UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Someone needs to renovate science classes

As a science major, I have often been keenly aware of the disparity between the requirements involved in attaining a liberal arts degree, and the requirements that pile up to comprise a science degree. The disparity is suffocating from the first step into that gargantuan lecture hall on the first day of freshman year. Us science majors are forced to wade through a hurricane of calculus, intro-level biology, physics and chemistry. And then we all inevitably reach a pinnacle point of burning out. 

This is not an unusual reality. Studies have found that “roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree” (1). Not to mention, this attrition rate increases to a high 60 percent when speaking about pre-med students. 

We hesitate in questioning this reality. “Science majors just have it tougher,” or “science is in its nature to be hard,” are flimsy excuses. Sure, the material may be extensive, requiring more memorization than liberal arts material, but it is high time we look into the nationwide structure of science classes, and ask ourselves—is it really worth being so damn hard?

Just imagine the amount of scientific talent we are losing due to the harsh structure of introductory-level science classes. It’s a common perception that introductory classes are designed to be so unforgiving in order to “weed out” students who would be incapable of handling the material. But there is something inherently wrong in this assumption that science is only for those “who can handle it.” Why discourage scientific ambition from the beginning days of college by inculcating the idea that if you struggle, the subject is not for you?

Indeed, this idea of being “too weak” for science is both doing a disservice to the education system, and is much too prevalent to be regarded as anything but the norm. Students are being discouraged from STEM fields because science classes are unnecessarily harder than they need to be, and that is ridiculous. 

In the intro-level biology class, a student’s grade is comprised of lab and lecture portions. Lab includes weekly lab reports, lab performance, lab quizzes, and lab conduct grades. Lecture includes six exams, attendance, participation, and iClicker questions. This may vary depending on the professor, but the structure is standard throughout the subject. Now compare that to a liberal arts class, which may have attendance (but is less likely to), usually around three exams, and maybe one or two essays. I’ve found my liberal arts classes to be a breath of fresh air from my science classes. 

This entire setup needs to be renovated. Science classes do not need to have such overtly intensified structures. If anything, three exams to test the material is enough, and lab should simply be an attendance component, because believe me, most of us writing lab reports have no idea what is going on anyway. Additionally, the lecture room filled to the brim with 200 students and one professor droning on about macromolecules is highly inefficient in learning the material. Science is best learned interactively, so I am calling for a renovation in the classroom as well. Being lectured at for an hour and being expected to simply listen discourages active engagement with the material, especially in a room with 200 other people. 

Science classes are in their nature to be demanding of the student, but they need not be so intensely difficult. I am not advocating for classes to be devoid of challenging the student, but I do believe that it is time we accept the norm of science classes being too hard and only for those who can handle it. Everyone is capable of anything so long as they have a mind, and we are doing a disservice to ourselves, the nation, and the education system itself by refusing to renovate science classes for the better. 

(1) https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/why-science-majors-change-their-mind-its-just-so-darn-hard.html