Science Is Hard, So Avoid It?

Note: This is not in any way meant to offend people from other areas, it is simply a vent for me!

Well this being a blog that includes all the randomness from the scattered life of myself, I find it OK to share my opinion on why studying chemistry(science/math in general) is important. This post is coming from the possibility of WCU cutting the Master’s program during the program prioritization this year. Tomorrow is the day when we find out, graduate program or no graduate program. The good news is that I am grandfathered in so I am safe and will be able to graduate from a possibly extinct program. So here it goes….

I recently stumbled upon an article stating that people have the intentions to come into college and major in science and math until they realize that the classes are hard. As someone who had the same thoughts as the students in this study, I thought about going into an easier” major. In the end my GPA wasn’t amazing, but I stuck it out and got my B.S. in Chemistry.

So what happens  in these ‘hard’ classes(majors) that is so bad that you change your major/life plan? Well with any major there are exams, readings, homework, and labs/projects; but with science is it harder to succeed with all of this? In my opinion, it can be. You have to learn to study and not just the night before a test ( which can be done in many other classes). You also have to learn to actually learn(as dumb as this sounds it’s true). In some of my ‘general’ courses that are required to broaden my education, I felt that it was a huge waste of time and that anything I needed to learn for a test/quiz could be done the hour before the class. Most of the time, I at least got a B (about 40% of the time a A) and  if I did bad, the professor usually had a curve or a dropped assignment in place to ‘help’ bad grades. To top it off in the ‘easier’ classes/majors , about 60% of the time the professor allowed some outside help on the assignments (in the form of your text-book and/or notes), so this just made the class even more of a ‘wait to the test to figure it out’ kind-of class. But what I found in my science classes is that your grade really reflected what you knew or didn’t know. Yes, there was still a dropped test in most of the classes, but curves were never heard of (at least in my first 3 years, pchem is a little bit different). The grade that you received on you assignment truly reflected your knowledge of the subject, because on these test you had to apply what you had been learning and you had to think! After my first two years in college, I figured out how to study and retain the information into my long-term knowledge.

Now on to the possibility of getting rid of the graduate program here at WCU. The main reasons that have been discussed is out low graduation rate. This simply means that in a 2 year time period, there are not enough Master’s students graduating. Now my goal is to be done in 2 years, but I can see how it could take longer. Science isn’t a fast subject! It is slow, time-consuming, and at times disappointing. This is now almost the year mark of me being here and all I have gotten done (that is useful) is 8 pigments spectrums for the library I am making and a 75% complete prospectus! Yep, that is it. It isn’t alot but does that mean I don’t work enough, in my opinion and my advisor, I work plenty. Last night I was in the Raman lab till 10pm ( I got here at 9:30am). So why is this all I have gotten done? I first had to come up with my own research projects, learn how to use an expensive (aprx $400,000) instrument ( and pray that I don’t mess it up), fix the messed up instrument ( up to 7 times now) and figure out the best way to make the measurements I am doing. That may not seem like a lot, but it is ( or at least to me it is). Now if a ‘prioritization committee’ or person is ever questioning why there are not enough people finishing, I would be more than happy to let them spend a week with me and see how slow doing research is!

In the end if they get rid of the slow working grad students in the chemistry program, I just see it hurting the school. Not only is science about discovering new things, it is also about inspiring more students to get into this ‘hard’ major. We all teach undergraduate labs (3 each and 10-ish grad students total) and that will be alot of faculty to hire to cover all we do ( and we work for much less!). So to WCU , I certainly hope you keep this program, because we made it through the ‘hard’ major and now we are here to do bigger and better things, and the school is part of that.

So till tomorrow, the Decision Day for the graduate program.

-Caitlyn

Link to ” A Major in Science? Initial Beliefs and Final Outcomes for College Major and Dropout”  Paper that was mentioned

And to anyone looking into a ‘hard’ major go for it!

And also this was not in any way meant to offend people from other areas, it is simply a vent for me!

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4 thoughts on “Science Is Hard, So Avoid It?

  1. Good luck with your program. You can probably guess the outcome of the prioritization. Look around you. Are there more than 15 students in your program? If yes, you are probably going to be safe. If not, in most programs, it’s likely going to be cut. The good news about chemistry (and the other lab sciences) is that the department needs TAs. The MS program provides a pretty cheap source of lab instructors!

    As to the rest of your post about the difficulty learning chemistry, I think you should also consider the wide gap between expert knowledge in chemistry and novice knowledge in chemistry. From the beginning, that wide gap is very clear to most students starting to learn and without a good teacher to help them get comfortable with the gap, they will become discouraged. I have found it important to discuss this up front with all my first year students and to gently let them know the gap is real but that the gap can be overcome with effort and persistence. The gap in science is wider than in most areas of study and we need to prepare students for that reality. This can be done by showing them how the gap is closed – which is by repetitive effort applied to learning the scientific method. They will need to work many problems, they will likely fail at many of those problems but with time, they will eventually get better. It’s a lot like learning to hit a 95 mph fastball. Practice is the key but it’s important to recognize that nobody was born with a good enough swing to hit the ball first time, every time.

    • I hope the program will remain, but only time will tell (tomorrow to be exact). Also, I completely agree with needing to show that there is a wide gap in the knowledge of individuals in the field of chemistry. As a student who struggled in the beginning (the first two years) and is still amazed by what I learn on the daily basis, I am glad that I had instructors (undergraduate and graduate) who were truly dedicated to teaching and inspiring students to stay in the field. As for myself in the field of chemistry I hope to show students that I interact with, that at times chemistry does seem to be much harder, but it is truly about finding what you enjoy about it and that in chemistry everything takes time.

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