Can you teach organic chemistry?

We’re hiring for a tenure-track position!

The University of Minnesota Morris seeks an individual committed to excellence in undergraduate education, to fill a tenure-track position in chemistry beginning August 14, 2023. Responsibilities include: Teaching a wide range of undergraduate chemistry courses including organic chemistry lectures and labs and an advanced elective; advising undergraduates; conducting research that could involve undergraduates; and sharing in the governance and advancement of the Chemistry program, the division, interdisciplinary programs, and the campus.

Applicants must hold or expect to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry or a related field by August 14, 2023. Evidence of excellence in teaching and mentoring undergraduate chemistry students is required. A minimum of one year experience teaching undergraduate organic chemistry is required; graduate TA experience is acceptable. Preference will be given to applicants with more than one year experience teaching undergraduate chemistry and with demonstrated research and/or teaching experience in sustainable/green or environmental chemistry.

(If you’re wondering why I, a mere biologist, am promoting a chemistry job search, it’s because a) we biologists depend on a strong chemistry program, and b) I’ve been roped into serving on the search committee.)


  1. Oggie: Mathom says

    It can’t be that hard. Just add carbon to whatever you are making.

    Sort of like bar-b-que?

  2. Larry says

    It’s interesting that UMM is looking for someone to teach organic chem while a story released this weekend reported that a professor of organic chemistry was recently fired from his position at NYU because student were complaining that his class was “too hard”. They also said that it the professor wasn’t supportive and didn’t provide sufficient resources for the students to succeed. Of course, the fact that the class started out with 350 students might provide part of the reason for those complaints.

    The moral here might be “fill out those evaluation forms at the end of the semester, kids. You just might get the nasty, old professor fired”.

  3. nomaduk says

    The theory propounded in the Ars Technica article about the NYU professor is that the reason the students complained is that they are a cohort that entered university during the bizarre classroom regimen of the high point of the COVID pandemic (which, as we all know, is completely over and done with now, just ignore all those people dropping dead every day), and so have no idea how to actually handle second-year university material, much less organic chemistry, which is a traditional weeding-out course in the US in any case (students from UK universities have pointed out that their organic chemistry classes are much less unpleasant, as they use a different pedagogy).

  4. birgerjohansson says

    If you ask a million narcissists, their answers will all be “hell, yes!”.
    And you have to hire them, because the governor will require “no egghead libruls” in education.

    Only 350 in the class? There is plenty of room for slimming down the organisation. And with the high energy prices, their accumulated body heat will keep the University from freezing when the administration pulls the plug.

  5. says

    I think our biggest course here would have about 100 students, which would immediately make us shriek in horror and split it into multiple sections. Cell bio typically has about a hundred students, and we put 2 profs to work on it so no class is bigger than 50.
    OChem also has multiple sections per semester.

  6. JoeBuddha says

    Of course, I could! Badly. Now, if you’re looking for Comp Sci? Nope, badly too. As in, I can’t teach. Admire folx who can, though.

    @1, maybe set up a Texas style Organic Chemistry course?

  7. says

    Organic chemistry really isn’t that hard. The course entitled “Organic Chemistry” often is, and often needlessly, because it’s serving multiple masters — learning the material, an evaluation nightmare precisely because both the details and the “big picture” really do matter to every potential “exam question” (even nomenclature!), and its place in the broader scheme of three different curricula (last “pure chemistry” course for the life sciences; conversely, an early step in the chemistry curriculum unlike the previous step; and insensitive-to-subject-matter-or-importance weedout for premeds in particular, very much like the second and third semesters of calculus).

    Of course there’s going to be student dissatisfaction; and of course some Esteemed Faculty will do poorly at “teaching”/”evaluation-metricizing” a course that is an artificial construct. Not to mention that both the course scope/structure and evaluation methods are radically different from those in first year “analytical” chemistry, meaning that student expectations are thoroughly subverted… on the way to the chemistry-major curriculum which largely returns in structure to that of analytical chemistry, itself a hint that organic chemistry is serving multiple masters. And it wouldn’t help if the student is taking orgo as a freshman after taking a very-small-group AP chemistry course in high school, as I would infer a not-insignificant proportion of that NYU class was “enjoying.” Yet more culture shock!

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Using the same reasoning, it would be trivial to convert lead nuclei into gold. Hey, mebbe that is how zee joos got so rich.

  9. Louis says


    Now you reach out to me, PZ.

    Unfortunately I have no plans to move to the US.


    (Entire USA breathes sigh of relief)

  10. asclepias says

    I’m a bit envious that you have multiple sections per semester. How many professors do you have? I barely passed organic chemistry in college, and I’m pretty sure that would have been different if it had been taught differently. The prof was brilliant, but a horrible teacher–he only showed up for his office hours half the time, and even when he was there, he never clarified anything for me. My experience in trigonometry was the same. The first time I took it, I was at sea–the teacher gave us a matrix of the various sin, cosin, tangent, etc. angles, and told us to memorize it. Right there, I was thrown for a loop. The next time I took it (both times at the community college), the class was taught by a retired professor from the University of Wyoming. He took us back to geometry and said, “I’m going to show you how to figure it out.” I don’t think I did as well in the class that time, partly because it was only an 8 week class, but I understood everything a lot better.

