You know what’s even better than the GRE?

The Chemistry GRE! I had the opportunity (read:  obligation) to take this test recently, and unlike many, I found I had a really great time.  For those who have yet to take it, the Chem GRE is a 3 hour long test where you are asked a variety of questions on all branches of chemistry, with the major focuses on Organic and Physical, with some inorganic, transition-metal, and analytical chem thrown in for good measure.  In case you thought you read that wrong, you didn’t.  The test is, in fact, three hours long.  It is a very long three hours, and can be intimidating. Here are some tips and tricks to being successful on the GRE: First, concentrate on the stuff you don’t know.  Unless you finished all of your chemistry classes by the end of junior year (unlikely?), you probably won’t know some of the concepts outlined on the GRE.  Pick up a review book and at least familiarize yourself with some of the basic concepts.  For example, I had no idea what the 18-electron rule was for metal complexes before taking the GRE. It’s a startlingly easy concept to learn, and will earn you a couple easy points. Second, take a day or two and review the stuff you haven’t looked at in a while.  For me, that was P-Chem.  A GRE book will help with this.  Just remember that the GRE sometimes will go into absurdly small detail on some material you learned in sophomore year, so just stay on top of your chemistry knowledge.  You’ll be surprised with how much you remember. Third, remember to get some sleep.  My test started at 8:30, which meant I had to leave the house at 7:45.  I’m not really used to waking up that early, so it was really no fun.  I’m sure all of you have taken enough standardized exams to know this, but just reminding you.  Also, eat breakfast and get hydrated before the exam.  It’s around 3 hours long and the exam proctors will not let you drink or eat anything while you’re taking it. Lastly, and anecdote.  This summer I started lifting weights with a friend of mine as a way to stay in shape (and secretly to be able to carry those 20 gal jugs of DMF around the lab and not hurt myself).  He is an economics/philosophy major who is also a varsity swimmer, and has a lot of really interesting things to say about life.  His philosophy on exams is this:  treat it like a game!  You win the game if you get the most points, and you’re playing against everyone else...

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Yup, still in Kansas.
Oct24

Yup, still in Kansas.

Wow!  It has certainly been a long time.  I guess a blog can sometimes be like a google reader account.  You can get into the rhythm and read all your articles for a week, but then you forget about it and you get 620 items into your unread folder.  Oops.  Anyhow, here’s just a little post to get y’all updated with what’s going on with me. Senior year is going pretty well  – I’ve been spending 20-30 hours in lab a week.  I would like to be spending more, but I have these silly things called requirements to fulfill.  Oh well, I guess my 45-50 hours weeks can wait until I start graduate school.  Research is definitely on a better rhythm than it has been in the past.  I feel like I’ve stopped making some of the small mistakes, and can now actually execute the science at a high level, and pretty efficiently.  My only limit now is how much time I have (and how quickly I can get reagents mailed in).  I’m sure once I start working in cells or doing some more serious organic chemistry my pace will bog down a bit, but for now it’s pretty nice to be working efficiently. I’ve started work on a thesis, which is going on nicely so far.  Unfortunately, keeping procrastination to a minimum is harder than I anticipated.  The plan right now is to really start working on the methods, and hopefully be up to date by winter break (when I really) have to start writing. As for the blog, you’ll get in the near future my ruminations on the Chem GRE, some more talk of Chemical Biology, and a little bit on the application process, or what little of it I’ve gone though.  Stick around for a whole lot more content in the coming weeks!...

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What a GREat experience!

Hey everyone! If you were following along, you’d know that I took the GRE last monday.  It was an… interesting experience.  This was my first computer test, so it was a little refreshing to not have a moderator or be in a room with a bunch of my stressed peers taking the same test at the same time.  Instead, I was sitting in a cubicle with noise-canceling headphones concentrating on my own exam.  I found it pretty fun, actually.  I was in the minority, however, as the tension in the waiting room was so thick you could probably cut it with a knife.  Finding out my score immediately after the exam was very refreshing as well, and made for a very fun afternoon (as I didn’t have to worry about how I did – I already knew!). The test itself was in some ways challenging.  The prompts for the writing section I found to be topical and interesting to write on – I had no lack of examples to cite, though I may have used far too many from science, and I was able to choose positions I was passionate about.  A word of advice that was passed on to me:  read up on your utopian novels (1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Fahrenheit 451 to name a few) because they end up being great examples to use for these essays.  I think I might have used them on both. I can’t really comment too much on the verbal section for several reasons.   The vocabulary was very challenging, and I had a hard time with the analogies.  However, if you’re taking the GRE any time after July, 2011 the verbal section will contain no analogies or antonyms.  This is nice, as those two questions are likely the most difficult on the test.  Also, I’m not entirely sure how important it is for chemistry graduate schools for the verbal section.  But, as I am neither a graduate student or on any admissions boards, I can only speculate. Quantitative was a dream.  I enjoy math, and it was fun to be able to get lots of points on a test by using my knowledge of arithmetic and algebra.  Really fun stuff.  The only thing I wish I did differently was time myself while working through problems.  I ended up rushing at the very end.  But it was really fun.  The fact that if you do well, the problems get harder (another thing they’re getting rid of in the new GRE) made it very exciting to get to some really tough questions in the final minutes.  Well, I enjoyed it. Overall, I had a pretty fun...

