I am not a science person. In high school, I took the bare minimum of science classes, and I was certainly never in an honors or AP science class. I avoided science as long as I could. But now, time has caught up to me. As a second-semester sophomore, Yale tells me I need to take a science credit, or I can “not be promoted to junior year.” Thus began my journey to find a “gut” science class this semester. Me — and several hundred other students — all vying for the same classes.
Discussion started early among my humanities friends about how to find a gut science class. My friend whispered excitedly “Forensic Geoscience,” boasting a 2.6 workload. But at the first class, 111 people showed up — the professor announced that she would only take 15. The syllabus had not made it clear that this was a seminar, not a lecture. Suddenly scrambling, I added five more science classes to my schedule. But I started getting more frantic notices from professors about oversubscribed classes. Human Evolutionary bio? A lecture, yet still oversubscribed by 100 people. Planets and Galaxies? A lecture, but also oversubscribed by 100 people. Then people started signing up for discussion sections, even though they hadn’t been announced yet. Now getting nervous, I went to Trees. Trees? Ahh, trees. Many Directed Studies students took it when we were first years. I went to the class as a Plan C, while on the waitlist for two other classes and already having been turned away by another. Again, the professor did not announce when discussion section enrollment started, but by now I had learned, and quickly enrolled in a section. The whole first week we were still oversubscribed by, you guessed it, 100 students. I got four emails saying I might not get into this class. But by then I could not get into any other science class, and I was desperate. Finally, as people filed into other science classes, enrollment steadily decreased. After my hours of frantic bluebooking, and barely making it into a science class, I can fulfill my science requirement. So now, as a Russian major, I have the pleasure of learning all about trees.
Maybe I’m biased. I do think all STEM kids should be required to take a writing course, because even in STEM you have to know how to be a good writer and communicator, whether you’re writing lab reports or research articles, and even the best writers, studying STEM or humanities, benefit from more practice writing. But I don’t think humanities kids should be forced into taking a science class. Similarly, although I have 12 language credits — and no science credits to my name — I think students who really don’t want to study a foreign language should not be forced to take a language credit. Everyone had to take three years in high school. Language-learning is hard and doesn’t come naturally to everybody. And if you’re in this category, you’ll have to complete L1-L3, spending an hour every morning, five days a week, for three semesters. Though I would encourage everyone to take a language — or two or three — I see it must be frustrating for those who don’t see it fitting into their competencies or career.
I understand the logic behind distributional requirements. The idea is this science requirement will enrich me and broaden my horizons. But students still don’t want to take these courses. So then departments offer gut courses specifically stating they are for non-STEM kids. The Trees professor told the class that he hopes, after this, we’ll take another course in Environmental Studies. It’s a good strategy — you have captured the market, offering a class to someone in desperate need, with the hope that it will increase attention or maybe funding within the department. I’ve taken courses outside my comfort zone that have contributed to my intellectual understanding. But I am against classes that feel like a waste of valuable Yale credits. The science class I ended up in this semester meets at the exact same time as a class in my major that I would have been very excited to take. My friend told me that often a reason that we feel frustrated or lost is when our goals don’t match up with what we’re doing now. That’s how I feel with my science credits.
What’s perhaps most interesting to me is the steady trend of being oversubscribed by 100 people. Here’s my theory: With the addition of the new colleges, Yale began adding 250 students to each class. Two hundred fifty students who all need a science credit. But Yale didn’t add more sections to popular classes, leading to this shopping mayhem. The News reported on this issue earlier this week.
This isn’t to say that these classes are not worthwhile, they just don’t feel worthwhile to me when there are classes that sound more interesting and might actually contribute to my field of study. If the University is going to keep these distributional requirements, it would be nice if there were some classes that didn’t feel like a waste of time. I am never going to use anything from the statistics class I barely made it through last semester. But it would be great if I could take an accounting class or basic finance class to fulfill my QR.
So here’s my desperate plea from a humanities student: Make it clear which classes are lectures versus seminars. Let students know upfront what the criteria are for getting into classes. Tell students when to enroll in sections, so they don’t get shut out of the class. Reconsider the distributional requirement or at least the classes offered. Preferably before my senior year, when I’ll have to find a second science credit.
Claire Kalikman | firstname.lastname@example.org .