Beizer: A major problem

I’m just a pre-med girl, living in a lonely world, attempting to fulfill pre-med requirements while still taking as many non-science classes as possible. Sure, I love science — but I also love to read: everything from Aristophanes to Rowling. Oh, and I really, really like welding pieces of steel together. I was in an cappella group my freshman year, but now I do sketch comedy. And I think global warming is kind of a big deal, but I’m not a STEP coordinator or anything like that. I digress.

I am a molecular, cellular, and developmental biology major, and I get a pleasant tingle in my stomach when someone starts talking about the mechanism by which bacillus anthracis invades a host cell. A fun, almost as pleasant fact about MCDB is that the major looks uncannily like the pre-med requirements, which allows me to maximize the number of non-science classes I can take while still fulfilling my pre-med requirements. But there’s a downside. I am perennially cut from classes on the basis of my major. The burn of this impersonal rejection stings so much more than would a rejection on the basis of qualifications or skill. To those classes I remain outside, my nose desperately pressed to the glass, steaming up the window with my biology breath.

This semester, heartache arrived in the form of auditions for a theater studies class. After callbacks, I felt good. Not only had I demonstrated my ability to maintain a straight face while telling a horrifyingly detailed story about the menstrual cycle, but the callback process had indicated that members of the class were to be chosen on the basis of merit, not major. Seven agonizing hours later, I received my response: the few spots in his class would be given only to upperclassmen theater studies majors. The professor’s explanation for my rejection could have been a kind lie, meant to spare me from the cold hard truth of my shortcomings as an actor. But I am no child. I take his words at face value, which means that I was rejected from the class based on my major alone.

I understand the system. To the overwhelmed shopper, having a major can ensure admittance, especially if you are a junior or senior. Alternatively, professors who must kick hordes of students out of their oversubscribed classes often find that the major system makes the process simpler. The fault is often not with the professor but with the process itself — virtually all departments require that upperclassmen majors receive priority in their classes. The major system provides a quick, thoughtless and ultimately unsatisfying solution to the problem of student demand, far greater than the number of course seats in supply.

Abolishing majors as a graduation requirement is not the solution, because majors are not entirely without merit. Majors can validate claims of experience in certain fields quickly and easily. The world is more quick to judge than a professor trying to figure out how to sift through 150 applications to find the 12 most deserving students. A one-word method of self-identification is a temporary defense against immediate dismissal from the world and its professional gateways.

But the infrastructure of Yale graduation requirements should be slightly easier to change than professional expectations. Professors cannot predict how many students will shop their classes. But the fact remains that far too many of them are heavily oversubscribed. How can we plan to expand the number of undergraduate students by adding two new colleges without also increasing the number of classes offered? Offering more classes will give students more of a chance to take diverse range of classes not necessarily in their major, and reduce the need for a quick and dirty way of choosing how to admit students into seminars. Although oversubscription will remain for some courses, with reduced overall demand, professors will be able to spend more time evaluating students individually. Pressure could also be reduced with less stringent major requirements for students whose schedules don’t permit academic exploration.

The major system is a major obstacle to what I came to Yale to do: to discover myself and broaden my character. Ironically, I have discovered that there is no singular “self” for me to discover, but, as with most Yalies, only flashes of diverse, occasionally-conflicting identities that I started to discover before Yale and will continue to do so afterwards. My diverse interests complement each other. Concepts learned in physics help me figure out the feasibility of a sculpture plan, but my ability to wield a vertical arc weld doesn’t hurt. Graphic design allows me to appreciate the intricate and harmonious design of a strand of DNA. And thanks to orgo lab, I can whip up a killer batch of pancakes.

So yes. I am a biology major. But I hope that simplistic description isn’t all that matters to you. I am not a Jack-of-all-trades, but I am not a Jack-of-one-trade; putting me or any Yalie neatly into a box just won’t work.

Nina Beizer is a junior in Berkeley College.

Comments

  • YaleMom

    Tell us more about these pancakes!!

  • faun

    Pancakes? Is that what kids are calling it today?

    Post-bacc Pre-med! In today’s economy, it’s worth it!

    I think you would only be able to put this issue into perspective if there were 70 Literature/Philosophy/Humanities majors trying to get into one of your required “pre-med” classes that only had room for 20 and you had to sit on the floor until the Professor finally made the cut.

  • Anonymouse

    Yeah… first of all, there is absolutely no comparison to the selectivity of humanities courses and pre-med courses. Also, I hardly see how in today’s economy, paying even more money so that during college you could dilly dally around in the humanities could be a better deal than being pre-med in the first place.

  • Anonymouse

    To clarify – humanities classes are so obviously more selective than pre-med classes. It’s just a fact.

  • faun

    I’ll gladly address both these points.

    1) The post-bacc pre-med comment was sarcastic but only halfway. You can waste your time in school until the job market recovers and spend more time practicing for the MCAT so that you can get into a better school. Or, maybe the author should have considered a different major. It is possible to be a “pre-med” and major in something not in the sciences. And it’s possible to focus on pre-med after graduation, especially if the humanities interests the author to such an extent.

    2) I was trying to offer a theoretical scenario which would help the author make sense of how “the other half” feels. And when I say, “the other half,” I mean the other three quarters. Obviously humanities classes are incredibly more selective than pre-med classes. You would have to go outside of Yale to find this sort of scenario, which makes me wonder if the author should have chosen Yale in the first place if she were so insistent on being pre-med from the outset. She would have at least saved herself from the disappointment of not getting into a humanities seminar.

  • River Tam

    Apparently the YDN is now Miss Beizer’s livejournal where she can complain about having to complete requirements for a major and not getting into upper-level seminars for other departments. Her solution – brilliant in its insight and simplicity – is to reduce her major requirements and for Yale to “offer more classes”.