  11. Oggie: Mathom says


    You needn’t worry. Minnesota is very, very, very far from Florida. The home and workplace of a certain Nobel Laureate that you sent a certain young man to in order to try out telekinesis with a tin foil hat? I bet he still remembers.

  12. silvrhalide says

    @2 Whiners! My organic chem lecture class had over 1,000 students (only 700-800 actually fit in the lecture hall, the others sat in an overflow with CCTV.)
    The organic chem lab only held 120 students and they only offered 2 sections per semester.
    This is why you can’t graduate from the state system in under 6 years. For a 4 year degree.

    And the school wonders why their alumni never donate.

  13. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin asserts she’s the natural choice for the position. She’s 100% organic (except when wearing the duck-proof suit), knows all about chemtrails and likes to make things go BOOM!, and has practice teaching cats to fly with the assistance of trebuchets. The other requirements are easily met, and in addition, being a penguin, the balmy climes are not a deterrent. The apparent paucity of cheese, however, may be a problem, requiring frequent visits to MOON (Massive Orbital Cheese Vault (blame poor clay tablet stylusguinship)).

  14. Peter B says

    Saw the picture at the top of Dr. Myers’s post, wrote it on paper, and thought back about 60 years to my BS Chem and mumbled, “2-Methyl-2-butanol” (in case I was wrong) and actually got it right.
    I became a software engineer (anybody remember the IBM 1620?) Worked 6 years doing OS stuff on the CDC 6000 series mainframes and much later wrote a ton of software for disk drives (25% internal operational firmware; 75% pre-production test – mostly head and media vendor qualification plus the ever-present “other duties as needed.”

    Can be written as CH3CH2C(CH3)2OH (all numbers should be subscripts)
    Aka tert-Amyl alcohol, tert-Pentyl alcohol
    250 ml $50, less than 2 weeks lead time

    Bp 102.4 °C at 760 mm Hg
    Binary azeotrope with 27.5% (wt) water with boiling point 87.35 °C
    Solvent and some esters smell nice

  15. NitricAcid says

    It’s tempting to find a college to teach at that’s larger than the one I’m at (we offer a single second-year chemistry course, because a second one might cost the administration money). But I have no interest in the climate of Minnesota (either weather-wise or political). Staying in BC, thanks.

  16. Louis says

    @Oggie, #12,

    I genuinely don’t remember that! Would you mind reminding me, please?

    I mean, it sounds like something I might do…

    …but if it was negative, bad, or in any way Naughty (TM), I was innocent, I wasn’t even there, I have a wide stance etc.


  17. Oggie: Mathom says

    I genuinely don’t remember that! Would you mind reminding me, please?

    I mean, it sounds like something I might do…

    About a decade ago (give or take), a young man showed up on a thread and claimed that he was clairvoyant (he could predict which song was next) and that he could move things with his mind. After a great deal of mocking, begging for evidence, etc, you, long distance, started discussing with him how to measure the electrical emissions from his head, but you had to find a way to isolate him from external electrical emissions. Which led to your wonderful description of a tri-valent metallic covering (aluminum foil hat) to achieve this. Unfortunately, he was in a small town in Florida, you are in England, and his pay from the video rental store (?) would not allow him to travel to England. So you gave him the email address of a Nobel Laureate at either Florida or Florida State because, as you put it, he needs a numpty bothering him. I said you were evil. Your chicken agreed.

    And the fact that I remember all of that scares me.

  18. whheydt says

    Re: Peter B @ #16…
    I learned FORTRAN IID and SPS IID on a 1620 Mod. I. So…yeah I remember it. So much that I recall that returning to the entry point for MONITOR IID was Instant Stop (aka Stop SCE), Reset, Insert, 4900796, Release/Start. Which is also what the FORTRAN CALL EXIT generated.

  19. dorght says

    @2 Larry
    350 students geez. Just stay home and take an online class for cheap, the university is offering nothing of value (especially for the tuition), just a disillusioning setting. I’m not endorsing pandering to the students, but it really seems the university and the chemistry department really set their students up for failure.
    My first auditorium sized lecture classes were Chem 101/102 (early 1980s). I hated it, which was weird because I loved chemistry in high school. The hate stemmed from the huge class size. What I learned was to skip classes like this, read the book and do way more problems then required. It was a better use of time. Or do the same while sitting in class only lending half an ear to the lecture which usually was straight from the book.
    The engineering university I graduated from had a weed out class for almost every discipline. The class where the average test scores would be around 40%. I never understood the kind of thinking in teachers to actively demoralize students rather than trying to foster the best the student was capable of. The end result likely would be the same for low performers, switching majors or dropping out, but the impact on all the students would be vastly different.