Memorable speeches dealt with nanotechnology, atomic clocks, triple helix DNA and the acoustics of concert halls. Usually the lecturers were presenting their own current research, so they were highly animated and willing to provide more information to the curious.
Sounds good, right? Well, that describes my experience as a student in the freshman Perspectives on Science program.
Every Friday afternoon at 1:30 the 45 “PSers” would meet in Bass Hall to chat and snack on cookies before class. The biweekly lectures — which alternated with discussion sections led by professors — sampled topics from the full spectrum of the sciences, from geology to applied physics to cognitive science.
Discussions were loosely organized and moderated by two professors and a randomly assigned two-person student team. I remember one potentially dull section on photosynthesis that was transformed into a raucous game show complete with “physical challenges.” I think the class’s meeting time, at the end of the school week, afforded us extra leniency to have fun.
Outside of discussion, there was little assigned work for P.S. At the end of the year, we each wrote a 15-page research paper on a topic of our choice, related either to a lecture or to our upcoming summer research project. Our grades were based on these written assignments, plus our discussion presentations and participation.
Freshmen apply to the program before they come to Yale, and the course must be taken for the full year in order to gain one group IV credit.
I’ve enjoyed a number of long-term advantages from being in P.S. The program has annual funding for summer research at Yale, so it encourages students to find a lab in which to work on Science Hill or at the Med School.
The summer after freshman year, I stayed in New Haven with several other PSers, working for a stipend on my own 10-week research project in a biology lab. In the fall, some students presented their research at a symposium for the previous year’s and the new class of PSers. It was another great opportunity to experience science as it’s done in the real world.
The lasting connections I made in P.S. have been another satisfying part of the program. I recently interviewed one of the professors from my discussion section for an article for the Yale Scientific Magazine, and this spring I was interviewed by another P.S. professor when I applied for a fellowship. Many of my good friends are former PSers, and a bunch of us are staying at Yale again this summer to work in labs.
P.S. was a fantastic course, unique in its format and in its scope, reaching far beyond the classroom to prepare us to be scientists. I only wish there were a Perspectives on Science course for upperclassmen!
Margaret Ebert is a Trumbull junior who was a PSer.