About Me (and You)
Acing organic chemistry has nothing to do with “being a genius” or memorizing mountains of nonsense. I will teach you the concepts you need to dominate this class, and I will be by your side guiding you through the process. You will not feel like you are doing this alone.
I’m Eddie Schiffman and I love helping students succeed in organic chemistry. This has become my mission in life. I want to teach you the beauty of organic chemistry logic and how you turn that logic into successful problem-solving ability.
When you know and understand the application of the small handful of pillar principles that govern this course, you can solve organic chemistry problems with ease.
I will teach you how to do that so you don’t end up developing an unproductive approach to this class. An unproductive learning and study approach is typically the main reason students under-perform in this class.
But perhaps as important, maybe even more important, is I will be by your side as you go through the course and readily accessible. You will not feel like you're alone in this because I will be your organic chemistry rock.
Some Highlights of my Organic Chemistry Teaching Credentials:
This is an extremely delayed thank you email. I was so traumatized by the Organic Chemistry experience that I just couldn’t get myself to speak one word about it!
I was fully expecting to get nothing better than a B- in the class and was pleasantly surprised that I received a B! I know you strive for all of us to be A Orgo students, but that B still brought great joy to my life!
Your tips were a life saver in this class. I am incredibly thankful for your willingness to share your knowledge and so passionately guide us. I could go on and on about all of the great information you gave me, but that isn’t what got me through this class. I made it through because you never gave up on me. You were willing to take me on as a student even though I got a C on the very first exam. You still encouraged me after I failed the Orgo II midterm. When I was on the verge of tears, you still begged me not to give up. Thank you for believing in me even though I struggled the entire way through.
It has been an honor to be taught by you. I wish I could think of a more fantastic way to show my gratitude. I will refer as many people as possible to you in the fall!
I hope your summer is going well and you manage to find time to take a little vacation.
Harvard Extension Student
(Written in a card)
I was an ochem mess when I showed up on your doorstep. I didn’t know SN1 from SN5. Look at me now! I’m one test away from an A.
Honestly, ochem will never be my friend, but I have been positively affected by your raw enthusiasm and love for it. I have gained so much understanding from our sessions and enjoyed every step of our journey.
I am indebted to you. I already see myself there, in my vet coat, with the animals, in my own clinic. Thank you for not letting ochem get in the way of my dreams.
Harvard Extension Student
Must . . . Avoid . . . Organic Chemistry Highway to Hell
NOT heading down the organic chemistry Highway to Hell is one of the most important things you need to do if you want to succeed. If you go too far down that road to ruin, you risk hitting a point of no return where no tutor or coach can save you.
Rarely do students do lousy because they didn’t put time and effort into the course; they do lousy because they didn’t know how to develop the skills that equip them to solve problems with authority. The typical response to a poor exam performance is "I need to study harder", but the problem actually has to do with how they are studying, not how much they are studying.
I've got bad news: doing more of what doesn't work will continue to not work. This is why so many top students are unable to save themselves when they don't seek help.
Everything becomes so much easier if you have someone like me guiding you down a path to success. I must warn you though: if we start early enough in the process, you put yourself at risk of falling in love with organic chemistry. You take the chance of becoming one of my students who tells me how they were dreading the idea of taking the class, but now they want to become a teaching assistant.
If I could figure out organic chemistry, anyone can.
When it comes to struggling with organic chemistry, I understand the battle because I have been there personally.
As a soon-to-be food science major taking the course for the first time in 1987-1988, I ended up in the fetal position and sucking my thumb. Going in, I was unaware that the class was a savage beast, but even if I had known about the scary reputation, I probably would have assumed my history of getting A’s and B’s in all my prior classes was evidence I was an “academic rock star”. Wrong. I managed to somehow eke out an AB in the first semester, but the second semester was a blur and was my first experience with a college class destroying me. When I received my grades in the mail (this was back in 1988, a time before the internet if you can imagine), I was initially afraid to open the envelope; when I did, I saw this on my transcript:
Truth be told, I was actually relieved to see that grade of CD because I knew it was higher than what I deserved.
I share this "skeleton from my closet" with you as evidence that organic chemistry did not initially come naturally to me. I was an asshat the first time I saw it and I know exactly what it feels like to be an accomplished student who gets decimated by this class even though I was trying.
Like most students who end up in the fetal position, I was doing work but the work I was doing was ineffective. I just didn't know how to do anything to help turn it around.
