This semester, changes are afoot in the astronomy department.
In response to student feedback, the department made several changes that will go into effect this year, including changing the name of the Bachelor of Science degree from “Astronomy and Physics” to “Astrophysics.” The Bachelor of Arts degree will keep its name of “Astronomy.” The department has refocused the B.S. major on the core science skills necessary for a career in science, adding new courses like “Astrostatistics and Data Mining” (ASTR 356), which focuses on statistical analysis. Faculty have also made it a priority to do field work in observatories. Astronomy director of undergraduate studies Debra Fischer also reviewed all of the major’s courses, revising the curriculum to eliminate overlap between courses and ensure that the curriculum is in sequential order. According to faculty members interviewed, these changes are geared at better preparing students for careers in science.
“I think the redesigned curriculum prepares the students better for anything they want to do,” Fischer wrote in an email. “They will hit the ground running if they decide to go to grad school.”
Victoria Misenti, assistant to the astronomy DUS, said that the major’s former name, “Astronomy and Physics,” was sometimes mistakenly thought to be a double major. Other professors also said that the major’s new name is much stronger.
“[Students] didn’t feel that the name was clear enough for them to be able to successfully go into graduate programs or professional careers as astronomers,” Misenti said. “Astrophysics was much stronger — it meant something more to these graduate programs.”
While Fischer said she is not sure the name change is significant, astronomy professor Louise Edwards said she hopes it will prove important. Edwards added that she hopes the major’s new name will help employers recognize that Yale’s program develops strong analytical skills in its students.
Students are pleased with the changes, Misenti said, adding that while only the Class of 2017 and below need to meet the new set of requirements, most upperclassmen want to anyway. She also noted that the increasing number of majors suggests students are pleased with the changes.
Astronomy and physics major Hannah Alpert ’15, who participated in a focus group her sophomore year to discuss possible changes for the major, said she was happy to see that many of the concerns voiced by students in the group had been resolved with the recent changes. Many of her peers desired more intermediate classes — before the change, classes were split between lower level introductory classes and higher level classes, she said.
“I don’t think the changes are very drastic, but noticeable in a good way,” Alpert said.
Though she was a part of the focus group, Alpert said she is unaware of what all the changes entail. She added there will be a discussion for undergraduates on Nov. 14 about the changes. A new committee will also be formed to review the current curriculum.
Astrophysics major Adrian Gutierrez ’16 said he only became aware of the change when he was looking through the course catalogue earlier this year. Although he said the changes were not life-altering, he is happy the name will now properly reflect the major, as he had often been mistaken as a double major in the past. The name “Astrophysics” will not only be more accurate but also sound more impressive to others, he added.
Zachary Wilson ’18 said he hopes to be an astronaut one day and feels the Yale astrophysics program is the perfect preparation. He said the new requirements have a more mathematical focus, though the changes still allow enough flexibilty in math courses.
“The major was absolutely intense before, and it is still going to be just as challenging with the changes,” Wilson said.
Both Fischer and Edwards expressed enthusiasm about the changes, with Fischer noting that these kinds of changes could not happen without complete support from the whole department.
Astronomy professor Priyamvada Natarajan, who will take over for Fischer as DUS in the spring, also said she was very excited about the recent overhaul of the curriculum.
The Astrophysics major requires 12 courses for completion, not including prerequisites.
Correction, Oct. 27: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the role of Victoria Misenti.