Survival Kit for Premeds: Organic Chemistry Lab

Photo Credit: Copyright 2013 Coral von Zumwalt

While organic chemistry class itself is daunting on its own, the lab portion is flat-out terrifying. It requires knowledge from organic chemistry as well as general chemistry, which most people in the class took at least a year ago. I heard how difficult the class is and I kind of tried to prepare for it by reviewing some old chemistry material, but I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information and didn’t really know what to focus on. So this is my attempt to give you guys an advice on how to endure through one of the toughest lower-division science courses here at UCLA. I specifically took the CHEM 30BL course last quarter, and I will be basing my advice on that class.

1. Reviewing general chemistry concepts

The class requires you to know some key concepts from general chemistry that is readily used in the laboratory. By knowing some general concepts, you can better understand what is going on and learn how to make adjustments to reactions when things don’t turn out as expected. Some of the key concepts you should know are solubility (what determines whether compounds are soluble in water or organic solvent?), polarity (what makes a compound polar?), acid-base chemistry (Arrhenius and Bronsted-Lowery; what does it mean for a molecule to be acidic/basic?), and equilibrium constant (calculations involving molarities of products and reactants; pKa values/meaning). Polarity seems to be the hardest for people to really understand, and it was definitely the hardest for me on the final. Knowing these concepts inside-and-out will greatly benefit you throughout the quarter.

2. Organic chemistry knowledge

While the lab obviously does not cover all reactions learned in organic chemistry classes, it does cover some of the most simple reactions. The reactions themselves are not what makes the class so challenging. So do not stress over having to know all of the mechanisms for the reactions. But the reactions that my class covered were acid-catalyzed dehydration, phase transfer catalysis, various oxidation reactions, Diels-Alder, Grignards, and Fischer esterification. What is most important while doing the experiments is that you understand the reasoning and logic behind each step of the experiment. Why are you using that particular solvent? What will the sodium carbohydrate do to the crude product mixture? Which layer is the organic layer? Why do we reflux the mixture? What does this color change indicate?

For data analysis, you will need to know how to interpret basic IR, H-NMR, C-NMR, UV-Vis Spec, and polarimetry. Also, make sure to review and understand how TLC (thin-layer chromatography) works. Understand what determines the Rf value (retardation factor). This will be covered in lab as well as in the final.

3. Prepping for final

The score breakdown for my particular class (CHEM 30BL) consisted of weekly online quizzes, in-lab quizzes, pre/post lab reports, in-lab assignments (not every week), lab notebook, and a final. So there is no midterm and the only test you get is the final. Start studying for the final EARLY and you’ll be glad you did by the time finals week rolls around. I recommend getting started in week 5 or 6, so that you’ll have time to go through the practice tests as each test takes a pretty long time to go through. For 30BL, you are provided with a booklet of past finals. Use it! Know it inside-and-out. If you don’t understand something, visit his office hours! The instructor is very generous about giving up his time and has office hours everyday. Go in there and befriend him. He’ll help you out.
As for what to study for the final, I would focus mainly on the reader and the practice tests. Make sure you know all of the experiments that were done in the lab (including the questions listed in the back of each experiment!), and go through all of the practice tests and try to understand the reasoning and general concepts. The final consists of a experiment/mechanism section, TLC section, polarity section, lab technique section, IR spectra, and structure identification (given: molecular formula, IR, H-NMR, C-NMR/dept).

Overall, just stay on top of the material. Read over the experiment thoroughly before attending lab, visit office hours often, and study hard throughout the quarter. It may be intimidating at first to visit his office hours, but I swear he’s a nice guy! He makes an effort to learn the names of people who show up during office hours, and he calls you by your name by like the third time you come in!

It is definitely a challenging course, but hopefully you will come out of the class saturated with applicable chemistry knowledge.

Good luck! And contact me if you have any questions.

More beach days in “winter!”

