‘Life’ after ‘Porn’

In the first spring since the cancellation of the beloved science lecture commonly known as “Porn in the Morn,” non-science majors are flooding courses that promise the chance to look at fossils and contemplate black holes in exchange for a science credit.

Take, for example, “History of Life,” a science class capped at 120 that had 58 students last year and 27 in 2008. Suddenly, this year, some 300 students registered to shop the class, and more than 200 showed up to the first two lectures.

No caption.
No caption.

“The level of interest this year is totally unprecedented, and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused,” the professor, Derek Briggs, said in a Jan. 15 e-mail to shoppers.

But the disappearance of “Porn” (formally titled “Biology of Gender and Sexuality”) may not necessarily be to blame for crowding, professors said. While some science professors are enforcing strict enrollment caps on science courses for non-science majors, others are using the opportunity to encourage students to explore lesser-known options and more difficult science courses.

Meanwhile, the standards of rigor in science classes for non-majors are a topic of debate among administrators — and so is the decision to offer these classes at all, said William Segraves, associate dean for science education and the vice chair of the Science Council. Segraves — who participated in the Science Council’s review of “Biology of Gender and Sexuality,” which stripped the course of its science credit last spring — said Yale and its peer institutions struggle with the decision to offer courses for non-majors in any discipline.

“Not everyone agrees that it makes sense to offer such courses – and in many cases, I think a non-major would get a great deal out of taking the same introductory science course that majors would take,” Segraves said. “But I also think there are sound pedagogical reasons for creating some topically oriented courses that might be different from what we would envision as an introduction for majors.”

Ronald Breaker, the head professor for “An Issues Approach to Biology” this spring and next year’s chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, said the size of the classroom and number of teaching fellows available to staff a course motivate the decision to cap enrollment. Breaker does not cap his course, which introduces students to contemporary debates in biochemistry and is designed for those with no science background. But on the first day of class this year, Breaker found that his new students were not the novices he was expecting to teach.

“I actually asked on the first day of class how many students had Advanced Placement biology in high school,” Breaker said. “And half the hands went up.”

Though Breaker still allows more experienced students to take the course, other professors are less willing to satisfy students’ appetites for easy science courses — so-called “guts.” Richard Prum, who teaches “Ornithology” this semester, said students’ AP science credentials prove they are capable of taking harder science courses — but harder grading can discourage students from doing so, he said.

“At some point, students are going to have to buck up,” Prum said. “I recommend to students: Go out and get a C! Go do something different.”

But before Breaker offered courses like “An Issues Approach to Biology,” students shared class space with more serious science students to introductory courses like “Principles of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology,” the prerequisite for the MCDB major. Breaker said the class was comprised of seniors trying to fulfill the science requirement, pre-med students and prospective MCDB majors.

“Making sure that our future MDs and PhDs in life sciences had the right basis for the next upper level courses and balancing that with the students who had far less experience or maybe far less desire to have that solid foundation was a big challenge,” Breaker said. “That’s one of the reasons why we created [‘An Issues Approach to Biology’].”

Tom Sanchez ’12, a theater studies and political science double major, was not in search of a solid foundation in science this semester. Thursday afternoon found Sanchez still awaiting word of his acceptance into “History of Life, ” which he said he wanted to take so he could look at fossils. Sanchez said he likes to think he would take science courses were he not required to, but he doubts that he would really follow through. He also doubted the existence of the perfect gut science course.

“A gut class is one that has no work, no reading, no section,” Sanchez said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that class exists at Yale.”

Comments

  • Yale 11

    The course requirements are completely incoherent. Taking a few random science classes will not make me a more well-rounded liberal arts student.

  • Jeffrey Park

    Its a light and tumble journey
    From the Old Campus to Becton
    Just a fine and fancy ramble
    to EVST 305

    But you can take the Blue Line Bus
    If its raining or its cold
    And the instructors there will love it
    If you do.

    Someone told me
    Its all happening
    in EVST 305
    I do believe it
    I do believe its true

    EVST 305b, Topics in Environmental Science, is a seminar that currently is populated by non-science majors, and there are several spaces still available. If you are closed out of a capped intro-science course and want an alternative, send email to kathleen.prudic@yale.edu and ask about the course.

  • English major

    This is ridiculous. There are *plenty* of writing credits for non-English-majors–the entire sequence of English classes before 120, for example (112, 115, etc), and plenty of easy history classes that offer WR credits. Why is it such an issue for non-science majors to get the same array of classes?

  • A senior

    Oh Mr. Sanchez, how wrong you are.

    Yale offers a full selection of such courses where the vast majority of students do not know what the terms office hour and sucking up to professors mean. It’s absolutely, positively, fantastic.

