by PhilipJ on 9 September 2007
Physicists have a knack for thinking we know everything, or at least that everything else is easy enough to learn, since, well, everything else isn’t physics. I’ve had the sense to not give in to this delusion too often, even though I decided that I could hack it as a PhD student in a chemistry department despite not knowing any chemistry. In my defense, my PhD program is called Chemical Physics, so this shouldn’t be entirely out of my realm.
Prior to accepting the offer here at the University of Toronto, it was agreed that my background would preclude me from TAing a number of courses, particularly those with the words “organic” and “inorganic” in them. Not that I couldn’t learn these subjects, the physicist in me likes to tell myself, simply that they are different enough from my formal training that I can’t pick them up without a reasonable amount of time and effort.
TAships were handed out a couple of weeks ago. As it happens, I was given the computational laboratory section of Intro Organic Chemistry I. An organic chemist friend of mine cheekily asked, “So, how many bonds does Carbon form?” Yes, I do know the answer. No, I am definitely not who you want teaching students about organic chemistry.
Luckily for everyone (though mostly the undergrads in Intro Organic Chemistry I!), I’ve since been switched to a physical chemistry course. The first disaster of PhD-life averted.