Since the start of winter quarter, there has only been a few “cold” ish days. So as usual, many UCLA students are still taking advantage of this beautiful weather.

One weekend me and my friend decided to take a trip to Malibu and visit Zuma Beach and Point Dume. It’s about a 30- 40 minute drive from campus, but I think it is so worth it! The beach is fairly quiet, there is more wildlife there (like dolphins and seals!), and you can climb up a short distance to the top of “point dume” where you get an amazing view of the beautiful beach.

Here’s a picture of the view from up top!

While I do hope for the weather to get cold sometime soon, these beach trips might be worth the absence of winter in Los Angeles.

Blu Jam Cafe

During the long weekend due to MLK holiday, I got to get out of the campus and enjoy a nice, relaxing Sunday brunch. To find a place to eat, I pulled out my excessively long bucket list that I had made over the winter break, and at the very top of my list was LA’s very own Blu Jam Cafe.

Blu Jam Cafe currently has two different locations: Melrose and Sherman Oaks. They originally started off with a little place in Melrose, but after seeing their success, they opened another location in Sherman Oaks between Kester and Sepulveda. Both locations are rather small, and they both have a very simple appearance. But man, their food is like no other.

Their most renowned dish is the crunchy french toast. They use thick slices of egg brioche, batter them, rolled them in corn flakes, and grill them to give a final product of crunchy outer coating and an inside that just melts in your mouth. The french toast is sprinkled with colorful berries and served with a homemade vanilla sauce on the side. The physical appearance alone is very impressive and mouth-watering. But the instant you just take a bite of that french toast, I guarantee that you’ll never want to let go of your fork and knife. I personally think that the corn flakes is the trick that makes this dish so unique and fun. It seems so simple and easy, but when it comes to great food, it doesn’t have to get all that complicated.

The place gets pretty crowded and you most likely will have to wait for about half-an-hour before being seated, but Blu Jam Cafe is definitely worth a visit. They have been voted several times as having one of the best brunch menus in LA, and they have been reviewed and complimented by numerous magazines. So take a trip to Blu Jam Cafe, and you won’t be disappointed!

Wait is this really winter?

When people talk about Southern California, the issue of weather inevitably is brought up. One of the most appealing factors of living in LA has to be the almost unbelievable weather we experience on a yearly basis. While most of our country is bundling up and turning on the heat, students at UCLA are breaking out the flip-flops and shorts. Temperatures have been consistently in the high 70’s and low 80’s for the past few weeks and students are making the most of this sunny winter.

Never would I have thought I would be sun tanning in January but this quarter that is exactly what we have been doing. It is almost confusing walking to class because it feels so much like summer! While this may seem odd for winter weather, it has major advantages for students. The LA sunniness lets students enjoy the city year round without any obstacles. Westwood is definitely a walking city and the lack of snow or rain keeps students out and about yearlong. I really enjoy being able to enjoy being outside and not having to worry about layering on clothes. In college, a time where you are constantly moving around and rarely in one spot for long, weather and sun can make a big impact. For me, it really makes school more enjoyable seeing the sun nearly everyday.

As this is my last quarter at UCLA and my last few weeks in sunny SOCAL, I definitely want to take full advantage of this amazing weather. I never imagined beach days being an option after class in the middle of winter, but hey CA is known for its climate for a reason ☺.

January beach day

While much of the country is freezing right now with temperatures below 0, UCLA students are wearing shorts and tanks to class in this 80 degree weather. We decided to celebrate this weather at Venice Beach last Saturday after our first week of classes. Just a 20 minute ride from campus, we packed our lunches to go and soaked up the sun in January.