I eventually repeated the course when my life was taking a new direction and discovered if I could figure out organic chemistry, anyone can.
Eddie is an organic chemistry force of nature and the single most important factor contributing to my success during my two-semester ochem experience. I have so many things to say about my experience that it's easiest if I organize them into subsections.
Getting a Head Start Before the Class Began: Like many students, I was nervous before starting the course. For that reason, I began working with Eddie several weeks before the first day of class. This head start proved to be extremely valuable. As the first few lectures unfolded, instead of being overwhelmed by all the new terms and concepts, I could focus on applying (through practice problems) the knowledge I already had. In particular, early on in the course, I worked with Eddie through his acid/base seminar. Getting a firm grasp on these critical concepts early helped me master related material throughout the remainder of the semester.
During the Course: During the course, I met with Eddie 1-2 times per week to clear up questions from lectures, practice problems, and homework, as well as prepare for exams. While course resources and instructors/teaching fellows were helpful, there is simply no substitute for the clarity, efficiency, and (in Eddie's case) fun and satisfaction of being able to tackle questions in the one-to-one setting of a tutoring session.
Targeted Experience: Eddie's experience speaks for itself. One extra bonus of working with Eddie during my first semester orgo class (CHEM E-17 at Harvard Extension School) was the fact that Eddie had previously served as the Head Teaching Fellow for other Harvard organic chemistry courses. For this reason--and because he works with so many Harvard students--Eddie knew, week by week, the course content and expectations like the back of his hand. This targeted expertise allowed him to tell me where to prioritize my focus.
Way More Resources than a Regular Tutor: With most tutors, you get help through the instruction that takes place during the session. This is clearly the case with Eddie, whose expertise and clarity of instruction were critical to my success in the class--not to mention fun, with plenty of laughs. On top of that, however, I experienced the benefits of Eddie's numerous other resources. About 75% of the time I had a question on a major concept, Eddie pulled out one of his custom handouts. Those handouts make so many arcane ochem concepts accessible, memorable, and often humorous. They are much more straightforward, useful, and entertaining than any textbook explanation.
Dedication and Partnership: Beyond his instruction and handouts, while I tried not to abuse this accessibility, Eddie was always available to answer questions if I needed to email him after sessions. Because he cares so much, he would also send me practice problems that he would then go through and provide feedback on remotely, as a no-charge bonus.
In Conclusion (TL;DR): Working with Eddie (both before and during the course) was the best decision I made for orgo. To be clear, orgo was still challenging and involved lots of work, but because I did that work under Eddie's guidance, I understood much more of the logic and reasoning behind ochem than I otherwise would have, preventing me from having to endure much of the mindless memorization I know others resort to. Following Eddie's methods made the difference between surviving the course and thriving in it (which, by earning an A both semesters, I did!). I am proud to call Eddie not merely an instructor, but a good friend. Thank you, Eddie!
Harvard Extension Student
Organic Chemistry, Take Two: Learning the Pillar Principles
My first attempt at organic chemistry was an unmitigated dumpster fire, but my second time through was different.
So how did I go from being a disaster to becoming a master? How did I go from getting what probably should have been an F to now helping countless students to A's in the course as well as coaching students who have gone on to become organic chemistry teaching assistants and actual Rhodes Scholars?
I did what I want to teach you: I learned the pillar principles of the course and how to apply them to almost everything we do.
- I learned how to break things down into the simplicity of minuses chasing pluses.
- I learned how important the most elementary stuff in the course is (resonance, hybridization, orbitals, molecular geometry) and how easy it is to fool yourself into thinking you know enough about these things when you don't.
- I not only learned acid-base chemistry, I learned the importance of acid-base chemistry and how it can be applied to so many aspects of the course so I didn't need to memorize mountains of shit anymore.
- I learned that almost all of our mechanisms are composed of a few elementary mechanism steps that occur over and over, and if I could learn how and why these mechanism steps occur, I could propose reasonable mechanisms with ease.
- I learned to see reactions as the products of mechanisms, and this made it infinitely easier to think retrosynthetically as well as predicting products of reactions.
But I didn't do all of this flawlessly from the start of my second campaign taking the class. I still had to learn the hard way, and truth be told, it took me years to really understand organic chemistry the way I do now.
So my story may sound like I'm a hammerhead who needed way more than one year to figure things out, but I can assure you this:
If I had someone showing me back then what I can show you right now, I would have become an organic chemistry superstar MUCH faster!
The OChem Tutor
The upside to my struggles: it helps me help you more.