  • @English major

    To answer your question, it’s mostly because most non-science majors demonstrate no interest and put no pressure on the administration for a broader array of classes. Kudos to you for wanting it though. There’s nothing preventing you, incidentally, from taking ANY of the introductory science courses that prospective majors have to also take. You guys just choose not to, which boggles my mind because most Yalies have a pretty solid science background and at least pretended to be interested in science in high school for the AP credits. Is it because you don’t want to trek up science hill? You’re afraid you’ll get lower than an A or A-? You’d rather pull an all nighter for writing a paper than have to stick around during exam week?

  • Science rules, but…

    “At some point, students are going to have to buck up,” Prum said. “I recommend to students: Go out and get a C! Go do something different.”

    Prum is obvioiusly not trying to get into law school.

  • @ Yale 11

    Um, have you heard of Brown?

    Go, be happy…you’re freeing up a seat in a capped course for those of us who WANT to know about quasars and sexual behavior in bonobos in ADDITION to history and literature and philosophy.

    They’re all bound up together, you know, and choosing to ignore one area of knowledge is like choosing to give up one of your senses, or a limb. You need them all to fully apprehend anything.

  • Humanities = grade inflation

    Simply put: students don’t want to take science classes because they don’t want that B- or that C. Keep up the harsh grading in science classes, maybe one day those people with 3.9 GPA will actually mean something.

  • BR 10

    To me, it’s always seemed like one of the main draws of courses for non-science majors is that they seem like fun. The regular science intro courses have a reputation for being no fun at all. Many people take unenjoyable intro courses so that they can get to the fun stuff later. But if you’re only planning on taking a couple science courses while you’re here, why not take the ones that you’ll enjoy in addition to learning something? I, for example, spent a semester taking Math 112, because I wanted to learn calculus. But the experience was so unpleasant (the course was dull and poorly taught), that for my other QR, I took Astro 120 and LOVED it. It’s not because I don’t want a challenge, or am afraid of ruining my GPA. It’s because I don’t want to take a class that’s not for my major if it’s going to make me want to shoot myself.

    The English department does a really good job of making intro courses (125 and the like) an experience that is both rigorous and enjoyable. Same with the psychology department, with Intro Psych. If the science departments made the same kind of effort with their intro courses, perhaps we could expect a spike in the numbers of humanities and social science majors who choose to take them.

  • @#9

    I do think science classes at the intro level could be more exciting. The real problem with this is that a lot of science professors don’t want to teach and truly don’t care about teaching. Their priority is their research – that’s where most of their salary is drawn from (grant money). I majored in MB&B and the vast majority of classes I took for my major were taught by professors who acted like the courses were a burden for them. This contrasted sharply with my experiences in non-science classes where teachers seemed far more invested in the learning process and interacting with students.

    Having said all of this, I still suspect that humanities majors avoid science classes because they’re not easy As. Even with more interesting courses, I’m not sure you’ll see a spike in enrollment amongst non-majors.

  • ’10

    Many students are shocked to find that the Yale name means much less than they were led to believe. They trusted that future employers and grad programs would understand that they could have just as easily gone to a different school and earned higher grades with less effort. They soon find, however, that this seems largely lost on everyone except alumni. For all but the top sliver of students, the realities of the outside world begin to distort their course choices. Grade inflation is an attempt to correct this system.

    Comments like “Go out and get a C!” can only be shouted from safely within the walls of tenure, so long as GPA cutoffs continue to exist.

  • Yale Science needs some improvements

    Honestly, if there were no premeds, the sciences would fall. Physics would fall first. Chemistry next, then Biology.

    Go out and get that C? While in the atmosphere of exploration and academia, I would agree with you, but high GPAs talk. Is that C going to get you into law school, medical school, or even graduate school? Will Goldman Sachs care about your exploration? Do they even care about your extracurricular activities?

    Yale science has absolutely ruined not only my GPA, but also my entire Yale experience. I went for those C’s…I tried to explore, but all I did was get burned. Grading is harsh and unforgiving. It leaves little to no room for development/learning curve. With intense competition from premedical students who need the top grades, learning is second, and the pursuit of higher grades is first.

    Science truly demands MORE than any other subject. We have labs that take double the time of a seminar yet merits a half credit while STILL giving us lab finals? Humanities professors (perhaps barring Shelly Kagan) rarely go below B/B- range, and quite frankly, neither should science. In fact, in science is exactly where those grades need to be higher.

    Intro science classes ARE horribly taught. Physics 150 is horribly taught. Organic Chemistry often has archaic professors that also teaching horribly. For a change, Orgo lab was amazing and the experience even for such a difficult subject was wonderful.

    If science professors put the effort into teaching their courses rather than in their research, the experience would be far more enjoyable. As students, we should demand this, after all, our tuition money funds their research.

