A commentary on New York Times Education site article: Why Science Majors Change Their Minds The link below to the NY Times Education site explains why we have trouble obtaining and retaining hard science majors. There’s more likely a long long list of factors but the bottom line is mainly; is the number of students going into science majors inflated? Or could it be the change in the basic curriculum of university instruction from what it was years ago before our current fast paced (ADD) society and all its expectations kicked in? Think about it. Years ago – lets say safely from 1970 and  back, what was a standard science major curriculum with it’s associated requirements?I am slightly forward of that era and know from boomers in the generation bracket before me that, there was not that much in the way of courses to choose from. A undergraduate physics major for example was required to have a year of calculus & introductory chemistry (maybe optional), a year of mechanics, a year of electromagnetic theory, and a year of thermodynamics. Associated courses would be mostly laboratories, perhaps an astrophysics course, applied versions of the above, solid state or optics. That was it, no plethora of courses one has to consider cramming under one’s belt even though they’re interesting. As to class contact time, I can recall in an introductory calculus based physics course at the university of Florida back int he ’70’s there were over a 150 students, long lines to the labs but class time was an hour per day 4 days per week with a recitation section on Friday run by a graduate student. Now the labs could be daunting given heavy student traffic, but they were separate form the course as most are now anyway; a good idea that still applies. In addition, most students did not work an outside job 20+ hours per week. The only thing we had to worry about was getting into freshman labs and studying. If one was serious (most important requirement)  and willing to work and study hard, success was in store. Most scientists received their BS degrees and went to work. Those who received MS and PhDs worked as scientists in their fields.

It sounds so simple and straightforward, back then it was if you’re talking about living in a world that was not running at today’s ADD pace and had a mind that operated the way evolution intended. There weren’t dizzying numbers of course choices, you studied the basics in undergrad, learning how to question, think, discuss, and learn, then specialized in graduate school. The fine art of  studying in a smoke filled coffee house, having lively scientific discussions with one’s professors in the early opening hours of a college rathskeller and taking quantum scattering tests on a pool table is now a thing of the past, a quaint if even remembered artifact of memory. Learning physics, thinking how to solve a problem takes time, hard work/study and immersion and that’s it. Obama and his administration folks want to create the conditions for 10,000 engineers to pop up every year? They should read my lines above.

New York Times; Why Science Majors Change Their Minds It’s just so hard


About Deborah Leddon

Vegetarian Mother and Wife, Scientist at UTD CSS, passionate about my family, animal rights, the outdoors and my violin.
This entry was posted in Science Commentary, Science Funding, Science News. Bookmark the permalink.

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