law jobs, organic chemistry, bad books and clouds

An attorney tweeted that he’d found a “bad___ IP job” but lacked the requisite organic chemistry background.  It got me thinking.

For reasons still mysterious, organic chemistry texts aren’t well written and the classes fail. I don’t know who the student focus group is for the texts.  Silly me: there aren’t any.  The books have been bad for a long time, with emphases in all the wrong places.

Take catenation for example. Or resonance.  Finding much on either topic in your $350 worth of book + solutions guide is hopeless. Yet they are at the center of the subject. Any texts improvements are empty repackagings focused on the publisher’s increased receipts:

<<Commence publishing diatribe>>

  • Text book content is “unbundled” and disaggregated to populate online problem banks + on-line quizzes + the all-famous hard problems’ solutions guide sold separately;
  • thereby requiring students to pay additionally for each enhanced tier of instruction they want—because surely after scaling that tuition + housing + parking + student fees  barrier your learning fundamentals should be based on your income.
  • However poorly conceived material may all be, the students are too scared not to pay every fee and access every online enhancement that some other students might have.
  • Plus the professor likes grading automation afforded by online access so you end up required to buy the online quiz access.
  • That will be a cool $400.
  • Don’t forget flash cards.  That will be a cool $430.

It’s a racket. What’s lost in the end is organic chemistry.

What students of this fascinating and important topic need is not more rotating molecules, or online supplements, but better written discussion and a reallocation of discussion. The course itself–which I’ve passed with a decent grade–is a nonthinking over emphasis on empty memorization. Typically, the drop, fail or below-C grade rate for this course is easily 50% no matter where it’s taught.  Those who pass it go to medical school or get Ph.Ds. Those who don’t leave science.  It’s a shame.

Enter David Klein.

This book is the most coherent organic chemistry book I’ve ever encountered.  Written by Johns Hopkins lecturer David Klein, it’s not a textbook and is a cogent departure from typical text content—for example he spends 30 pages–THIRTY PAGES—on resonance.  That’s class. The current “standard” organic chemistry textbook by McMurry spends 2 1/2 pages.  The topic gets a murmur in lecture. No wonder people fail. And Klein’s is a whopping $39.

It’s all over chemistry–disconnects between topics of import and the discussion allocation.  Chemists think, write and talk in clouds, not steps. It’s a hazard.

Pick up an inorganic chemistry lab manual and try to follow the instructions. I took time once to rewrite a whole lab manual for which I had paid ever so dearly. It was horrid. It had been written characteristically cumulously with no clear beginning, end, list of deliverables, procedural steps or purpose.

Before my rewrite it looked like this:

After my rewrite it  looked like this:

Lab time should be spent doing and observing and learning not figuring out what to do. It’s a shame for a topic this old and fundamental and important—and today, basic to any modern scientific education—to be so poorly conveyed. Klein’s book is so good that the other organic chemistry textbook authors should apologize and voluntarily remove theirs from the market—they should be sideshows, not the main deal.

There are no shortcuts to organic chemistry, but Klein’s book is invaluable to scaling a learning curve expeditiously like the attorney would want.  The attorney should take a class, buy (rent or use) one text book and buy Klein’s book.  Forget the rest (if not mandatory). I’ve seen nothing comparable.


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