Wednesday, May 28, 2008


2 days/3 exams to go. We don't have any grades back yet, but with the exception of microbiology, I think all have gone well so far. I found my new favorite restaurant in Berlin (pictured). Too bad I didn't try it sooner. Amazing burritos. I might eat there everyday for the 8 days that I have left here in Berlin. In my links section, I've added a Google map with the best places in Berlin that my classmates and I have discovered (we weren't actually the first humans to go to them) during our stay. So, if you go to Berlin, do yourself a favor and check out our "discoveries." Classmates: if you think of any place that I should add (ie: I don't have a name for the biergarten in Tiergarten) please let me know.

Biochemistry is our last exam. I'm not exaggerating when I say that there is almost no chance that I will pass it. While not ideal, this is OK, because I should still be able to "graduate" based on my other grades, but the lack of knowledge gained in this subject is a source of major disappointment for me and a few of my classmates. Namely, the ones with no previous chemistry/biochemistry experience. Most of my close friends are getting it...or at least enough of it to not be as angry as I am, but that's only after many hours of help outside of class from Felipe, VLB's best (unpaid) teacher, who has nearly retaught the entire course to 4 of us. If you're enrolled in CBC 09, you better make sure they've got another Felipe signed up.

I'm not at all where I wanted to be with chemistry or biochemistry. These were my weakness coming here and they are still my weaknesses leaving. Sure, I've learned some things, but my level of understanding is barely basic and does not meet the expectations that I had coming here. I came here, in part, because the schedule was supposed to be heavy in chemistry/biochemistry and microbiology. While I haven't exactly mastered microbiology, I do feel like I went from zero to a good, basic understanding of what is important in relation to brewing science, and I have plenty of material (and Dr. Hinrichs' email) that I can reference in the future. Biochemistry, on the other hand, has been an incredible disappointment.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect to master biochemistry in under 6 months without prior experience, but I find the setup for learning chemistry and biochemistry at VLB completely unacceptable. I've discussed some of this before, so rather than ramble on, here are the problems with chemistry/biochemistry that VLB needs to fix and how they should fix them:

  • Problem: More hours of the subjects needed in the program. Solution: Eliminate subjects like economics, automation, brewery arithmetics, and other non-brewing science courses to add more chemistry hours to the program. If "Science Generates Quality," then don't waste my time with other subjects only to shortchange me in the science department.
  • Problem: Chemistry/biochemistry are important for understanding all of the other subjects. Solution: Add more (or all) chemistry to module 1 or make college level chemistry a prerequisite.
  • Problem: Not enough repetition, too much time between classes. Solution: Have class more frequently, don't reschedule classes - 2 weeks is too long in between classes.
  • Problem: Subjects are not focused enough on brewing science. Solution: Eliminate DNA, RNA, creation type of topics and focus on the reason why we are here (in the course, not on earth).
  • Problem: Too much assumed knowledge and too fast of a pace. The chemical engineers should be able to sleep through or skip this class. Felipe was entertained by it and my eyes were glazed over the entire time. Solution: This is not a subject where you can teach to the middle ground. Start at the basics, and build up systematically. It doesn't matter what the average background of the class is, start at the beginning.
  • Problem: No reinforcement of what is learned. Solution: Have homework, quizzes, etc. like a normal class.
  • Problem: Not enough teaching/learning. Solution: Don't have us (in a very rushed fashion!) copy down structures that we don't know/understand so we can just memorize them later.
...More reviews (positive and negative) of VLB coming soon, now that it's almost all over with.

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