    I presume of course, that she only wants to reduce the major requirements for HER major (or else she would face increased competition from other students who suddenly have more time to shop the same electives as her) and that she only wants Yale to “offer more classes” in the humanities – because science classes (despite her interest in becoming a doctor) do not seem to hold her interest and math classes are just too hard, goshdarnit.

    Let’s be clear: the underlying motivation for every science major to take humanities classes is the easy grade-boost it offers (particularly of interest to pre-meds). There is no equivalent to “Planets and the Stars” in the English department because there doesn’t need to be – the major itself is a walk in the park. If you show up, suck up a little (office hours ho!), and are not functionally illiterate, you can’t do worse than an A-.

    Speaking as someone with a foot in multiple camps, my effort and time-commitment (adjusted for # of courses taken) is split something 80%-20% between sciences and humanities and my GPA still ends up a good 0.3 higher (a full grade higher) in the humanities.

  • Rose

    River Tam’s reading of the article is shortsighted and incomplete. Someone has a chip on his/her pre-med shoulders… The point of the article is quite clear – the reason to choose a liberal arts college even though you are pre-med from the start is to get this balanced education and not an insanely high GPA – it’s interesting, the article said nothing about GPAs, but apparently that’s the point you seem to know all about Beizer’s feelings.

    A balanced education (not an inflated GPA) is why a pre-med chooses Yale. Yale is not following through in these expectations. Q.E.D.

    Next time, actually read the article and stop using the YDN comments page to vent your frustrations about your GPA, you pre-med.

  • River Tam

    @Rose

    I am not a pre-med, nor have I ever had such an inclination or interest. I typically faint at the sight of blood.

    But honestly, if Biezer resents having to take 9 whole classes (past prereqs) to complete the MCDB major, maybe she should have majored in something else. Anthropology is nice this time of year. Treating the opinion section of the YDN like your personal Xanga is the kind of stunt an English major would pull though. Decisions, decisions!

  • faun

    Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major! Change your major!

  • blah

    i thought this was actually a nice article that raises some important points. first, she seems to have majored in MCDB because she loves it, and i guess i missed the part where she complains about the number of required classes in the major. second, she’s annoyed that she doesn’t have access to courses in other departments that she would like to take, because she is interested in those too. it seems gratuitously cynical to assume she wants to take those advanced classes for an easy A (and for the record, i did much better in my science classes as a pre-med history major than the non-science classes, except for the intro ones like psych and micro–and i doubt i was alone). you’d think we could all agree it would be great if people could take any class they are seriously interested in at yale, if at all possible. she raises the legitimate point that increasing the college size may worsen the situation.

    but then we all know that “river tam” scours the YDN for opportunities to make snarky comments. it’s actually more annoying (to me, anyway) when windbags take over the comment board than when they write opinion pieces that are more easily ignored. but what can you expect from someone who names her online persona after a fictional child prodigy. who cares if you faint when you see blood? did you think this comment board is your own personal xanga? get a life.

  • River Tam

    > first, she seems to have majored in MCDB because she loves it, and i guess i missed the part where she complains about the number of required classes in the major.

    On the number of required classes: “Pressure could also be reduced with *less stringent major requirements* for students whose schedules don’t permit academic exploration.”

    On the reason for majoring in MCDB: “A fun, almost as pleasant fact about MCDB is that the major looks uncannily like the pre-med requirements, which *allows me to maximize the number of non-science classes I can take* while still fulfilling my pre-med requirements.”

    I know two types of pre-meds. Those who are majoring in MCDB because they actually like science. The other type are the ones who try to “maximize the number of non-science classes” they take.

    > second, she’s annoyed that she doesn’t have access to courses in other departments that she would like to take, because she is interested in those too. it seems gratuitously cynical to assume she wants to take those advanced classes for an easy A.

    Of course it does. My point was not that Miss Beizer was a grade-grubbing opportunist, but that the reason science majors are generally interested in crossing over to advanced humanities and arts seminars (and not the reverse — humanities majors typically labor to fulfill their Sc and QR requirements via Planets and the Stars and other classes “for non-science majors”) is because advanced humanities and arts classes are objectively (and I do mean *objectively*) easier.

    > but then we all know that “river tam” scours the YDN for opportunities to make snarky comments. it’s actually more annoying (to me, anyway) when windbags take over the comment board than when they write opinion pieces that are more easily ignored.

    This is getting increasingly “meta”. You have written that you are annoyed that I have written in the comment sections that *I* am annoyed about a piece that Miss Beizer has written about being annoyed. I am going to *not* be annoyed by your comment and thus break this cycle.

    > but what can you expect from someone who names her online persona after a fictional child prodigy.

    I doubt username reflects personality, but yours would make me believe otherwise.

  • Rose

    Maybe if River Tam spent less time writing on YDN comment boards with increasingly illegitimate claims based on unfounded logic, he/she could increase his/her science GPA by that extra .3 points.

    Also, take things out of context, much? that’s the first thing I thought we learned at Yale – there can be no hope in the search for truth if segments of a primary document are taken and twisted out of context in a way that supports the tenuous point you so desperately want to make.

    Honestly, just stop. You’re wrong, and you’re making a fool of yourself. Go study for your science classes or, I don’t know, pick up a hobby that doesn’t involve you attempting to prove something that just won’t be taken seriously by anyone with half a brain, under the safety net of anonymity. Or keep going, but I suggest that anyone and everyone ignore this person’s ridiculous comments from now on. Get a life.

  • Rose

    PS “I get a pleasant tingle in my stomach when someone starts talking about the mechanism by which bacillus anthracis invades a host cell.” She clearly loves Bio. Case closed.

  • okizake

    .