Letter: Analyzing a scientific question

As a science major at Yale, albeit one who has returned to school with 20-plus years of life experience, I didn’t find Lindsay Gellman’s article surprising (“Many science majors don’t last four years,” Jan. 26).

I don’t mind the rigor and hard work associated with mastering complex subjects like biology, chemistry and physics. However, most introductory and even intermediate-level science classes at Yale are large lectures taught by professors of varying degrees of pedagogical skill and interest. Most are brilliant scientists, but many are less talented as teachers or would rather be in their labs than in front of a blackboard.

As noted in the News’ editorial last week, MIT and a host of other universities have recently revised their science curricula and teaching methods with much success. I guess here at Yale, we’ve had 300 years to get stuck in our ways. If Yale wants to improve science education, it needs to value the teaching of it more highly and invest in innovative, evidence-based approaches for teaching difficult subjects, even if it would require significant changes on Science Hill. Otherwise, despite the rationalizations coming from some members of the faculty and administration, students will continue to vote with their feet.

Gregg Gonsalves

Jan. 26

The writer is an Eli Whitney student in Berkeley College.


  • !!

    Yes! This would also be an excellent way to get non-science majors interested in investing the necessary time and effort it takes to do well in an introductory science course rather than a less rigorous but better taught gut course.

  • Agreed!

    This could expand to ANY major at Yale. It’s not necessarily a benefit to have EVERY Yale professor teach a course, because many are brilliant researchers yet not engaging professors.

  • Once again

    Yale is a R E S E A R C H U N I V E R S I T Y. Its faculty are researchers who teach a bit on the side. That’s what the place is and how it works.

    If you want to go to a teaching college, transfer. There are a lot of them.

    Just don’t complain that things at Yale aren’t the way they are at Amherst College. They are not supposed to be.

  • @3

    You, sir, are blinded by your love of the status quo. As a once ardent science major at Yale, my complete and utter disillusionment with Yale’s approach to the sciences has led me to abandon literally a decades worth of pursuit of advanced learning in the sciences.

    Yale is a research institution… So in your eyes, this relieves them of hiring professors with the slightest interest in teaching students? It excuses the hiring of people so utterly contemptuous of the concept of teaching that their own craft of research would not persist were its existence dependent upon their half-assed attempts to teach? I imagine, somehow, that you might be one of them.

    Yale is great and has persisted through the years because it is a community of scholars which produces great men. Granted some come here marked for greatness by family connections, but many are set upon that path by their interactions here.

    Yale has a responsibility, as an institution of learning, to actually provide an environment conducive to that. If Yale’s sole concern were research that it would be a mere research corporation, hardly worthy of non-profit status and the tuition money of thousands of students admitted under the false pretenses of receiving a meaningful education. I (and, I imagine, most students here) can read a textbook on my own. I do not need to come to Yale to have a professor tell me to do so. A Harvard graduate’s command to read a chapter unsurprisingly makes it no easier to comprehend, no more useful in the real world. If Yale, as you say, has no responsibility to its students, because it is a “research” institution, then it aught to stop pretending to be a place of education and admit that it exists solely to chase grant money and earn patent royalties from its research… which would make it a twisted, parasitic for-profit corporation.

    You make me sick, sir.

  • “Sir”

    And you make me sick, you whining little brat.

    There is a world of difference between the constant entertainment and hand-holding you demand, and competent instruction in the sciences. I learned from the same people you hold in contempt. I understood their role and limitations, and instead of blaming them for the fact that the material was hard, just did what *I* needed to do in order to do.

    You might try the same.

  • @5

    It is obvious from your response that you are, indeed, a professor or a graduate student. It is also obvious that you are angry. Again, great – it’s about time science professors discovered just how disliked they are.

    I have never understood how people like yourself can go through a system, see its flaws, and then perpetuate it because you did it and, by God, so should everyone else.

    I did not come to Yale to waste my time in lectures if the expectation is – and your response suggests that it is- that I will simply have to teach myself later. You’re so right that I can do it myself. In fact, that’s what I’ve done for years now. But if that’s the case then we sure as hell don’t need disinterested lecturers like yourself around. Really. If you just want to do research, there’s plenty of private sector jobs in corporate America. Of course you wouldn’t do that because you’d loose the cushy benefits and near free graduate student labor. In essence you are a parasite hiding behind the title of educator.

  • Yale Engineer

    In defense of our fine educators, despite the immense hatred placed against them, they do indeed teach and try hard to teach. Not necessarily well but they put in the time to do so.

    Now consider our “sister” institutions. Harvard students are lucky to even see most of their professors. The entire Stanford Biosciences are not required to teach undergraduates and have no intention to. MIT does a good job but consider all of those Broad and Whitehead professors who are separated from their teaching duties.

    “Sir” is incorrect to not expect anything at all from a research institution. However, the fact remains, that we do go to a research institution and we should be willing to acknowledge that fact.

  • ouch

    As a member of the Yale faculty, one who puts a lot of work into undergraduate teaching and gets very good evaluations, I can only say these comments are dismaying.

    All your anger… teaching is thankless, at Yale or anywhere else. If the material is difficult, many students quickly blame the professor. Many students today expect a level of service I never dreamed of as a college student.

    I am sure your contempt and rage are quite obvious to your professors, and has a lot to do with the way they treat you.