Students, faculty agree time management is key for four- to eight-hour lab sessions


Illustration by Seeger Gray

This academic year marks the first full year of a newly-revised sequence that condenses Chem 215: Organic Chemistry into two quarters, instead of three, for non-majors.

Samantha Powers, Reporter

The workload can be overwhelming for some students taking classes with four- to eight-hour labs. Whether they spend hours poring over their textbooks or just show up to class without any preparation, each student has a unique approach to managing their time in these courses.

McCormick freshman Mark Wang, who is in his second quarter of organic chemistry, attends lecture five times each week — in addition to his four-hour lab. He said he spends about 10 to 15 hours per week on work outside of class.

“It’s essentially like taking five classes because I would consider lab to be as much work as another class,” Wang said. “Sometimes it feels weird to put so many hours into a lab class when it’s only worth like one-third the credit of the normal lecture class. It rubs me the wrong way, but I think lab is necessary.”

Wang isn’t the only student who views the lab component as equivalent to a one-unit class.

Weinberg sophomore Farley Wall was enrolled in two different four-hour lab sessions Fall Quarter, so he decided to take three classes instead of four. He said the decision was necessary because of substantial time spent on his labs, in addition to prep work and lab reports.

“It’s very easy to look at that and get intimidated by it, just because it’s like, ‘That’s eight hours of my week,’” Wall said of the lab sessions. “The way I (managed) it is just kind of treating it as a normal class.”

Organic chemistry, a multi-quarter sequence, is a requirement for many chemistry majors, pre-med students and engineering students. Chemistry Prof. Derek Nelson, who is teaching Chem 235-2 this quarter, said the course’s workload is demanding but that faculty have taken steps to make the process easier.

This school year marks the first full academic year of a newly-revised sequence that condenses organic chemistry into two quarters, instead of three, for non-majors. The new sequence will help students adjust to the demands of a full lab sequence while providing flexibility so students can cater their coursework to their post-graduate goals, Nelson said.

He said some students, however, still struggle in their labs, which require strong time management skills.

“There are a lot of students who put off things until the last minute,” Nelson said. “It’s human nature, right? There are students who are extremely well-prepared, and they’re going to start doing the assignments as soon as I post them. Some people rely on office hours … other students, I never see.” 

Nelson makes a point to provide all necessary lab criteria in his lectures, he said, but some students still come to office hours to ask additional questions. According to him, both strong students and those who need extra help frequent his office.

Weinberg freshman Vincent Xiong, who is enrolled in Chem 212: Organic Chemistry and Bio 233: Genetics and Molecular Processes, said paying close attention during lecture helps him better understand course content needed for labs. Xiong is in labs nine hours a week between both courses.

“I really live by ‘work smarter, not harder,’” Xiong said. “When a professor is explaining a complex topic, you don’t want to be jotting down notes and not listening. You really want to just be there and know you can understand.”

Xiong also said taking his mind off studying helps him to manage his stress. When he needs to take a break, he said he likes to play video games and catch up with friends.

Syed Uddin, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in neurobiology, said that as a teaching assistant for an introductory-level biology class last quarter, he would often share important tips for labs during office hours. 

“The TA can elaborate on (assignment criteria) and give you more insight on what they expect you to do and what they don’t expect you to do,” Uddin said. “Students who asked for that insight got it, and students who didn’t — I can’t read minds, right?”

Uddin said he understands the mental toll longer lab sessions can take on students but that his best students knew when to ask for help and how to manage their priorities. 

He added, however, that a heavy workload in any course is not something to navigate alone.

“There was only one way to deal with it when I was an undergrad: Just do one thing at a time and plan on things,” Uddin said. “And … You need good friends. Humans are social animals. You can’t survive alone — especially not in college.”

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