February 3, 2014

Walking on a Broken Leg... and other Poor Academic Choices

You're all, "I got this!"

Dean Frosh feels compelled to weigh in on the issue of the wisdom (or lack thereof) of choosing to move to the next level of a course sequence (Bio 2, Chem 2, Organic 2) when you’ve achieved a grade of D in the first course. Technically, you can move on. You have passed that first class. You have not, however, mastered that first class’s material, not by a long shot. 

And most subjects that have sequences (biology, chemistry, math) require you to keep building higher and higher immediately on that same foundation. This is not always the case in every discipline. Building proficiency in some disciplines is like planting a garden; you want to have a general sense of organization and how the pieces complement and contrast, but you don’t have to work in a strict order. I can work effectively with 19th Century literature even if I struggled mightily with the snoozefest of its 18th Century predecessors. Scientific- and mathematically-based disciplines, however, require students to build a house with a strong frame and foundation; you can’t begin with the second floor. If you haven’t really mastered solution concentrations, solubility, reaction stoichiometry and intermolecular forces from Chemistry 1, you are going to struggle mightily to understand chemical reactions in solution and their equilibrium in Chemistry 2. 

And Dean Frosh is all...
“But,” you protest mightily, “I know what went wrong! I know I can fix it.” Dean Frosh responds encouragingly: terrific! Knowing what went wrong is part of the battle, but it’s not even close to winning the war. There are likely many good reasons why your performance was poor. Students struggle with their earlier foundation, with motivation, with distractions, with personal and medical issues, with family dynamics, with roommate conflicts. We get it. You’re a complex being and different issues may have conspired against you. But, none of that is going to fix a faulty foundation.  

You may understand why the leg is broken, but you still cannot walk on it.

“But,” you protest mightily, “I’ll fall behind! I have to complete all these courses before I can take my MCATs or apply to Dental School or do research.” Yes, you will need to alter your plans and should meet with an advisor to plan out your sequence and timing. But, not all altered schedules will result in a delay. And not all delays are catastrophic. In the worst case scenario, you apply a year later to medical school (which is already a distinct possibility because of the D grade). If medical school is the long-term goal, will you really remember an extra year when you’re retiring from your medical practice at age 70? An adjusted timeline, and even a delay, is better than scuttling your goals with poor academic decisions.

But, all of this is just advice. And Dean Frosh is an advisor. You don’t have to listen to her silly ideas, but you should listen to facts. The science departments have tracked student performance over many years in courses and keep data on grade trends. The harsh reality is this: students with a D who then take the next course are most likely to earn a second D or an F. Earning a C is unlikely. Those are the facts. 

The genuine issue that your choice does raise is the question of your decision-making. Doctors, researchers and other professionals must have strong analytical decision-making skills. Taking Chemistry 2 and then repeating Chemistry 1 is the medical equivalent of doing surgery and then getting a CT scan. It makes infinitely more sense to repeat and heal what is broken, even if it is broken for legitimate reasons, and then move on stronger. 

And there is still time to make adjustments in your spring schedule. You can withdraw down to 12 credits until Monday, March 20; you can also still add mini-courses to add credits in order to withdraw. Plan to see an SAS advisor or a Health Professions Office advisor ASAP to discuss your options.