So I decided to write some more since no one is in lab and I have reactions setup, so time to blog I guess.
4) Freshman year
So at this point, you still want to be a chemist, after going through everything you have back in high school. Good for you! I highly recommend taking intro chem at your respective college, because AP Chemistry leaves a lot to be desired. Mainly the intro lab techniques (titration, gravimetry, etc) are very important and build a solid foundation. I dont care what school you went to, but going straight into organic chemistry is not a good idea, simply because of the lab component you’re missing. I’ve taught people who didnt take freshman chem lab, and oye, their technique later on is SEVERELY lacking.
If you’ve declared a chemistry major, take the intro chem for chemistry majors. This is always an intensive course,and way more than anything taught at the AP level. It builds solid foundations and will help you out for the rest of your college career as a chemist. Back in undergrad, I took intro chem for the chem majors, which was crosslisted as ‘honors’ chem, and it was tough. Our exams were a lot more in depth and we covered topics at a more in depth level, to when pchem came, it was a synch.
I also TAed an intensive intro chem class here as a grad student, and it’s well worth it. The topics they cover are very advanced and the students learned more than their regular intro chem counterparts.
If you can, start looking and reading various research descriptions in your department. A lot will still be over your head, but if you impress your chem prof, he/she might offer you a research position. I got one straight off the bat my freshman year, so I was very lucky in that sense. But dedication is always good and you should try for it.
Another note: APPLY for REUs. I applied for them starting my freshman year, and was also very lucky to get one, but this research experience is always paid for and you get to travel, and it’s always good if you’re applying for grad school later on. Make sure you apply to many of them, because as a freshman, you’ll be extremely lucky to get into a program right off the bat.
What classes to take freshman year? Intro chem, calculus, physics (and if you want intro bio). Take the physics for physics majors (if they have that option), and at a minimum take physics with calculus. This will be really good preparation for physical chemistry later on.
5) Sophomore year
Now sophomore year. You’re taking organic chemistry in the minimum, and well, I hated organic, but it’s a good skills to have, especially since the chem GRE is basically 90% organic later on. Some colleges just have calculus, but you want to take as much math as you can. I was a physics major in undergrad as well, so I had a bajillion math classes, but in the minimum, to prepare you for the rigors of physical chemistry, you want partial differential equations, vector calculus, and linear algebra/matrices (so that’s three classes beyond your usual calc 1 and 2 requirement). These will be very important in quantum chem. Eigenvalues, eigenvectors, all that, very good for pchem.
At this point, if you didnt get a research position, you will want to get one. Talk to professors. Email them (but not in an obnoxious spammy way) and attend seminars. These will be over your head, but your enthusiasm will be duly noted by your professors.
Also, dont be annoying to your grad TAs. I had several freshmen/sophomores who wanted to do research in my lab group. There were ones I wanted, there were ones who just solicited their services. It really depends on your TA as to what approach they like. I prefer doing the whole: “So, I’m looking for an undergrad lackey” invitation to the students in my classes who are good. Some will just accept unsolicited offers, but oh well.
Again, APPLY to REUs. So, I’ll write an entry about REUs and successful applications later on. I was extremely lucky in that I got into an REU every summer, so I think I have how to apply for those down pat.