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Making Chemistry pHun and E-Z

My Experience as a Study Group Leader


I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve as a Study Group Leader for Organic Chemistry in both in the MRC/WISE community and through the Science Learning Center (SLC) at the University of Michigan. Essentially, I implement my chemistry knowledge to guide and supplement the learning process of students currently taking the class. The most engaging aspect of my work so far is hard to pinpoint. First of all, I enjoy the subject, so it has always been a relatively easy to maintain the motivation needed to be a successful leader from that standpoint. But the things I get the most satisfaction from are in fact related toward how successful I am in getting across to the students and hopefully making a significant and positive impact on their learning process. There have been several moments when group members have explicitly expressed how helpful a particular session one day was or how much better and prepared they felt at the end of the meeting. I knew this was a sentiment I would have to try and repeat over again, both in terms of their feelings of relief and my own feelings of satisfaction and worthiness.


Importance of Task

My overall goal is not to take on the same role as the students’ professor or GSI; instead, I try to help them learn from a different, more interactive perspective in order to supplement what they’ve already been learning in class; I refrain from simply providing them with yet another archetypal lecture. Instead, I emphasize the importance of them working together with their classmates in order to solve their problems, with my role being more geared towards that of a guide or extra resource that can help keep them on the right track and emphasize key points that would facilitate their learning and studying process. I do this by organizing and breaking down the subject into components and facilitating a group dynamic where everyone feels comfortable to ask questions and learn from one another. Organic chemistry is a difficult subject, so I get great satisfaction when I can see that people are progressing and actually taking away something valuable from the study group sessions.


Skills Gained

  • Organization
  • Communication
  • Leadership

This experience has not come without its challenges. By leading two groups per semester, this task has been a significant part of my weekly schedule, especially since it also requires putting in time to plan the material covered beforehand. Study group leaders continuously have to motivate their members to keep attending sessions and  to make these sessions both engaging and worthwhile, since very few people would attend if they believed they were wasting their time and not significantly improving their understanding of the material. Also, it is often difficult when students are at varying levels or have different learning capacities. I need to make sure that everyone’s needs are met and that many different types of people can not only coexist but actually succeed together in this learning environment. Making the group interactive is also an issue at times, since students are often shy and uncommunicative when they are still relatively unsure of their knowledge about the material. Finally, organizing the information I cover during the meetings can often be time consuming and takes a great deal of thought and planning, especially since I tend to have a somewhat perfectionist personality; therefore, satisfying myself can often be on the greatest challenges.


Lessons Learned

            Overall, I have learned a tremendous amount just from the short amount of time I have been a study group leader this year. Besides realizing the best ways to administer and plan for my meetings, I’ve discovered many different qualities about myself and seen how I’ve developed as a person this year. For example, my communication skills have been valuable in this leadership position, and I have noticed an improvement as well as a more confident and self-assured attitude in myself; I think it’s fairly important for a study group leader to show that he or she has a plan of action and is confident in his or her knowledge of the information. This does not mean that I am hesitant to admit my mistakes or if I am unsure of an answer; despite my perfectionism, I have realized that like all human beings, I do have faults and I simply cannot possess encyclopedia-like knowledge about every detail in the class. Also, these improved communications skills have also benefited me in other areas, such as class presentations and interviews for research positions, for example. For example, the interview for the SLC position was quite comprehensive and really prepared me for what I will undoubtedly face in the future.


Impact of Work

Finally, I have realized how even though I only interact with a limited number of students in the entire organic chemistry course, I can still make a large enough impact on the educational experience of the ones I do interact with. One does not have to make a difference on a large scale to be considered a worthy leader; even altering just one person’s life in a relatively small way can often be a more than valuable accomplishment. Not before long did I realize that I was really looking forward to this job every week, and that it wasn’t simply a “job” in which I was just going through the motions. It was and still is something that I truly enjoy.