“STEM at Yale” is many things. A Facebook group, but more. A humor group, sort of. “Fun, but not funny,” they’d say. Whether they’re mocking STEM majors or everyone else is frankly up in the air. The brainchild of mad scientist Michael Herbert ’16 (hint: he’s a Political Science major), “STEM at Yale” claims it just wants to provide a support network for all the frazzled science, technology, engineering and math majors out there. They’ve even got a budget for potions. Here, Herbert, Christopher Moates ‘16, Will Davenport ‘15 and Nikita Dutta ‘16 attempt to explain this new enigma of a student group, along with the fact that political science is, indeed, a science.
How did you explain yourself to the UOC?
CM: We just told them what we were. We told them we’re a support group for STEM majors at Yale.
MH: They were very receptive. We applied for funding and received all $300.
And what are you doing with the money?
MH: Well, you saw a little bit of that tonight. We had a study break, and the theme of our study breaks — each one is food, of course, but with a scientific twist. So tonight we had an electricity ball, that people were able to touch.
WD: I also touched it.
CM: Great experience.
WD: The overarching theme is just knowledge in general.
What’s the next study break?
MH: We have three different options. One is a telescope that people could look through. Another is, we are trying to do a chemistry tutorial with Dr. G, the chem professor, because in our funding package $30 were earmarked for potions. We’re uncertain what to do with that because potions aren’t real, and we figured chemistry was the closest we could get. We figured, with St. Patrick’s Day coming up, maybe we could make a “luck potion.” I didn’t take Dr. G, I’m not in chemistry, I’m in physics. But in the emails we exchanged, he seemed a little confused.
WD: I actually have a very personal relationship with Dr. G because I offended him many times in class, so we got to know each other really well. So I could bridge the gap, if you need me to.
MH: Might work the other way. Anyways, then our last experiment, the grand finale, we’re going to have a vinegar and baking soda volcano on Old Campus. We’re waiting for the weather to clear up. Nobody will be harmed. It’s not a real volcano. Although volcanoes are fascinating. Recently we had a group member who posted a video of a volcano on the Facebook group.
CM: Are you in the Facebook group?
MH: Well, what’s your major?
MH: Ah, sorry, can’t join. We’re very strict, if you are our definition of a STEM major, you’re allowed in. If you’re not, you’re not allowed in. There are some people who disagree with our definition of a STEM major.
So what’s your definition?
MH: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics
Political science, too?
CM: Political SCIENCE.
MH: Words are words, Yuvie.
CM: Computers and the Arts is ART.
MH: Science Fiction is SCIENCE.
WD: Just fiction? Not science.
MH: Ethics, Politics and Economics? NOT science.
ND: Political Science research is actually funded by the National Science Foundation.
So what’s the best science gut you guys have taken?
MH: I’m in ROTC, so I have to take real physics.
CM: I don’t think there’s any gut. STEM, you know, it’s very hard. One of the funnest classes I’ve taken at Yale, just all around great, is “Movie Physics.”
WD: It’s actually an escalated version of physics. You have to grasp physics and you have to grasp movies!
MH: Yuvie, let’s switch it up here and we’re going to interview you. What is your favorite movie? I’m trying to find the physics in it.
WKND: Let’s say “Forrest Gump.”
MH: Running. Energy. That’s his velocity — you could calculate how long it took him to run across the country.
WD: Vector is his direction.
So why are you guys just a Facebook group?
MH: It’s a community of individuals.
CM: I like to think of it as a family.
WD: It’s a nation-state.
MH: We were taking a group photo and someone said, “That looks like the most awkward family photo I’ve ever seen.” We said, “Yes. Family.”
CM: A family of biology, but not a biological family.
So you guys are discriminatory if you only let in STEM majors, right?
MH: Let me ask you this. Is it discriminatory for airlines to not hire blind pilots?
Are you STEM supremacists?
MH: No, because we don’t put down other majors.
CM: We don’t think that our major is superior, but we recognize that STEM majors are very difficult.
MH: The challenges are unique.
What are the challenges?
MH: If you’re taking a history class and you have to write a paper, you can talk to your TF, you can submit a rough draft and your final product can change with the help of someone who’s going to be grading it. On a STEM test, you get the test and you start rumbling, and that’s it. You know it or you don’t. There’s an element of risk and terror.
CM: And a lot of stress, which is why it’s necessary to have a support group.
WD: I feel like we get locked into black-and-white on our tests, whereas on papers you can use imagination.
The flipside is that you’re all employable.
WD: I know some non-STEM majors who’ve gotten jobs.
NK: You can form a non-STEM-at-Yale group to discuss your non-STEM challenges.
How do you identify a STEM major? Walking down the street, what are the telltale signs?
CM: You walked in here today and saw Michael and me wearing lab coats. And I’m not saying everyone who is a STEM major wears a lab coat, but that is a pretty easy way to tell.
WD: Or if someone’s really tired, as if they just came from a four-mile walk directly uphill — probably a STEM major.
What about the goggle eyes?
MH: I think the goggles thing is more of a STEM straw man, because usually the goggles come off when you leave the lab. That’s been my experience.
WD: The gloves also come off, although I leave them on some times. It’s a hostile environment, the real world.
Assuming this is a humor group, what’s it like to break into the humor scene at Yale?
WD: I think specifically for science it’s a new frontier.
MH: I don’t think of us in the humor context.
CM: We’re fun. We’re not really funny but we’re making it fun. Though one humor aspect would be our STEM puns.
So what are your best STEM puns?
MH: EnthusiaSTEM. Or, my personal favorite: c-STEM-an’t. Take can’t and add STEM. That’s the most adSTEMturous STEM pun I’ve ever seen. Look at Bill Nye, Mythbusters — they all tell some jokes. I’m sure astronauts tell jokes in the space station from time to time.
WD: If you tell a joke in space, does anyone hear it?
MH: We also have Throwback Thursdays on the Facebook group, where people post pictures from their STEM youth.
Are there any intra-group hostilities, seeing as some of you might have easier majors than others? Like political science…?
MH: I once described organic chemistry as the mother of all STEM. And I got a lot of flak for that, because I think there is a demand for an inclusive community within STEM at Yale. And eventually I had to walk that comment back.
WD: There’s a big bubble that is STEM at Yale. And once you get in, it’s warm and fuzzy. It’s what the inside of a bubble would feel like, soapy, very pleasant. Everybody is so excited to be inside a real bubble—there’s no room for hostility!
MH: You can’t have a knife in a bubble.
Honestly, I’m still so confused.
CM: Confusion is the problem. STEM at Yale is the solution.
WD: So we’re trying to see through the confusion to see us, and so you’re seeing the confusion in front of us.
Who’s the joke on?
MH: I think a better word than joke is, who’s having fun? And I would say the members — the members are having fun.