Administrators reconsider lab credit

Science students angry about their half-credit lab courses will soon have their voices heard.

The Yale College Council will release a report this spring that will advise the University how to change the way it awards science laboratory credits, YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 said in an interview this week. The YCC will survey the student body before submitting a report this spring that will contain alternatives to Yale’s current lab credit system, Gordon said. He said the University could pursue a variety of options, such as reducing the frequency that labs meet, reducing the workload in labs or increasing credits awarded. While most administrators, professors and students interviewed agreed that the system should be changed, they had different ideas for how the structural shift could be accomplished.

“We are looking into different flexible ways to change it,” Gordon said.

Yale is the only Ivy League school with undergraduate labs that are both unattached to a course and not worth more than a half credit. The YCC researched other Ivy League lab course systems and found many ideas for changing Yale’s approach to lab courses, Gordon said.

The current lab credit system was conceived with the idea that labs only complement material covered in lectures and thus do not merit a full credit, said Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon GRD ’78, who is also vice chair of the Course of Study Committee, which makes final decisions about the credit awarded to courses. But, Gordon added, the system is not perfect.

“It’s an issue we’re gathering information about,” he said. “We’re going to go into this with an open mind.”

All nine students interviewed said many lab courses they have taken have similar work loads to full-credit lecture or seminar courses.

“A lot of labs deserve to be the equivalent of a one-credit class,” Spencer Katz ’13 said. Katz is a staff illustrator for the News.

But Joseph Gordon said assigning credits based on course load is a “slippery slope.”

The amount of time students spend on coursework varies by student and by course, he said. Many courses, especially in the art and architecture departments, require a larger time commitment than standard lecture courses but still receive only one credit.

Robert Wyman, a member of the Science Council and a biology professor, said it is hard for professors to know how much work their classes require compared to other classes with similar structures.

“I guess what would help is if the University made more information available both on workload and on grading,” he said. “Now each professor is out there in his own boat in the fog and doesn’t know what anyone else is doing.”

Dean of Undergraduate Science Education William Segraves said many science departments have already lowered the course load of some laboratory courses or at least discussed the issue of course credits.

Students have told Segraves that they would rather the administration alter the work load of their lab courses than change the number of credits awarded, Segraves said.

The Science Council, which oversees undergraduate science courses, is concerned that the workload in lab courses is deterring students from majoring in the sciences, so it is considering assigning credits to lab courses on a case-by-case basis, said John Harris, chair of the Science Council and physics professor.

But science majors said making labs worth a full credit might limit the number of courses they could take.

Scarlett Lee ’12, a biology major, said she would have had to drop a course first semester freshman year if she had an extra half credit in her schedule.

“It would have been 5.5 credits, which would be a lot and I don’t know if my dean would have let me do that,” she said.

Jeff Gordon’s platform for YCC president included advocating for certificates of proficiency in foreign language as well as changing lab classes from a half credit to a full credit,


  • Josh

    Science professors at Yale are stubborn and slow to change. I don’t see them reducing the courseload to make the 0.5 credits fair. While lab reports are necessary, I don’t see why labs need quizzes (sometimes every week), exams, and finals–it’s simply overwhelming at times.

  • deathcomesripping

    I agree with Josh. The amount of credit a lab class confers is really not a big deal because very few people who take lab classes actually need them to fulfill credit counts (science majors will have tons of science credits for their major and credits in general for promotion / graduation, non-science majors who take labs for science credit are ignorant… there are much easier ways to get that Sc :D); changing from 0.5 to 1 credit, if anything, might warrant existing labs to increase the workload to justify it… something against the motive of most people who argue for this anyways. The best way to make labs less stressful and more appealing is to keep the 0.5 credit designation, but work with faculty to ensure that the work isn’t insane.

    tl;dr 0.5 to 1.0 credit is bad idea, keep 0.5 creds and lessen workload plzthx

  • penny_lane

    I spent my time at Yale focusing on humanities and social sciences, so I never took a lab course, but…

    Perhaps labs should be included as part of the course as a whole? Why is there any reason for them to be optional? Even non-majors should accrue SOME lab time…I know I wish I had.

  • Josh

    Penny_lane, that sounds good in theory but I think most people will avoid labs…..way too time consuming and a lot of work. In the end, people want to have the most manageable workload while maximizing their learning. I think labs would be the first thing people cut off their shopping list.

  • prion

    Isn’t the point that we’re here for the kind of learning that comes from reading books and listening to professors, not from doing stuff with our hands?