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How has your week been?  Mine has been GREat!
Jul15

How has your week been? Mine has been GREat!

Hey everyone! Sorry for the inexcusably long absence from the blog.  Summer time is research time for me, and I’ve (finally) gotten the chance to put in the long hours that I really don’t have the time for during the semester.  Maybe this is just my undergraduate naivete speaking, but to me there’s nothing like working full time in the lab.  It’s just nice to have no distractions.  The warm weather probably helps too.  Anyway, I apologize for my lack of posting.  Organic synthesis can, as many of you know, can be very distracting. In the midst of my synthesis-induced bliss, I came to a realization.  I want to get into graduate school, and in order to get into graduate school, it is important to take the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE.  Luckily, I had signed up for the test several months ago, for July 18th.  I figured that it was probably time to go ahead and start studying.  This realization came on Monday. If you’re sitting at home doing the math, this would mean that I have a week to study for the GRE.  It turns out that a week is more than enough time, if you budget it correctly.  I had already purchased some good GRE review books, and got to work right away.  In my experience (which should not be mistaken for an expert’s), as long as you know how the text works, you’ll be okay.  GRE questions, much like the SAT ones, come in very specific formats that, once you can recognize the pattern, are pretty easy to figure out. So how am I studying if I only have a week?  Pretty carefully, actually.  Here’s how I’ve been doing it:  (Disclaimer:  DON’T wait until the last week to study for the GRE.  It’s not a good idea.) Figure out the format.  I’ve found the GRE workbook series to be very helpful, as they go over test-taking strategies for each question type on the exam, and give an hour’s worth of practice for each, so you can focus on one type of question at a time.  Another good source I’ve been using is the website Syvum to be very helpful in test prep questions.  They have some pretty tough ones there, and (so far) has been good in prepping for the verbal portion. Practice, Practice, Practice.  (This is where I’m at).  Use a book, use your friends, use the internet.  I’ve been looking at practice problems while reactions have been running, and at night before bed, which I hope is enough.  I’ll let you all know how it goes, I guess. Practice Tests.  Time yourself!  Because you only...

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Water, Wine, Milk or Beer?  Perhaps none of the above.
Jun10

Water, Wine, Milk or Beer? Perhaps none of the above.

Hello everyone! It’s time for another edition of Sidechain’s favorite chem demos.  The one I’ll be describing today holds a place near and dear to my heart.  When I was a young high schooler (a shorter polypeptide… get it?), my high school chem teacher showed this to our class.  She had a glass of what looked like water.  She poured it into a wine goblet, and the water turned to wine (cool, right!).  She then poured the ‘wine’ into another glass, where it became ‘milk’, which when poured into the final glass turned into ‘beer.’  When I first saw this, I really thought it was magic.  It turns out that the chemical principles are pretty simple!  All the student really needs to understand is acid-base chemistry, indicators, and precipitates.  Anyway, here’s what you’ll need: Glass #1:  0.1 M Sodium Carbonate (NaHCO3).  What I did was make 100mL of a stock solution and add around 50mL to a clear water glass. Glass/Goblet #2:  A few drops of phenophtalein in the bottom of a long-necked wine glass.  I usually use a plastic one and put some tape on the bottom to cover the indicator solution. Glass #3:  5mL 1.0M BaCl in the bottom of a clear glass with some tape on the bottom. Glass #4:  5mL 12M HCl and 5mL of bromothymol blue indicator, at the bottom of a pint glass/plastic clear solo cup So if you can’t guess, the science behind this is pretty simple. Sodium Carbonate is a basic solution that looks like water Adding phenothalein will make the solution purple, and look like wine Adding Barium ions will precipitate out a suspension of Ba(OH)2, which will look like an opaque white liquid (milk!) In the last cup, the concentrated acid will (a) acidify the remaining base, eliminating the Ba(OH) (b) result in the evolution of CO2 gas and (c) make a beer-like color with the indicator This demonstration is pretty easy to explain to a group of first-year chemists, and is a great application of the skills they have already learned!  Just remember not to drink any of these liquids, especially the “beer” (no matter how tempting it may...

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