Dear YES-W participants,
Welcome to three days of excitement at Yale. I hope the Admissions Office and city treat you well, and that evidence of Yale’s prowess as an emerging STEM powerhouse impresses you. By the time you leave, you’ll have a better idea of whether you’d like to call New Haven home for the next four years.
Before you decide, though, I need to tell you some things you won’t hear this weekend. I’ve spent the past two years pitching similar points to individual prefrosh, and it’s time these words are printed.
Though I’m not a STEM major, I have taken a third of my credits in STEM and used to sit on a student advisory committee for the sciences. I speak as someone who has directly benefited from Yale’s sincere decade-long investment in its STEM programs.
Yet sincerity and investments do not create miracles, even at Yale. Undergraduates continue to face a variety of difficulties as Yale experiences STEM growing pains. These headaches are significant enough that I emphatically reject any claim that students will “sacrifice nothing” by choosing to study STEM at Yale.
What are these sacrifices?
Let’s start with teaching, the most serious of them all. Yale has one of the best STEM faculty-to-student ratios in the country. Individual attention from tenured faculty is plentiful, but many forget that smaller departments and fewer professors increase the probability of subpar teaching with no alternatives. Most introductory lectures are offered once per semester and are rated poorly by students. With few professors in the teaching rotation, many required courses have developed disappointing reputations.
The story doesn’t end there; upper-level classes are not immune, especially in engineering. Evaluations for the core requirements of the five engineering majors are pitiful — one department clocks in at just 2.9/5. To be fair, course evaluations are flawed in many ways, but most engineering majors are taking average classes and receiving average instruction at best. Lest you think that course difficulty may factor too prominently in these ratings, consider the fact that many work-intensive math and physics courses garner consistent student praise.
Limited faculty size also means limited research opportunities. Don’t get me wrong: Yale has hundreds of labs with more spots than there are students to fill. The common adage on campus is, “If you want to work in a lab, you can.”
But what kind of lab? There is a shortage of breadth in Yale’s lab offerings. Leaving aside the colossal opportunities in the biological sciences, students in computer science, mathematics and chemical and environmental engineering have told the News that there are too few professors conducting research in certain areas of interest. Yale professors are experts in their areas, but other parts of the discipline may be entirely unrepresented.
Beyond the classroom, Yale trails far behind its peers in matching its students to postgraduate opportunities in STEM. Though a liberal arts education focuses on the educational experience rather than the job hunting process, seniors should not face the daunting prospect of navigating employment opportunities alone. In short, Yale lacks the industry connections to find proper placements for its students. As a friend once bluntly said to freshmen, “Don’t even think about internships in industry before junior year. You can’t find them.”
The Office of Career Strategy does not care for engineers, and even recent efforts by the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design to host STEM industry career fairs has been wholly inadequate. Last semester, a whopping seven recruiters came to the event, and two of them were from the U.S. Armed Forces. Seniors are encouraged to attend networking events on other campuses, but logistics are hard to coordinate and Yalies are always second in line behind the host school’s own students.
Now, what’s a high school senior to do? I am not saying you shouldn’t come to Yale to study science and engineering. That would be preposterous. But I implore you to weigh your rosy impressions from YES-W (which, to be sure, are fair in their own right) against the realities I have portrayed.
Economics 101 tells us to pit risks against benefits. The troubles I identified are not overwhelming and Yale STEM alumni still end up in top graduate schools and great entry-level positions. I’d even wager that most of those graduates would still choose Yale if they had the chance again.
Realize that if you come to Yale for STEM, you will fight for your education. The University is serious about its improvement efforts, but does not currently live up to the glowing picture that YES-W paints. As you fight, however, you’ll be rewarded with an unrivaled undergraduate experience. You’ll live in residential colleges built for luxury while analyzing Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 between psets for fluid mechanics.
You’ll surely fall for Yale before you leave. But this is not Stanford or MIT, and it will never be. Just know that.
Ike Lee is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Feb. 13
A previous version of this article stated that Yale has one of the lowest STEM faculty-to-student ratios in the country. In fact, Yale has one of the highest faculty-to-student ratios.