When students enrolled in “Art and Biomolecular Recognition Laboratory” first arrived at the Yale University Art Gallery, the tour may have felt like a typical visit to one of the campus’s most esteemed venues. Over the next few weeks, however, as the frames were studied for evidence of tortoise shell and the paintings examined for use of walnut oil, it became increasingly difficult to tease the humanities and sciences apart from one another.
The course is just one example of University and student efforts to bridge the gap between these two seemingly distinct fields of study. As higher education associations push for a concomitant investment in both the sciences and humanities, students and faculty at Yale are increasingly advocating for coexistence of the two fields.
On Nov. 21, the Association of American Universities — consisting of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada — issued a formal statement advocating for continued focus and funding on the humanities and social sciences. In partnership with six other similar associations worldwide, the statement promoted these fields of study as “contributions … to the national and global wellbeing” and pushed for interdisciplinary approaches to global research collaborations.
The statement was released just one year after the AAU signed a statement outlining the key characteristics of effective research universities, among them a focus on improving research environments and STEM programs.
But John Vaughn, senior fellow at the AAU, said the two statements do not represent separate schools of thought, but instead can be complimentary.
“It seemed to a number of us that the social sciences and humanities and critically important to address some of the major global challenges which have tended to be focused on scientific solutions,” Vaughn said, citing climate change and Ebola as among the crises that are not only scientific but also behavioral.
Chair of the Humanities Advisory Committee and Master of Morse College Amy Hungerford agreed, adding that this alternate focus on advocacy in these two areas is meant to show that the humanities do not have to be pitted against the sciences, but that balance is a crucial means of keeping research moving forward.
Simon Schaitkin ’17, an English major and pre-med, said he fuels his interest for both the sciences and the humanities not only by splitting his studies between the two fields. Instead, Schaitkin is also interested in applying to outside initiatives — such as Mount Sinai’s FlexMed Program. The program, according to their website, allows college sophomores in any major to apply for early acceptance to the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City.
According to the program’s website, accepted students are free to explore any area of study unencumbered by standard science requirements and the MCAT.
“I think one of the big problems with [being pre-med] right now is that there are so many people trying to check off the boxes,” Schaitkin said. “The world exists beyond the office and the operating room.”
In August, Joyce Guo ’17, another English major and pre-med student — and also a staff reporter for the News — founded the Medicine in the Arts and Humanities Collective at Yale to introduce students to professors whose curriculums focus on the intersection between the two fields. Guo said she is ultimately interested in medical narrative writing and thinks future doctors can learn fundamentals like how to interact with patients and or understand global health issues through the humanities.
MAHCY’s faculty advisor, professor John Warner, said he has observed an increased eagerness from both students and faculty over his past 30 years here to weave both fields into classroom discussion. As a tenured professor at both the School of Medicine and in the History Department, Warner said he is glad to see that the “sense of drawing a separation between the two cultures” has diminished.
Molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Andrew Miranker, one of the instructors for “Art and Biomolecular Recognition Laboratory,” said his first semester teaching “An Issues Approach to Biology” connected him with non-science majors. He added that the lab course provided the perfect blend of allowing students to “get their hands dirty” while applying other interests to hard science.
“I liked the challenge of trying to understand how my humanities colleagues engage with their work,” Miranker said, adding that learning how to approach and solve problems could be addressed by both fields.
The AAU was founded in 1900.