Advanced Inorganic Chemistry

Apr 2012

The course was split in two, and a lower undergrad curve was given (which was not cool). The course is hard, especially if you're 3D challenged (since half the course deals with conformations and turns of molecules). While Professor Owen is an excellent teacher that deserves more praise for teaching than any other chem professor I've encountered over my time here, taking time out of his schedule to meet with students and further explain difficult topics (along with the T.A.), Professor Norton is a bit more disorganized and awkward to approach. Both of them are good teachers, but while Professor Owen sticks mostly to the book, Professor Norton sticks more to his notes and myriad handouts. It's not an easy class, as I have said, but you'll learn a lot and gain many chemistry skills that were missing in gen chem.

Jan 2012

To be completely, truly honest, I'm not smart or disciplined enough to learn this material on my own. However, thankfully, I had a lot of help, and I knew several people who were extraordinarily patient and kind enough to teach me and answer my countless stupid questions. Quite frankly, the course isn't designed for intrepid explorers wanting to learn about inorganic chemistry for the first time, and especially not for undergraduates. I think most of us managed to stumble through it, and I'm (sort of not really) proud of the grade I got, proof that I survived through the material and the, at times, poor teaching. But the grade I got wasn't that great, even with the effort I put into the course. I know that there will be others like me who think that they're invincible and reckless and relish the challenge of taking a grad school class. (And I know that this class hasn't stopped my desire to learn more chemistry; quite the opposite.) I just hope that you will register for this course with a huge grain of salt and I greatly recommend that you know nice people who do inorganic chemistry for a living, *especially* if Jack Norton is teaching the course, because asking them is what helped me the most in understanding the material. Prof. Owen's part was difficult and frustrating, but it wasn't entirely his fault. The material is hard, and one of the biggest flaws of this course is that it's for graduate students. Everyone except for three or four undergraduate students will have taken some form of inorganic chemistry before. They all know about character tables and Mulliken symbols and molecular orbitals, even if they don't remember a lot of it and even if the majority are organic chemists that don't live and breathe the stuff. Even among the undergrads who I took the class with, three out of the seven of them had taken it prior. The problem sets aren't that bad when you have a rudimentary understanding of how to do the problems and of the subject matter, but it's that rudimentary understanding that will take a lot of effort to obtain. Group theory is rather abstract and mathematical, and there's a lot of tricky geometry hidden in inorganic chemistry. Occasionally Prof. Owen would move quickly and be difficult to understand, but overall he was very clear and his blackboard notes are amazing. Even when I forgot most of the stuff (I'm not a morning person and tend to get through 9 am classes half asleep, just copying what I see on the board), my class notes saved me. The textbook is pretty good, but he diverges from the material by the time he gets to SALCs, and while it helps in one's understanding, it is the class notes and the problem sets that will prepare you best for his exams (though I only took one exam of his, so I'm not sure how good this advice is). The best part about his half of the course was that, while he seems a little intimidating at times, he's super-friendly and he will go out of his way to help you if you ask for help. A group of us once asked him for an appointment, and he stayed until almost 8 pm (three hours, I think) answering our questions and patiently guiding us through how to understand the material and do his problem sets. It still fills me with amazement and gratitude when I think about how much time he gave us when we were in trouble. My major gripe is that I would have appreciated a practice midterm. I don't understand why teachers of grad school classes don't follow the example of classes like Gen Chem and Physics, where the teacher will freely give the student old exams as practice, especially since the majority of our grade is the final exam and, especially for this course, we didn't have any midterms as preparation. The same criticism I have of Professor Norton. It's such a help... Professor Norton's half ... was okay. He's not a particularly good teacher. He's bad at communicating clearly and succinctly (not that I am, either, but compared to Prof. Owen he's quite poor), doesn't have good blackboard notes, sometimes contradicts himself in lessons, has condescending habits (i.e. asking people if they know something specific, and then if someone does, having a conversation about it with them in the middle of teaching; he has pet students that he always calls on; he doesn't seem to understand the difficulty of the subject for undergrads), and his problems are worded badly at times. Not to mention it's difficult to talk to him one on one. I found that the only way of reasonably dealing with his ridiculousness was just to laugh at it, because otherwise I would cry. However, he does know his stuff, he brings up examples in class that are interesting even if his presentation of them is not very effective, and he likes the material. I've had poor teachers who don't like what they teach, and it's awful--he's better than that, at least. His problem sets can range from doable to indecipherable and completely ridiculous. There were way too many times when a group of us undergrads would laugh hysterically while trying to figure out how to answer the problems... Outside help saved my grades on problem sets, but not by much, since I had a TA who didn't seem to understand the concept of mercy. His final exam was somewhat horrible. I remember one question where he asked us to copy from memory a catalytic cycle from a paper he handed out in class, and then explain some essential detail that, to be honest, I don't think he ever talked about himself. (I still kick myself in the butt for not being proactive enough to ask someone before I took the test.) You pretty much have to memorize your class notes and the parts of papers that he talked about in class if you want a good grade. The one positive of that test was that he brought coffee to the exam, which was a nice gesture of him (though I was so pumped up on adrenaline that I didn't need it). And to be honest, while taking it, I was kind of happy about how much I actually knew of the material. Even though I didn't do so well, it made me glad to think that I had gained something out of it, that I understand inorganic chemistry marginally better than before. It's some crazy shit, and it was a hard semester trying to learn it, but I'm kind of glad I did it. The problem one other reviewer mentioned about his organization on problem sets in Advanced Organic also happened in this class. He assigned us a long, confusing problem set that covered things we didn't talk about in class, and didn't seem to understand that us undergrads had exams and papers in the interval. It was okay for me, so maybe I'm complaining too much.. but it just seemed frustrating that he wasn't considerate and didn't understand how much harder it was for us undergrads who had to deal with four or five other classes at the same time, compared to graduate students with only one, or two if teaching. Plus I'm pretty sure Prof. Norton didn't have a separate curve for undergrads, which in this class I have a feeling would have made a huge difference... I don't know if this sums up everything I have to say, but I hope it helps someone!