Because I've been that organic chemistry student doing everything that ensures pain, misery, and struggle, I understand why it happens.
I was a zero before I became a hero, so I can relate to your situation whether you're the zero or the hero because I've traveled the entire spectrum. Nothing came naturally to me, so this allows me to understand why students struggle.
Because I had to figure out a framework of understanding this material in a simple manner so I could actually make sense of it all, I've made it my goal to be able to explain it to others in ways that they can also see the simplicity.
No matter where you're at with the course, I've been in your shoes. I'm convinced this has helped me be more effective with students and has contributed to my longevity in this field. It is a factor in what has enabled me to evolve into an elite-level tutor and coach.
In the spring of 2003, I returned to school with the intention of becoming a pharmacist and I had to retake both semesters of organic chemistry. I enrolled in an accelerated course that covered the 8 credits over one semester, and about three quarters of the way through what would be considered first semester, I began studying with Kenny, a classmate who was light years ahead of everyone else in the class. It was through listening to him that I began to recognize how flawed my approach was for trying to learn the material.
I would listen to Kenny describe the sensibilities of why things were happening, and I realized I wasn’t seeing it the same way. Where I was trying to use brute force, memorization, mimicking and repetition, he was using logic.
I also discovered that while I was working on organic chemistry around the clock, he wasn’t.
I wanted to adapt my study methods so I could approach the course more like Kenny. He was only taking the first 4 credits of the course, so he helped me until the ochem 1 portion was over. During ochem 2, I spent a lot of time at office hours with my professor and was fortunate to get lots of one-on-one guidance.
My second organic chemistry experience was a success from the standpoint that I got grades of A in both halves of the course, but I can look back on it now and recognize I hadn't truly mastered the material and how to approach it in a way that truly simplified it. Despite my surface knowledge of the material, I was asked by my professor to become a peer tutor for the college.
I guess that was technically the birth of me becoming The OChem Tutor.
My desire to become a pharmacist evaporated by the end of 2003, but my passion for tutoring organic chemistry kept strengthening. When I launched OChemTutor in 2004, “dream bashers” questioned my sanity for thinking I could make a living with this idea. Lots of people originally thought I was being stupid and told me to "get a real job". Some members of academia thought less of me and treated me shabbily and with contempt because of my lack of advanced degrees and lack of diplomas from big-name schools.
But you know who liked what I was doing for them? STUDENTS.
Thank you for the [extra practice] problems, and for covering so much material these past 2 weeks [winter break intensive tutoring]. It definitely would've taken me many late nights to learn all that on my own, and I wouldn't have understood it even half as well.
My original goal was to get a headstart on the quarter (which I definitely have and more, seeing as you covered pretty much all the material), but more importantly I feel like I actually "get" organic chemistry. I used to think it was simply a class I had to (painfully) memorize my way through; now though, I see that understanding/recognizing patterns plays an even bigger role, which makes doing problems actually sort of fun now. It's a huge load off my shoulders knowing that I won't have to pull long/all-nighters anymore (at least, not for organic chemistry).
I'll definitely be making use of the endless problems you've sent me. Hopefully I'll be able to see you in March (my break is 3/21-3/31); if not, I hope you have a good year...and hopefully with some vacation time in. And I'll definitely let you know how things go in class.
California Institute of Technology Student
Words of Wisdom from a Trainer
After almost a year of starting my tutoring business, I applied to The Princeton Review to become an organic chemistry MCAT instructor. I thought it would be a good addition to my private tutoring, and it would be a different and fun venue for me to mix things up by teaching classes to students who were focusing on a different angle of organic chemistry.
In my first day of teacher training, I got intimidated. I was one of 8 trainees, and as we went around the room introducing ourselves and discussing our backgrounds, I felt like I had no right to be there. One woman ran an organic chemistry lab and had a staff of technicians working for her. Another woman was in medical school and looking for part-time work. The guy next to me was getting his master's in organic chemistry at MIT. Seemed like everyone in the room had fancy titles and degrees from big-name schools.
Then there was me. I didn't have any of that, but I had a year's worth of experience under my belt working directly with students and learning what gave students trouble and the predictable mistakes they make.
At the first break of the morning, I took the trainer aside and confided that I was worried my "on-paper credentials" didn't stack up to everyone else's, and knowing that teaching MCAT in the Boston area would mean teaching to students from some high-profile schools made me wonder if students would not take me seriously because of the lack of "letters and degrees after my name".
