Surviving chemistry

(Reblogged and revised from 2012 because nothing really changes.)

Dear Student,

You did your best.

In the face of all the stress and burdens that you must deal with in your life, you earned the highest grade you could.



The chemistry courses which I teach are challenging, but I did not invent chemistry. The depth and beauty of my favorite science, and the ability of our incredible human minds to comprehend it, are reasons to stand in awe of our world, our universe, and ourselves. I do indeed love chemistry and love teaching it. But I’m merely the happy messenger. I deliver the message of chemistry to students like you who choose to take the course. I lay it at your door. You can pick it up and cradle it and grow it into full understanding. Or you can kick it to the curb. Your choice is not in my control.

If you earned an A or B in your chemistry course, feel proud and hold your head high because you have climbed the cliff and tackled a higher order of thinking than rote memorization: you learned to think. You faced down the impossible and succeeded. I stand in awe.

If you did not do quite so well, you likely feel frustrated. Looking for blame. Casting around, pointing that finger. This is understandable, even expected. It is a normal human reaction to disappointment. Let it fester and go ahead and vent: whine and complain to people who will listen, who will nod and rub your back and make you feel better.

They want to believe it wasn’t your fault. We all wish you did better, learned more, deepened the creases and wrinkles in your mind. We all want the same thing. We just don’t agree on how to get there.

Then, after a little rest, take a step back and look at your performance in an objective light and see it for what it truly is: you alone own your grade. Pick it up and take it with you. Hold that A up high like a trophy. Carry that D in your back pocket. It will always exist on your transcript. Under your name. You have full ownership. This will become clear as time passes, as your anger fades and your vision clears.

Don’t give up. Work hard. The prize called success is right around the corner.

Best of luck to all of you.


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