LETTER: Build a science culture by improving introductory courses

For all of its thorough discussion of admissions policies, rankings, facilities and competition among peer universities, Tuesday’s article (“Playing catch-up: Building a science culture,” Sept. 13) failed to consider the actual quality of teaching in Yale’s science departments. With some exceptions — Mark Johnson’s Chemistry 118 lecture and Stephen Stearns’ Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 122 course come to mind — introductory courses at Yale tend to be seen more as dreaded rites of passage than strong entries into science. Students’ first exposure to the sciences at Yale occurs not in the lab but in the classroom, and without engaging experiences for underclassmen Yale will continue to struggle in its efforts to develop a strong science culture. MIT in particular has put quite a bit of effort into improving their introductory courses, including the use of experimental instructional formats. Obviously, MIT will always have more of a scientific orientation than Yale. But a concerted effort to improve the academic experience of freshman and sophomore science students might do a lot more for Yale’s STEM programs in the long run than admissions gimmicks.

Aspen Reese

Sept. 13

The writer is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.

Comments

  • penny_lane

    Hear hear. I would have followed calculus past math 112 if the instruction hadn’t been so damned horrible.

  • Yalienz

    1) “Students’ first exposure to the sciences at Yale occurs not in the lab but in the classroom, and without engaging experiences for underclassmen Yale will continue to struggle in its efforts to develop a strong science culture.”

    Most lab experiences would most likely immediately turn off many Yale students from science.

    2) ” introductory courses at Yale tend to be seen more as dreaded rites of passage than strong entries into science.”

    Have you even talked to someone from MIT? Science is hard. IHTFP.

    • LtwLimulus90

      True, science is hard. But we also have awful teachers in introductory Math, Bio, and Chem classes (I can’t speak to those in other Math-y or Science departments). The quality of instruction, the attention to detail when grading, the amount of attention devoted to students is terribly low and absolutely embarrassing. Three of my good friends from high school, all-science majors and all students who loved Yale, chose MIT over Yale because they said the intro courses at MIT were at least interesting and a great support system existed there, while Yale’s were laughable and coma-inducing. I can’t believe quality of academic experience wasn’t included in the article and isn’t considered important enough by the administration to warrant at least some scrutiny or comment from those interviewed. Therein lies our problem, no one will admit that our intro science and math teachers, although probably brilliant, suck at teaching and don’t care about their undergraduate students.

      • yalengineer

        I have truly found paradise?

        The support system that you boast about is the multitude of students who see the Rites of Passage as a challenge and not as a deterrent. As a TA for students at Stanford, we put our undergrads through hell and talking with those students taking chemistry, biology, and physics, they all hate it. The difference, they just have more friends who are willing to deal with the challenges that is science.

        As for the professors, its pretty hard to teach a chemistry class when 75% of your students don’t want to be there and still want an A. They try and they certainly care. If you have professors who don’t want to teach you should go to Harvard.

  • River_Tam

    What I’m hearing from Yalies: “Math is hard, let’s do history!”

  • Skeptic

    A slightly different analysis: Science is not “hard”, it just takes a prepared and open mind. Nearly all humans are born with a “scientific” mind.. that is a natural curiosity about the world and how it works. Unfortunately, we do our best to beat this natural curiosity out of children. K-12 education and our general culture convinces many students that science is “special”, “hard”, “nerdy” etc. so that by college, there are two populations.. those (a vast majority) who have received this message and are both fearful and resistant to “science” and a few who did not quite “get the message” that science is hard and uncool. As Darwin taught us, you get what you select for, so if a college admits mostly the first type of student, no amount of “good teaching” etc. etc. will give you scientifically literate students. If you admit mostly the second category, no matter what you do to them, they will like science. The game is really over way before college (the twig-tree-incline story).

  • JustAnotherYalie

    Debate about this all you want, but I think everyone who has actually taken an introductory science class at Yale will agree with this letter.

    • Yalienz

      False. The introductory math, chemistry, and physics courses I’ve taken at Yale have been the three best classes I’ve taken.

      • JustAnotherYalie

        Which specific classes have you taken? While students tend to like the “advanced introductory classes”–freshman orgo, math 230, physics 260, etc.–the vast majority of students who take truly introductory classes like chem 114 and math 115 tend to be turned off, or at least uninspired. Either way, I’m glad you enjoyed your experiences so far and hopefully this means you’ve chosen to major in a science.

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