Science majors find study abroad hard

To address students’ concerns that science majors have few opportunities to study abroad during the school year, Yale administrators are working on giving more options to those sick of Science Hill.

Officials said the addition of undergraduates to the joint program in astronomy between Yale and the Universidad de Chile is part of recent trend in academia to improve study abroad opportunities specifically meant for science majors. Only 13.4 percent of Yale students studying abroad were majoring in the physical sciences, engineering and health sciences, according to the most recently published statistics by the Yale Institute for International Education.

This trend is not just limited to Yale. On Oct. 13, a faculty panel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommended a development of exchange partnerships with universities overseas and more flexible curricular requirements to encourage MIT students to study abroad.

Some students majoring in the sciences said low rates of study abroad are partly due to the large number of courses that science and engineering majors must take for their major, compared to humanities and social science students.

Students working towards a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering, for example, must fulfill 18 course credits beyond the prerequisites for the major. By contrast, political science majors take eleven courses with no prerequisites. These major requirements are in addition to the distributional requirements mandated by Yale College.

Xinyuan Wu ’09, a biomedical engineering major who is planning on going to medical school, said she is not planning to study abroad during the academic year because junior year, the traditional time to study abroad, is an important time to be on campus for medical students. Medical school candidates use junior year to gather material for medical school applications, to take the Medical College Admission Test and to receive recommendations from professors. But she said she would like to study abroad the summer after her sophomore year.

But Karyn Jones, director of the study abroad program at the Yale International Education and Fellowship Programs office, said it is possible for science majors to find acceptable curricular offerings at universities overseas. Students’ options vary widely depending on their language capabilities and goals for time spent abroad, she said.

“There are some science majors who study abroad and want to take a break and do distributional requirements,” Jones said. “Others do field study through programs like the Organization for Tropical Studies, and others are going to want to take science courses at universities.”

While Jones said she realized that science and engineering majors must fulfill a relatively large number of requirements, she said there are some students — though not many — who are able to find the time and flexibility to travel to another country.

Michael Loewenberg, director of undergraduate studies of chemical engineering, said while the students in his department who go abroad are usually taking distributional rather than science courses, he does not feel that the major’s requirements are insurmountable.

“We have two students [majoring in chemical engineering] abroad this semester,” Loewenberg said. “I don’t think it does require a lot of planning ahead, since it’s usually just students who just happen to have gotten a head start [on fulfilling their course requirements].”

For some students like Wu, spending a year or semester abroad is out of the question. But for other students, their prospects for going abroad largely depends on the way they have shaped or are planning to shape their course loads during their time at Yale.

Biomedical engineering major Allison Polland ’07 spent the second semester of her junior year studying at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, where she was able to take classes at one of the most prominent engineering schools in Spain. She said her participation in a Syracuse University study abroad program allowed her to see how the study of engineering differed at Yale and in Spain, where she felt the focus was more on career-oriented education.

Although Polland said she had to take a relatively large course load of 5.5 credits for two semesters in a row and will spend her second semester of senior year taking the junior year requirements she missed, she is very happy about her decision to study abroad.

“I made friends I’m still in touch with who I’ll be able to visit anytime I go to Spain in next 20 years,” Polland said. “It is still a really meaningful and continuing experience.”

Comments