Why Do I Need to Learn Chemistry?


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I was asked recently on how to give a talk about Chemistry to a group of 16 and 17 year olds and make it exciting.

I answered truthfully — I don’t know.

When I was 16, I had a Physics teacher who caught me writing graffiti on the laboratory’s desk instead of doing the experiment. He reprimanded me and while he was talking I interrupted him and said I would finish all the experiments in the Physics workbook in a month if he could explain to me how Physics is relevant to my ambition of being an accountant. He could not and I got out of doing Physics homework for the rest of the semester.

So if I am asked to give a talk to 16 and 17 year olds about the importance of a certain subject that they take in school, I would not be able to answer. But I can certainly answer what are the skills that you need to master by the time you finish secondary school that would be useful in college and at work.

1. TIME MANAGEMENT. Completing various homework and getting the correct results within the stipulated time are actually a good training to meet deadlines and managing your resources. Later in life you will be constantly asked to multi-task or take on more responsibility that you are comfortable juggling. You need to learn which ones need to be completed first, and which ones could be done later. You also need to learn how to do things correctly the first time so that you minimize wastage. If you use this frame of mind when you are tackling your lessons (or a Physics experiment), you will get better at getting the correct results, and getting them in the allotted time. Deadlines are real, stress is real, being overwhelmed is real. Start preparing now so that you are better equipped to handle challenges that you meet along the way.

2. BEING PREPARED. I never bothered to read anything up before I went to any class so as a result, I went unprepared and could not absorb much of what was being taught. I didn’t understand that I had to do the work myself and then flag areas that I did not understand so that I could use the time in the classroom to seek clarification from my teachers. Well, try walking into a meeting or seeing your client unprepared! Make it a habit to prepare prepare prepare and be ahead of the curve so that you can identify your problem areas and get help to rectify them. At school, just like at work and in life and everything else in between, you will find that you will be asked to learn or do a lot of things that you hate or are not trained for. The subject doesn’t matter, it could be Chemistry or Physics or even Geography…whatever. What matters is that you gear yourself up to tackle it and that’s by being prepared.

3. LEARN TO LISTEN AND TAKE NOTES. If there is only one thing that you could learn from your school life, make it this one. When I was a student, I didn’t take notes, I transcribed everything that my teachers said word for word. This habit continued in university. Like a court reporter, I spent all my time writing and writing and writing. As a result, I didn’t distinguish between what is important and what is not because I simply wrote everything down. When I started working I realized how useless my writing skill was because I did not learn how to listen. Often I found myself in meetings where several people would speak at the same time and many ideas or suggestions were being thrown into the hat — without the ability to listen and take notes, these quickly became overwhelming, particularly if you were assigned to take the minutes. So use the time in school to hone these skills. Hold the the pen on the ready, but listen to what the teachers are saying and decide whether it is important to be written down before you write anything. You will find that some teachers are just reading out texts from books (in which case you should not write them down, just get the books!), some teachers are just feeding you answer keys for you to memorize so that you can regurgitate them later during exams, and some teachers teach.

Use the time in secondary school as your training time. Remember: 10 years from now, the subjects don’t matter but the skills are (unless you want to be Chemist that is, then Chemistry absolutely matters!).