News from Chemistry

Changing Curriculum and Addressing Graduate Issues

Judith P. Klinman, Chair

"Our graduate students have the opportunity to take a wider range of courses during their first two years, introducing greater breadth into their training.”


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I am writing this newsletter in the early morning hours of September 11, 2002, acutely aware of the anxiety and sadness that have pervaded our society since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon one year ago. These events have reinforced how uncertain our world can be and how important it is to not take things for granted.

Many changes are underway in the Department of Chemistry. Our first-year class of graduate students is the largest in memory—with 110 students matriculating. Thanks go out to Angy Stacy and Cheri Hadley for their creative solutions to accommodate these students in teaching positions during their first semester.

Chemical Biology Program
Also, our new chemical biology program is in full swing under the leadership of Carolyn Bertozzi and Mike Marletta. Eleven first-year graduate students are participating in laboratory rotations (three 10-week rotations) before they choose their research supervisor. This is a big departure from the long-standing tradition in chemistry that students choose their research advisor early in the fall semester. The goal is to have a steady state of ten graduate students per year entering the chemical biology program, which cuts across departments and will play an important role in the new Health Sciences Initiative on campus. As of now, the program has no regular source of funding, and we hope that some of our alumni and corporate friends will be interested in supporting this exciting endeavor.

New course curriculum
The course curriculum available to graduate students has also changed this fall, with graduate courses in inorganic, organic and biochemistry broken down into modules of five weeks each. This gives the students the opportunity to take a wider range of courses during their first two years, introducing greater breadth into our graduate training program. An accompanying change in undergraduate education is the presentation of a third-year course in biochemistry for the first time in the spring semester of 2003. This course will focus heavily on chemical principles and will complement a course already offered within the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Addressing graduate issues
The department held its first annual departmental retreat on the weekend before the beginning of the fall semester. The focus of the retreat was two-fold: programmatic issues addressing the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of chemistry (in the morning) and graduate student issues (in the afternoon), in particular, how to improve and enrich the graduate experience at Berkeley. Graham Fleming and Paul Alivisatos gave presentations on the new Health Sciences Initiative and the future of nanoscience on campus, respectively, followed by a discussion led by Mike Marletta of the difficulties that can arise when programs cut across traditional departmental boundaries. In the afternoon, John Arnold presented the results of a survey of graduate life conducted by the Graduate Life Committee. The majority of students seem content with their experiences at Berkeley, though there are clearly some “hot spots” of difficulty. One important issue that was addressed was the qualifying exam: it is clear that we need to do a better job in making these exams as uniform as possible and in informing the students what will be expected from them. The break-out session in both morning and afternoon produced a lot of lively discussion and a clearer sense of priorities for the coming years.

Awards and honors

Previous National Medal of Science winners Harold Johnston (left) and Darleane Hoffman (center) celebrate with Gabor Somorjai in honor of his winning the Medal for 2001.

In closing, it is a great pleasure to acknowledge the following recent honors for our faculty: The National Medal of Science and the F. A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research for 2003 to Gabor Somorjai; The Davy Medal from the Royal Society to Neil Bartlett; The ACS Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry to Bill Miller; The James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry to Bob Bergman; The Sigal Young Investigator Award of the Protein Society to Carolyn Bertozzi; a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Young Faculty Award to Dean Toste; a Searle Scholar award to Jay Groves; and a Hellman Family Fund Award to Dirk Trauner. Additionally, Alex Pines was elected to the Royal Society, and Carlos Bustamante and Charles Harris were elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Finally, our series “Current Research for Staff” won a University Award administered by the Staff Equity and Diversity Services under their Workplace Success Stories Recognition Program.


Related sites:

Health Sciences Initiative

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