Winter Break in Nicaragua


Last winter break, I had the privilege of going to Nicaragua along with about 40 other members of the UCLA student organization “Global Medical Training.” The purpose of GMT is to provide free medical care to the poorer neighborhoods of countries like Nicaragua and Dominican Republic, where there is a lack of sufficient medical care. GMT believes in “learning by doing,” and it gives the students an opportunity to experience what it is really like to become a physician by learning how to examine and diagnose patients. I had been preparing for the trip since the beginning of the fall quarter by attending all of the weekly meetings, where I was trained to do various tasks, such as taking blood pressure, using the stethoscope to listen to the heart and the lungs, and measuring heart rate. I also learned to perform multiple tests to diagnose patients with conditions, such as kidney failure, parasitic infection, urinary tract infection, STD, varicose veins, along with numerous other conditions commonly seen in the country of Nicaragua. Although I was given information about the common diseases and conditions before the trip, I learned the most when I got to the clinic site in the actual neighborhoods of the country. Listening and talking to the patients in person was an entirely different experience than just studying about them through PowerPoint slide presentations. 

This trip to Nicaragua with GMT was an invaluable experience for me, because it gave me a perspective on global healthcare and an awareness of the need for proper and adequate medical care all over the world. Before, I had known very little of the issue of global healthcare and the living conditions of the people in the less developed countries. But going to this trip has informed me about the definite needs around the world and it has strengthened my desire to share my set of hands with those in need. I also found out that I really enjoy interacting with people, whether it be with the patients or with other doctors. Looking at the eyes of the patients, I saw that they had a full trust in my ability to help them. And having their trust inspired me to do my very best. The fact that I was capable of relieving these people from pain energized and motivated me all throughout the clinic. This trip reaffirmed my desire of becoming a medical doctor, and I now cannot see myself doing anything else but spending the rest of my life to serve others. I feel very lucky to have gone to this trip, and I want to thank my parents and GMT for giving me an opportunity to visit Nicaragua. It was truly a life-changing experience.

Survival Kit for Premeds: Physics

Physics is notorious for being one of the most tough subjects, especially for life science majors. Going into my first class of the physics series (Physics 6A), I was really nervous. Since my high school didn’t offer AP Physics, the only physics class I had taken was a regular physics class during my junior year that was very conceptual with little math calculations involved. Here are a couple of things I learned from my first quarter of physics at UCLA.

1) Previewing the material beforehand is very helpful. If you can set aside some time before the start of the quarter to preview the chapters that will be covered in class, you will definitely be able to understand the concepts more easily when the professor goes over them in class. Also, preview the material covered by the lecture before going to lecture. It will keep you from getting lost during lecture, especially if your professor is not a native speaker.

2) Do ALL of the masteringphysics homework problems. I don’t know if my professor was the only one who uses the homework problems for the exams, but he used the same exact problems from the homework numerous times. Make sure you know how to do all of the homework problems within 15 minutes each. The midterms are only 50 minutes long with 4 problems, and I assure you,, they can get a little bit stressful because of the time pressure.

3) Get a solution manual for the textbook. The solutions to the homework problems are posted after the deadline, which often times is too late for you to look and study off of for the midterms and finals. It’s better to just get the solution manual yourself, so that you’ll have it right there when you need it. But don’t be tempted to look at the solution manual every time you get stuck on a problem. Try to solve the questions on your own first, then check the answers. I realized that unlike other subjects, like biology, chemistry, or math, physics requires a longer critical thinking period. It wasn’t uncommon that I spend 30 minutes or longer to solve one single problem. With my short attention span and impatience, I struggled with this aspect of physics, but I think I kind of got used to it by the end of the quarter.

4) Visit the test bank for practice midterms and finals. As with any other class, it is always helpful to have sample tests to practice with. Don’t let these practice tests go to waste though! Set aside the allotted time to do each test like you would during the actual test. Time yourself and grade your tests right afterwards. Trust me. It will help you during the actual test. Sometimes, the professors will post a practice test online, but from my experience, those tests are easier than the actual test. So, do visit the test bank, and it may actually save your grade.

