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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Last updated prior to August 1998

Knowledge and skill goals for this undergraduate degree program are recorded in the most recent CU-Boulder catalog. In some summaries of assessment activity, goals are referred to by number (e.g., K-2 is knowledge goal 2).

The final independent projects in capstone laboratory courses (CHEM 4181 [Instrumental Analysis] and CHEM 4761 [Biochemistry]) are evaluated by multiple readers. Every major takes at least one of these courses. Students are expected to demonstrate the ability to plan an individual experiment, research the methods, assemble the necessary apparatus, perform the experiment, and report their work both as a written report in the form of a journal article and (since 1990-91) orally. They prepare overhead transparencies to show their data and give brief presentations during a laboratory period. Time is allowed for questions and other students are encouraged to participate in discussion of the project. Written reports are evaluated on the basis of form and quality of writing as well as on the project reported. Starting in 1995 the biochemistry laboratory has been moving toward the use of poster presentations of the laboratory work; poster sessions are becoming the norm for presentations at many scientific meetings and it was felt desirable to include experience in this medium in students experience. Poster presentations are judged on the basis of clarity and quality of presentation as well as on the quality of laboratory work.

In addition, each graduating senior fills out an exit questionnaire evaluating the courses taken, etc., and reporting about his or her future plans. The exit questionnaires are reviewed by the associate chair of the department. The seniors are also invited to give written comments about their experiences in their major courses. A few take the time to write extensive comments, and these are often extremely helpful. In 1996 one such extensive comment led to major revisions in the reports in physical chemistry laboratory, and another played a significant role in the tenure evaluation of a young faculty member. Since 1990-91, the self-selected group of better students who plan to attend graduate school have been asked to mark their Graduate Record Exams (GRE) so that their scores are returned to the university.

In the 1989-90 capstone project evaluations, the faculty were disappointed with the quality of the written reports. That year's report noted "It is apparent that the department needs to work harder on teaching the sort of communication skills to the students, that are needed for the capstone papers. During the coming year the department will be discussing ways to improve the training of our students in this respect." Subsequent years' reports indicate that the faculty were more satisfied with the students' writing skills. Reports have shown definite improvement.

The exit surveys have consistently shown that advanced lab courses and independent study--hands-on courses--are most valued by the students. In response, the department tried to encourage more students to do independent study. By 1991-92, the number of students doing such projects was up by 60% from the previous year. However, the faculty felt that still more students could benefit from guided independent study, and have now incorporated experiments of this sort in the lower-division organic chemistry laboratory for chemistry majors, and experimented with the idea in other lower-division laboratory courses. This has some cost in terms of teaching assistant and faculty time, but the faculty feel that it is well worth it for improving the laboratory experience.

In 1994-95, the instrumental analysis laboratory, taken by all majors, was changed to increase the amount of time students spend on independent experiments. The change was enthusiastically received by the students and the faculty were pleased by the improvement in the quality of the independent work when students did it more than once.

Exit-survey results also show that chemistry and biochemistry seniors have wide-ranging plans for their futures. A large fraction plan on further education, with about half intending to attend graduate school in chemistry or biochemistry or related areas.The faculty note that this is about twice as large as the number who have taken the GRE. The GRE scores indicate that CU-Boulder students rank well above average in their general test scores (verbal, quantitative, and analytical ability) and about average in their subject scores (chemistry and biochemistry). However, especially for the subject tests, the number of scores available has been small enough that the sample is not very representative. As the exit exams indicate, not all students who indicate an intention to go to graduate school take the exams. With faculty encouragement, the number of students taking the GRE exam, especially one of the subject exams, rose in 1994-95 but dropped off again in 1995-96.

Last revision 01/28/03


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