  • @#12

    I hear ya, but there is no incentive for science professors to improve their teaching (short of pride). Our tuition money DOESN’T fund their research (they do get some of their salary from teaching, but it’s a small fraction). NIH and private foundation grants do. And the people awarding those grants could care less about whether they teach well or not, they only care about their data and how promising their proposed research is. Professors in the medical school, actually, do not get any compensation from Yale College for teaching undergrad classes. From graduate school onwards, teaching experiences are not valued and many older guys in academia look down on students who want to pursue teaching-heavy careers.

    Also, science departments are the ones claiming that lab work is only worth a half credit (the university just follows their lead). It’s totally bogus, but the profs don’t feel they’re sufficiently intellectually challenging. It’s too bad they haven’t sat in on Rocks for Jocks or something – they might reassess what’s intellectually challenging or not. As a science committee member, this has come up numerous times but to no avail.

  • Really????

    If tuition money did fund research, as “Yale Science needs some improvements” seems to believe, I am sure teaching would improve.

    As it happens, tuition does not fund research, grants do. And as long as the funding agencies demand results from a research program (and as long as universities demand research credentials to grant tenure), teaching will not be a high priority.

  • Wrong

    #12: Even paying full tuition, Yale College students are only paying a fraction of the costs of their education. It’s the research funding that pays for your teaching, not the other way around.

    There are, in fact, institutions where professors focus on teaching instead of research. They are called liberal arts colleges. You decided to come to Yale, a research university. Teaching is not the major focus of a professor’s job here or at any other research university. It cannot be, by definition.

    Yet you are angry that it is not a liberal arts college. You whine and complain and are rude to your professors because they are doing their job — not the job you want them to do, but they job they were hired to do.

  • a

    Perhaps the problem is that Yale sells it self wrong. Yale emphasizes that its professors are focused on its students and teaching, which they are not. Don’t blame the students, blame Yale for telling us its prfs. are great and focused on teaching.

  • YOU

    I didn’t think I had to worry about class overcrowding at Yale. All I want to learn.

  • @16

    I find that in humanities and social science classes, the professors ARE focused on teaching, as are those science professors who teach classes for non-majors.

    Perhaps something Yale should consider, as it attempts to attract more science-oriented undergrads, is putting pressure on those departments to get the professors to be less grudging about teaching.

  • Robert Tunney

    I think a lot of these comments are incorrect? I wonder if the people who are making them have taken very many science classes. Most of the science classes i’ve taken have been well taught, and most of the professors i’ve had are very helpful if you approach them for help. Some have been bad teachers or just disengaged… but i don’t think this is particularly characteristic of science education at yale. I think the standards that are expected in a science class are usually very clear… if you meet them, you get an A. In my experience, i’ve been a lot more uncertain about my grades in humanities classes, because the grading is a lot more subjective.

  • Jordan Z.

    Interesting article- the only thing with which i vehemently disagree is the statement that high school transcripts showing AP credits prove that a student is prepared for harder courses. See, it may be a surprise to those of you who come from more priveledged secondary education institutions, but my very public, very underfunded, and generally unattached with the college world of a high school in fact did offer classes with the AP distinction. And i took them. And i came out of say, AP Biology, knowing no more and having worked no harder than my freshman counterparts (who, indeed, used the same book and completed the same fill-in-the-blank vocabulary worksheets for homework that i completed as a senior in AP Bio). Yale students don’t all come from educational backgrounds that have given them basic scientific skills, and it has unfortunately been my experience that without these skills, there is no class here at Yale, carrying a science distinction, that does not encourage dissappointment, frustration, and self-deprecation.

  • Fake Gut

    I took History of Life as a senior English major and got a C-.

    That said, I really loved the class. Being able to see, examine, and even hold fossils that are hundreds of millions of yeras old does more to affirm the value of science than taking a thousand semesters of rote-memorization style intro science classes (MCDB 120?). Carte blanche access to the Peabody w/experts is also incredible.

    Same thing happened when I had the chance to actually look at Saturn through one of Yale’s telescopes.

    It’s a little dose of what astronauts know as the Overview Effect, or what Freud might call the oceanic feeling.

    If you want to increase the proliferation science and its methods, as they pertain to so-called humanities students (why isn’t a student just a student anymore?), then more classes that evoke this profound sense of our place in the universe are needed.

    Sure, I couldn’t write a science paper (leading to the C-), but at least I know that now. Future versions of the class should probably realize it’s mostly non-science people and incorporate some review into the process before grading.

    Yet it was worth getting a bad grade to be able to tell my Southern Baptist family that no, in fact the world is not 6,000 years old and I know this because I’ve held dinosaur bones!

    FACT.

  • Pingback: Cheap cigarettes online

  • Pingback: Saree

  • Pingback: MI AMIGA GOSANDO CON MI VERGA

  • Pingback: cash advance loans online no credit check

  • Pingback: auto insurance online purchase

  • Pingback: Салон эро массажа Киев

  • Pingback: rabaty

  • Pingback: seo company