Life as an Undergraduate Student in a Graduate-Level Course
So, you’re an undergraduate student thinking about taking a graduate-level class. It’s an exciting option to consider! I’m here to share with you my experiences in hopes that it will shed some light on the situation! Please remember that the following information is my personal experience in the class, and it in no way represents the experience you or anyone else may have in this process.
For some background, I’m a third-year undergraduate student working towards my Bachelor of Science in Chemistry degree with a minor in Mathematics. I’ve been at UNLV for for my entire college career, and I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. I do a lot on campus, too! Aside from being a student, I’m an undergraduate researcher in an organic chemistry laboratory, and I’m a student worker with two positions on campus! One of the positions is being a New Student Orientation Leader, which I love. The other is being a Supplemental Instruction Leader, which I also love! In my academics, chemistry is my passion! Specifically, organic chemistry is my passion (and trust me, I know you don’t hear that very often). I have had two semesters so far of just chemistry classes, and they’ve been the most challenging and rewarding semesters yet!
This is why as soon as I heard about the possibility of taking a graduate-level organic chemistry course as an undergraduate student, I jumped at the opportunity! It turned out that a professor wanted to teach the class because their graduate student wanted to take the class. Luckily, I already had a good relationship with the professor because I do research with them! This meant that two students, myself and the grad student in my lab, were interested in the class. That was a lot more students than in previous years, as the class had not been taught for 6 years!
When the semester rolled around, I enrolled in 12 credits. I was taking three 400-level lectures, a 400-level lab, and a graduate level lecture- all of which were Chemistry. In my grad-level course, there were three students in total! Our lecture was in the chemistry building. In case you have not seen it yet, the lecture hall was relatively large. I was worried about where I was going to sit because there was only three of us. Would we sit next to each other? Would we sit spaced out? Would we sit in the front? Or maybe that would be too close?
I decided to sit in the second row, and my two classmates sat next to me. When the professor came in, it was a bit awkward at first. Like, do we make conversation? We all know each other, but how do we interact now? Thankfully, once the professor started lecturing, the class felt like any other class and it was easy to become absorbed in the material. After the first lecture ended, I understood that this semester might be one of the most challenging in my life. The graduate-level course was already incredible! As far as organic chemistry, this course went into amazing detail into explaining the why of chemistry that I felt like I had been missing. I had already learned the how, but learning the why made my understanding of the subject much more solid. As I learned more in the class, I also began to understand older subjects because I could apply my new knowledge to my old information. It was such an exciting feeling!
However, taking a graduate-level course did have its downsides for me. Graduate students in the Chemistry Department generally take one class per semester. This is because they might teach or do research in their labs. For me, that means that the out-of-class workload for my graduate-level course was significantly greater than any of my undergraduate-level courses. For the graduate students in my class, this amount of work seemed to be less of a problem. But for me, as the semester picked up steam and I felt very overwhelmed.
I began to understand that I was going to need to rely more on my classmates than I had ever before. I had to come face-to-face with the fact that I was, by far, not the smartest cookie in this very small jar, and that’s okay! Being in an environment like this also forced me to accept that if I don’t understand something, it is not a bad thing and I had three other incredibly knowledgeable people who were more than willing to help me. The environment allowed me to step way outside of my comfort zone and in doing so, I learned a lot more than just chemistry.
All in all, the graduate-level course was difficult to take alongside my other difficult courses, but I truly feel that it helped me learn so much about myself and about the kind of chemist I want to become. If I had the chance to do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat! The knowledge I gained from that class pushed me towards my dream career, and the skills I gained are going to help me get there!
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Major: Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics