Blakeslee: Don’t diss Yale sciences

I did not choose Yale for its residential colleges, vibrant student body, or myriad extracurriculars. I chose Yale for its engineering program.

By 10th grade, I was decided on becoming an electrical engineer, on spending my time in lab, on getting a technical education. At a high school info session, I met an admissions officer who had just graduated as a mechanical engineering major from Yale. His stories piqued my interest and I applied.

My first introduction to the campus was in early April on an engineering tour. The guide spoke of research opportunities starting freshman year, support for independent projects, small class sizes, close relationships with faculty and an enthusiastic community of engineers — Yale has a personal commitment to its students. The general campus tour later that day was a mob scene, and I left the group before we even hit the statue of Woolsey — I already knew this was where I wanted to spend the next four years.

Almost two years later, Yale has delivered everything that it promised.

Intro classes are tailored to every student’s needs. The various levels allow us to challenge ourselves to a reasonable degree. The guidance provided by Directors of Undergraduate Studies is extremely thoughtful — whenever I have spoken with a professor or DUS, they have always seriously cared about helping me choose classes to meet my needs.

The professors in these classes follow through with a similar level of commitment. Find me another school where you can approach the professor of a 100-person lecture on the day of a midterm (as I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I have done) and say, “I’m so sorry. I need a little clarification about this particular topic,” and have them offer you an appointment with them that afternoon to review the concept before the exam.

Perspectives on Science and Engineering has been described in a recent op-ed column as being “so legendarily boring that it could drive even the most ardent aspiring physicist into the arms of the English department.” The only place that I’ve seen it drive a physicist is to research at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s highest-energy particle collider. For some, funding came through PSE grants, and for others, different Yale fellowships. Professors in the physics department recently provided seven of us with the opportunity to work for them at CERN in Switzerland this past summer, generously giving us their mentorship and support. Find me another school whose faculty will give a freshman the opportunity to work on-site at CERN, give her the responsibility of writing code to change how data is processed, trust her to contribute to two publications, and allow her to take shifts monitoring data quality. Find me a better way for a student to grow immeasurably as a developing scientist and engineer.

A low student-to-faculty ratio is another powerful aspect of Yale’s science and engineering programs. The third course in the electrical engineering intro sequence this past semester had eight students and an extremely committed professor and teaching fellow. I made appointments to meet with them often, seeking help on a problem set or asking them to watch me solve a few problems and correct me where I was going wrong. Show me that in a 200-person intro lecture — because at a technical university, that’s how large the course would have been.

Yale has incredible humanities and social science courses: I loved The Art of Reading a Poem with Harold Bloom and Modern Irish Drama with Murray Biggs. But great humanities and great science are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, science and engineering are based on creative, analytical thinking, no different than the arts, political strategy or literary analysis.

I am excited to help the admissions office with the upcoming Yale Science and Engineering Weekend because I want other students interested in my field to see that, contrary to popular belief, Yale can be a perfect fit for them.

Yale is a school where the science and engineering departments are extremely committed to undergraduates. It encourages undergraduates to engage in research, helps them succeed, and expands their experience with a phenomenal complement of rich and varied other courses. Enough pessimism: it’s time to get the word out about this impressive commitment.

Brigid Blakeslee is a sophomore in Saybrook College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Nobody’s dissing the sciences. It the DISSproportion in funding and emphasis between the Liberal Arts and Sciences that concerns me, not only at Yale but nationally. See [Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation.][1]

    [1]: http://gradgrindfoundation.blogspot.com

  • ldffly

    Please convince the administration to take engineering more seriously. Now there’s a great task. It’s been a problem for decades. I hold philosophy diplomas, by the way, but I’m a believer in Yale providing more emphasis to the engineering programs.

  • ds747

    I feel like the sciences at Yale are definitely given a worse reputation than they merit, but this is just because many of the humanities departments are just SO GOOD that the science/engineering departments pale in comparison, despite being decent. I still think that the general culture of the university is fairly anti-science… Everyone’s so concerned with artsy humanities things that I often get the feeling students believe a scientific education is the antithesis to a Yale education. It just doesn’t have the same level of creativity that everyone seems to value. Hopefully the admissions office’s recruitment strategies will bring forth more high-quality engineering students to reverse this trend and culture.

  • science11

    Hear! Hear!

  • The Anti-Yale

    “the general culture of the university is fairly anti-science”

    Really?

    So Harvey Cushing, the father of modern neurosurgery and a Yale professor would not qualify as a scientist in your book?

    And the experiemnts conducted on Yale Psyyhiatric Institute and CMHC patients by Yale faculty in the 1970′s which led to the invention of psychotropic anti-depressnt drugs, would not count as scinece?

    And Yale professor of Engineering, Henry Pfisterer who had a small engineering commission called the Empire State Building, would not count as science?

    And the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity also does not count as science?

  • Yale12

    The Anti-Yale, who are you to speak about the culture of the university?!? You did not get an undergraduate degree here! You have not been here for twenty years! You DO NOT KNOW about the culture of Yale University in 2011!

    The fact that there are some famous scientists and scientific institutes here does not speak to the CULTURE of the university – and NEITHER CAN YOU.

  • ds747

    The Anti-Yale: Oh, sorry, you’re totally right. The fact that there are science professors and institutions at Yale completely discounts the fact that nobody cares about science here. How could I have overlooked this.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Granted

    This is true.

    I am passe.

    But —-even to an outsider, the West Campus seems like an enormously DISSproprotionate expenditure of funds, energy, planning, and time.

    It’s as if Yale adminsitrators have decided this is where the FUTURE resides—in the QUANTIFIABLE, UTILITARIAN, UNIVERSE.

  • mad18

    I agree 100%! I chose Yale as a prospective science major for all the reasons you listed, and because I didn’t want to only take great science courses. I didn’t want to graduate with only half my brain developed.

    However, I do think the one thing we’re missing is programs to encourage more student innovation — not just working in a professor’s lab, but actively using the tools that science provides to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. These are typical at schools like MIT but conspicuously lacking from our campus.

  • science11

    @The Anti-Yale: It’s rather ironic that you’re so concerned with quantifying the resources directed to the sciences while criticizing the quantifiable universe. But since you’re interested in numbers, a cursory count of faculty reveals that there are 38, 42, and 33 faculty respectively in the biology, chemistry, and physics departments. English and history, on the other hand, have 86 and 104 faculty respectively. Of course, different departments have different requirements, and there are probably more non-tenure-track faculty in english and history, but the numbers suggest that the science departments are comparatively small, and expanding them seems pretty reasonable. Expanding in the sciences is considerably more difficult than expanding in the humanities because new professors require modern lab spaces in addition to office space–hence, the requirement for West Campus.

  • The Anti-Yale

    It is the ENORMITY of the West Campus project, not its quantifiability which concerns me. Aesthetics can’t be quantified.

    This dichotomy is C.P.Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ in conflict.

  • The Anti-Yale

    PS
    Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t think so. From Frankenfood to a pill-popping culture, we have surrendered Nature to the scientists, whose domain increases daily—even unbalancing Academia.