The undergraduate chemistry department announced that in fall 2020 and onwards, the 1.0 course unit organic chemistry lab, CHEM 245 Experimental Organic Chemistry, will be offered as two 0.5 course unit labs.
Merriam Professor of Chemistry and Chemistry Undergraduate Chair Jeffrey Winkler said that for the past 30 years, organic chemistry lab has been a separate lab course from the organic chemistry lecture courses — CHEM 241 Principles of Organic Chemistry and CHEM 242 Principles of Organic Chemistry II.
“We’re just trying to make this a less pressure, less burdensome, more interesting experience for the students,” Winkler said.
CHEM 245, which used to be a total of nine hours a week, will now be split into CHEM 244 Organic Chemistry Lab I and CHEM 249 Organic Chemistry Lab II. Both labs will each consume a total of five hours a week.
These two lab courses will be co-requisites for their respective lecture courses.
Students who have already taken CHEM 241 without the lab, however, will need to take CHEM 242 with CHEM 244, Winkler said. They will then need to take the Organic Chemistry II lab, as the two labs are intended to be taken sequentially.
Organic chemistry lab is required for premedical students, chemistry and biochemistry majors, and chemical and biomolecular engineers. Because of the demanding time commitment and difficulty of CHEM 245, some students have chosen to delay taking the lab course until their senior fall or spring. Thus, for the past 30 years, many students took CHEM 245 three or more semesters after taking the lab's corresponding organic chemistry lecture courses.
Winkler said this was one of the problems with CHEM 245, because many students had forgotten what they learned in lecture by the time they took the laboratory-based class.
Rising College senior Youvin Chung, who took CHEM 245 in fall 2019, said the course took up most of his time and required a lot of effort.
“There’s no way of telling whether this change will make it easier or harder, because it’s like whether you can run a marathon or a sprint: you can just go through all of it in one semester or spread it out over the course of a year," Chung said.
Rising College sophomore Johaer Jilani said he sees the new format as a positive change because it will allow students to diversify the difficulty and type of courses they are taking each semester .
Jilani believes that taking the lab twice may lead to professors adding more work in order to increase the difficulty of each individual lab.
Rising College junior Lyla Rose said the change in policy has led to confusion and anger among her peers because there are not enough seats for students to register for the classes.
Winkler said that students who had a hard time registering for a lab course after the format change will hopefully be able to do so soon. The Chemistry department decided all chemistry labs will be conducted online in the fall which will allow the department to accommodate more students, Winkler added.
Penn announced in June that the fall semester will follow a hybrid model of in-person and online instruction.
“Now that we know what’s going on, we’re just populating the sections now. We’re trying to get everybody who wants to take the lab course in right now,” Winkler said. “We understand the students’ trepidation, and we’re working to try to resolve this all as quickly as possible.”
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