The trainer gave me some of the best advice I ever heard when he said, "Eddie, as long as you go into the classroom and show students you know what you're talking about and you can teach them how to solve the problems in ways they can understand and ideally keep them engaged, they won't care about your educational background."
He was right.
Fancy titles and big-name schools and degrees didn't automatically translate into being a good teacher. Whether they were told not to return or if they chose on their own not to return is something I don't know, but three of the other trainees didn't return the next day for training. I went on to work for the Princeton Review for 10 years as a side-gig to my tutoring business and achieved some solid accolades there.
Results Speak for Themselves
Regardless of whether it was my own private students, the students in my Princeton Review classes, or the students I taught while I was on staff at Harvard, students really liked what I was doing with them and how much I helped them.
I had become someone capable of helping students achieve great things in organic chemistry, and my desire to keep doing so has not diminished.
We did it Eddie!!! Again, thank you so much for all of your help this past semester! I couldn’t have done it without you! You and this class have helped me to make the decision to switch out of biology and major in chemistry. Thanks man!
I have loved having you as a TF. In the future, I hope I can always count on you as a mentor and would love it if I can keep coming to you for advice.
Harvard University Student
I'm hoping the message is clear that crushing organic chemistry has nothing to do with being some kind of genius.
It does, however, require a willingness to work SENSIBLY and to not give up when the going gets tough.
If you think simply teaming up with me is a magic wand that means you now don't have to work while A's on your exams rain down upon you, then you still need some help with your thinking and we are probably not a good match for each other.
Working with me is not a way to circumvent the challenge and rigor of taking the course. You still need to do your part, and it will require serious commitment and effort! But working with me will make everything happen easier, smoother and faster.
You will still need GRIT to get through this experience in a way where you derive true benefit. I hope our time together helps you further develop grit and say no to quit. As a guy who has been around for over 50 years, I 100% believe that grit has more to do with fueling our ability to accomplish things we can authentically be proud of than does raw talent and potential.
In my book, a meaningful experience to be gleaned from an organic chemistry course is the opportunity to practice and apply grit. I know in the long run it doesn't matter if you understand the difference between an enantiomer and a diastereomer; what will matter is if you learn how to handle a challenging class like organic chemistry by developing skills and tenaciousness that will transfer to future endeavors.
I'm not going to lie . . . a student might still get A's and not know anything about organic chemistry. To my horror, I see this happen all the time (DON'T get me started on the state of today's educational system). But then when it comes time to prepare for the MCAT or the DAT, that student will discover they don't know shit. They will need to desperately "relearn" organic chemistry.
What pisses me off even more than the student getting the undeserved A is the reality that the student is no better off as a person than they were at the beginning of the course. They didn't use the class to help them evolve into a better version of themselves. Sure, they checked off a box on their list of prerequisites, but they didn't learn valuable skills for helping themselves in future courses and in life.
They spent one or two semesters in a course that provides a venue for learning important life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, diagnosis, and GRIT, yet they came away from the experience no better off as a person than the day they showed up for the first lecture.
There was no personal growth.
Grit is a key quality of the scrappy underdog who rises up and succeeds beyond what they originally thought was possible. Gritty people understand that you build character and appreciation for accomplishments when you've learned what it feels like to fall down or fall short and then use that experience as motivation to be better next time.
I think most people know the difference between an honestly hard-earned accomplishment versus a participation trophy. In my opinion, schools do a disservice to students in the long-run when they pass out inflated, unearned grades that don't truly reflect the student command of the topic because it creates an illusion that it's okay to be "just good enough" and then other external forces will ensure you are taken care of.
For me to get where I am today where I've helped countless students from dozens of schools get top grades in the class and have groomed several students who went on to become organic chemistry teaching assistants . . . that took grit.
When I was able to get hired at Harvard and teach to students who were much better students than I ever was, that was a testament to my track record of years of experience and success with students. Again, I couldn't have gotten there without grit and actually becoming accomplished at my craft.
When The Princeton Review recognized me as a top teacher in the Eastern region, that was another reminder to me of what can happen with grittiness.
Yes, it's true that I needed to have skills in communicating the ideas to students for any of this to happen, but the first thing I needed to do was figure out the actual chemistry and WHY things happen the way they do. THAT's the part I point to and say, "if I could do that, then you DEFINITELY can do that."
So let's get you heading towards organic chemistry domination and build GRIT along the way! If you think you want to team up, please read this page before contacting me.
"A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others."