The largest science major at Yale is getting revamped.
In two informational meetings, one held Monday night and the other planned for 5 p.m. today, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Director of Undergraduate Studies Douglas Kankel announced changes to the MCDB major. Last night, 60 students braved the rain to attend the first info session in the Kline Biology Tower, where Kankel explained that the largest changes, which will go into effect with the class of 2017, concern the bachelor of arts degree, though several changes were also made to the bachelor of science degree. Now, MCDB majors seeking BAs will only have to take 11.5 course credits — a significant decrease in requirements from 18 credits — while BS candidates will still be required to take 18.5, although they will have more flexibility in choosing courses than before. Students in the class of 2016 and previous classes may elect to fulfill the new requirements, Kankel said.
“We tried to construct a BA degree which we thought would continue to capture the essence of the education of biology, but substantially reduce the course requirements to make it more accessible to anyone who has an interest,” Kankel said. “The presumption is that there is a population of students out there who, in fact, have an interest in the biomedical sciences, but haven’t pursued that as an undergrad major at Yale simply because the cost of doing so is very high.”
Formerly, Kankel explained, the major distinction between a BA degree and a BS degree was the senior requirement — the BS degree requires substantial independent research, while a BA requires little or none. Now, the tracks are further differentiated by the difference in the number of required courses.
MCDB professor Mark Mooseker explained that the major changes to the BS major were to reduce the number of required electives from four to three and to expand the options of core courses to allow more choice. The core requirement now includes options such as “Microbiology,” “Immunobiology,” “Physiological Systems” and “Neurobiology.” He said the main catalyst for the change came when the department stopped accepting Advanced Placement Biology exam scores as sufficient to place out of the former “Introduction to Biology” series, and introduced the new “Foundations in Biology” series. This change effectively added two credits that most majors previously did not have to take.
Kankel said he does not expect these changes to significantly increase the number of majors in the department, but he hopes they will make MCDB more appealing to students who would otherwise have elected a major in the humanities or social sciences. He added that the changes might also ease the difficulties associated with double majoring, which he said approximately 10 percent of MCDB majors elect to pursue.
Fran Harris ’18, who attended last night’s meeting, said her current plan to double major in MCDB and applied mathematics while also fulfilling pre-med requirements would require 41 credits — five more than the necessary number to graduate — according to her calculations. But she added that the new BA option, which would make double majoring more accessible, did not appeal to her as much as the BS degree. The BS degree encompasses almost all of the pre-med requirements and is more research-focused, something that medical schools find particularly appealing, she said.
Cayla Broton ’16, who is currently on the BS track, said she does not know of anyone on the BA track, but is glad the major is accommodating for other academic pursuits. According to Kankel, the vast majority of MCDB majors are pursuing BS degrees.
“The major changes allow underclassmen to more fully grasp a liberal arts education, with less pressure to check off major requirement classes,” Broton said. “Were I currently a freshman or sophomore, I certainly would elect to have the changes. But currently I have completed too much of the original major for the changes to be relevant.”
Ariel Hernandez-Levya ’16, a junior who has elected to fulfill the new requirements, said he did not like how the former requirements forced students to choose certain classes over others. For example, an undergraduate interested in taking both Molecular Biology and Genetics was urged to choose only one of the courses under the previous system, he said.
“I’m glad that I don’t feel like I’ve been betrayed and had to take any unnecessary or unwanted coursework,” Hernandez-Levya said. “I think the new guidelines for the major are more fair and give room for a student to seek out their own niche within the science.”
Mariana Do Carmo ’17 said she barely notices the changes but is pleased with the increased flexibility of elective credits.
A review completed by the Committee on Majors six years ago — which revealed that the MCDB major required far more courses than many of Yale’s other majors — also influenced the decision, Mooseker said. The Committee suggested that the department reduce the number of required courses, he added.
While small adjustments are made to the major fairly regularly, significant changes are more rare, Kankel said, adding that this is the largest change made to the major in a long time.
In the 2013–14 school year, 65 students graduated with a degree in MCDB.