Biochemistry students will now have the option to take life science general chemistry courses instead of physical chemistry courses to fulfill prerequisites for the major.
Historically, biochemistry students were not offered this course series alternative. However, biochemistry students can now opt to take Chemistry 14A and 14B, which are life science chemistry courses in lieu of Chemistry 20A and 20B, which are a set of physical science chemistry courses taken in preparation for the major.
While the Chemistry 20 series focuses on the physical sciences, the Chemistry 14 series utilizes examples from life science to illustrate chemistry concepts.
Some students said the Chemistry 20 series is more challenging than the Chemistry 14 series, and may be less relevant to biochemistry students.
“Someone told me that he came (in as) biochemistry and his first quarter he got a 1.0 GPA,” said third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student Elisa Rojas Palato. “I was young and naive and thought there was no way that was possible.”
Rojas Palato began her undergraduate degree in biochemistry, but later changed to microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics in her second year.
Biochemistry professor Albert Courey, who initially proposed the course substitution to the biochemistry major, said both series have the same level of rigor and cover the same basic concepts.
“We thought biochemistry was a discipline that was right at the interface between the physical sciences and life sciences,” Courey said. “We wanted to give biochemistry majors a chance to choose either series.”
After teaching Chemistry 14B last year, Courey felt the Chemistry 14 series provided adequate preparation for advanced biochemistry courses.
“Some of our students might find it more relevant to their career and what they’re interested about,” Courey said.
Zain Khalifeh, a fourth-year premedical student who took the Chemistry 20 series, said if he had had the option, he would have taken the Chemistry 14 series since his career plans involve medicine.
“If I could go back as a freshman now I would choose the 14 series because that’s more parallel to those professional goals,” Khalifeh said. “There are a lot of pre-med students who would do the same.”
Courey said discussions about the prerequisite changes began fall 2018 at the same time the department added revisions to Chemistry 14 series to make the courses more appealing to life science students.
“We decided that if we’re going to all this effort to make 14A and 14B be something that will really be relevant in the life sciences, we should give our majors an opportunity to experience this as well,” Courey said.
After Courey initially proposed the Chemistry 14 incorporation to biochemistry faculty, he presented his idea to the department, which requested the Undergraduate Council Committee on Curriculum look at the proposal as well.
The biochemistry curriculum committee then analyzed the potential change to gauge student success in the major after completion of Chemistry 14A and 14B.
“So we decided we’ve done everything we could to make sure there would be no unintended consequences,” Courey said. “We presented that to the department as a whole and there was nearly unanimous support.”
Biochemistry Undergraduate Operations Manager Denise Mantonya said this course addition was announced in a campuswide email to students and counsellors during summer 2019.
There are 30 biochemistry students currently taking Chemistry 14A, Mantonya said.
While third-year molecular, cellular and developmental biology student Kenya Bonitto did not take the Chemistry 14 series, she thinks the option is a positive change.
“I think it’s a good option and it’s very safe,” Bonitto said.
Bonitto entered UCLA as a biochemistry student, but switched to MCDB her second year.
“Some people may enjoy chemistry and want to explore the realm of biochemistry, like I wanted to do, but the process may be geared more towards physical science majors or pure chemistry majors, it kind of makes it hard for (biochemistry students) to succeed,” Bonitto said.
Third-year MCDB student Dylan Tan did not know he would be taking the same chemistry courses as engineers when he initially declared his major as biochemistry.
“The Chem 20 series does not have enough resources to help students … for the class, it just dives into physical engineering,” Tan said.
Rojas Palato also said she felt a lack of prior preparation in the biochemistry major.
“In (your) first lecture, you’re learning quantum mechanics and you don’t even know what’s going on,” Rojas Palato said.
Rojas Palato also said Chemistry 20 courses lacked the content and exam format clarity that the Chemistry 14 series had.
“Why am I struggling over here when I can take the other life sciences classes that are more clear on what they’re going to be tested on,” Rojas Palato said.
Khalifeh, a biochemistry student, said the best thing about the change is that students have options depending on their career preferences.
“There are other biochemistry students who are necessarily interested in medicine. … They are more geared towards the physical science side, so the best thing about the new changes is it gives them the opportunity to pick,” Khalifeh said.