Physics was definitely one of the hardest classes that I took last quarter, but I noticed that the more time I spend on physics, the more I understood the concepts. I remember thinking to myself, “when will physics ever get easy?” but physics was a constant struggle for me until the very end. Good thing that the class is curved. Physics is hard for most people, if not everyone. To those who will be taking physics 6 series in the near future, stay on top of the material covered in class and don’t ever give up! You’ll be done with physics before you know it!

Christmas in LA

Although it’s December and it’s still 80 degrees outside, the warm weather does not kill the holiday spirit in Los Angeles. Whether it’s seeing the beautifully decorated huge houses of Beverly Hills, or enjoying the fake snow at The Grove, there’s always something to do to get you excited for the best time of the year.

The Grove is a shopping area and farmer’s market located about 20 minutes from UCLA. During the holidays, it’s decorated with a giant Christmas tree, tons of lights, Santa and his reindeer, and even fake snow!! My friend and I had dinner there as a 10th week study break.


One of my favorite things to do in Los Angeles during the holidays is to go ice skating in Pershing Square in the heart of Downtown. It’s so surreal and awesome to ice skate in the middle of all the big buildings when it’s nowhere close to freezing outside! Me and my friend went as a celebratory “done with finals” trip last weekend!



I’ve been on a quest for some time now to find the best boba tea drinks in the city. Back home in the Bay Area, it had become a ritual to drink boba several times a week, so naturally I had to find a way to continue this behavior in Los Angeles.

At first I was pretty casual about finding boba. I took a few trips to Sawtelle, a restaurant-filled street near campus which holds a few boba shops. But each of these mini-outings produced so-so results. Pearl drinks in San Jose are freakishly delicious, and I was simply not getting that transcendental boba experience I was used to getting weekly at home.

I expanded my search to include boba tea places in other neighborhoods. A friend who grew up in Koreatown spoke to the quality of the boba there, so I filtered my Yelp searches appropriately. The bubble teas I came across in Ktown were certainly better, but making the trek out there on a biweekly basis was not a sustainable endeavor. I had to figure something else out.

There are always a number of groups out and about on campus selling food to raise money for whatever cause or clubs they are looking to support. Today a group called Project Wild was selling pumpkin pie and apple juice in the Court of Sciences and Hillel sells challah every Thursday on Bruin Walk. Luckily, boba is the most popular of the fundraising foods, and practically every day of the week there will be a club selling milk teas or Thai iced teas with boba somewhere on campus. And even better – these drinks come from all over Los Angeles. I asked one girl I was buying some tea from where it had originated, and she said Alhambra, a neighborhood that’s a 45-minute drive away on a day without too much traffic. Another group had bought their boba from a shop in Mid-City and another from Culver City.

With the help of these student groups, I’ve been able to consistently get my fix both for delicious pearl drinks and for LA exploration. Even though I may not be driving myself out to these boba places just yet, I still get to sample their drinks and perhaps decide which ones are worth going to. It’s almost as if the cosmos aligned, knowing I had a need for boba that couldn’t be met  by frequent 45-minute drives and then meeting that need by bringing the tea to campus.

Of course, I still try new places from time to time, but being a UCLA student has helped me realize my true potential of drinking boba to and from my classes on a regular basis. I’ve achieved my milk tea fulfillment.

Bruins ‘Till the Day We’re Dead

One my favorite parts about Fall quarter is the football games. Every home game tons of students mob out to the Rose Bowl hours before it starts to tailgate and get pumped to cheer on our Bruins. Although the Rose Bowl is a bit of a drive from Westwood, there is a bus that leaves from campus the day of the game and transports students to and from the stadium. It’s a really fun ride! Student groups also organize a bunch of carpools and busses to get to the game, which is also a ton of fun. This last Saturday we had our “blackout game” where all the football players, cheerleaders and fans wore black bruin gear to black out the stadium. We played Washington and won 41 – 31! We’re now prepared to beat the Sun Devils next weekend, and even more importantly the Trojans the week after that. GO BRUINS!



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