non-traditional u-grad needs encouragement

Robin Panza panzar at
Tue Apr 9 04:54:09 EST 1996

In article <1996Apr8.151453 at>, lappel at writes:
> In article <4k25p6$t78 at>, "Julie M. Phillips" <jphillip at> writes:
>> (about the grief of 2nd semester organic chemistry)
> Dear Julie:
> 	Have you considered the possibility that the course is not being taught
> well?
> 	There is a lot of literature showing that when things suddenly get hard
> for a person in some aspect of math or science, there is a tendency for boys to
> think something is wrong with the subject or the course, and girls to think
> there is something wrong with themselves - that all of their previous success
> was a fraud, somehow.

I agree with the above post that, if one subject is unusually hard, it is
likely to be due to poor teaching.  However, it is also possible that this 
subject or this "unit" of the course just doesn't "fit" in your mindset.  I 
am intelligent, and good at school (a skill).  My grades reflected my interest 
in the subject, and difficulty was irrelevant--*except* for enzyme kinetics 
in 2nd quarter freshman chem.  I had the same prof for all of the first 2 
quarters, and he was excellent.  However, I simply could not "get" that unit 
(flunked that midterm royally!).  The prof did problems in class, the TA did 
problems in lab, I tried the text problems, I went to prof and TA office hours.
Every problem worked for me seemed completely sensible, yet I simply could not 
get beyond the first step when I tried.  I have a similar problem with circuit 

I have seen this phenomenon in other people, too.  They can do well at
a variety of subjects, but one simply eludes them.  It is as if each subject
has some sort of internal system of logic and, if you grasp that system, the
subject is workable.  If, for some reason, that system is incompatible with
your way of thinking, the subject is opaque.

I don't mean this message to sound discouraging; I was able to accept this 
limitation in myself, partly because I was a good student otherwise, and I 
was able to pass the courses by doing better on the other units.  We are never
equally strong (or weak) in all subjects, and even the brightest of us probably
have some subject that gives us trouble.  Even if this subject proves difficult
for you, that doesn't make you any less intelligent.  It just means the
internal logic of this one subject is incompatible with the logic system in
your mind.

Robin Panza
Section of Birds
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Pittsburgh  PA  USA

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