 Things I Wish I Knew as a Freshman Chemistry Major: From a Senior



By Zander Leja, 2020-2021 SCS Advising Leader:

            Starting out in college is not an easy task and requires coming outside of your comfort zone in all aspects of life. It can be stressful and draining for many but with help from professors, advisors, TAs, and mentors it becomes more manageable. Having positive experiences with mentors and older classmates has helped me throughout my experiences as an undergraduate Chemistry major and allowed me to bypass the silly mistakes or become aware of mistakes I was making. Now, as I am graduating this Spring, I pass the torch and have come up with a list of the  5 most important things I wish I knew as a freshman Chemistry major.

  1. There are many specializations within Chemistry.

Analytical, Chemical Biology, Physical, Inorganic, Materials, and Organic Chemistry are the major branches within Chemistry. They all require different skills and interact with Chemistry as a whole in varying ways. The best part as a Chemistry undergraduate you can explore all of them and discover which of these interests you the most. It is also important to note that it is just fine to not be the expert in all of them right away too. Each branch requires a different set of skills to master!

  1. Office hours are not just for people who do not understand the material.

The biggest mistake I made as a freshman was not taking advantage of office hours. I would tell myself that I just needed more time with the material, and I would eventually figure it out. Professors are highly knowledgeable people who have been in their respective fields for some time now. Visiting them and discussing lecture information or even asking academic career questions could be that spark or light bulb moment for you early in your education!

  1. TAs great people to get to know.

Nearly every single course at UIUC will have a Teaching Assistant, especially the introductory courses. If you’re taking an introductory course in Chemistry, getting to know your TA can be very helpful and informative! Most likely, they already have an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and have taken similar courses to the ones you are taking now. Free time during discussion sections, downtime in labs and the TA's office hours are great times to ask them about their experiences in the past, what they are currently researching or studying, and most importantly they will have advice for you in your academic career.

  1. Someone will always know more than you.

It can be stressful when your professor has just posted the exam grades from your first exam and you felt like you did well, just to find yourself near the average grade seeing, what feels like, every other student in your class does better. Exams are not supposed to be a competition between students to see who knows the most in the class. They are designed to reflect how well you know the materials presented in the lecture. I know for some it can be hard but not comparing yourself to others is important for your growth as a student. If you are someone who seeks competition, the person best to compete with is yourself, and keep improving!

  1. Always think about applying what you learn to the world.

A key part of being successful in the future with the knowledge you learn today is being able to apply the information when necessary. As a freshman, I found myself trapped in “all-nighters” trying to memorize facts just to spit out for the exam the next day. Understanding the importance of taking that next step of learning new material and then asking yourself, “Why is this important? How is this being used in the world around me?” is paramount to your growth as a student and an individual. Leave the mindset of memorizing information behind to start collecting skillsets for your problem-solving toolbox.