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"Why science majors change their minds"

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Dick Whitman, Nov 4, 2011.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Interesting NYT piece today. Forty percent of science and engineering majors don't stick to it. When you exclude pre-med students from that total, it goes up to 60 percent.


    Apparently it's even worse at top-ranked schools. There's a Notre Dame grad in the story who had an 800 math SAT score (1500-plus overall) who bailed out of engineering.

    I respect the hell out of people who stick with science. They're going to change the world. I frequently wish I would have gone that route. I hope my children at least consider it.
  2. McNuggetsMan

    McNuggetsMan Active Member

    I think this sums it up well:

    Lecture classes are far cheaper to produce, and top professors are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates.

    Science and engineering professors (in general, at top schools) don't give a damn about teaching. They just want to bring in the next grant. The assigned TAs who barely speak English to teach the classes and they have no interest in actually being good teachers. As long as universities care only about getting grants and improving their ranking in U.S. News and World Report rather than actually teaching, this will be a problem.

    Three of my best friends started as engineering majors. Two actually made it all the way through and graduated with engineering degrees. They made it because they were really cared about getting the degree. Constantly throughout their four years, however, they complained about how bad and uncaring the professors were. They were pretty convinced that not a single professor they had actually cared if they learned anything.

    They were paying $40k+ a year for professors not to give a damn about the product they were purchasing. That's awful.

    I have another friend who got a phD in robotics from Georgia Tech. He wanted to teach undergraduate engineering. But since he wanted to teach and help students actually understand engineering, he got a job at a really small college. With a phD from a top engineering school, he should be teaching the best and the brightest at a top school. But because he values actually teaching, he never even bothered to apply to the big schools. That seems ass backwards -- someone who actually cares about teaching avoids going to the best universities to teach because those universities don't value teaching.
  3. TigerVols

    TigerVols Well-Known Member

    During my two+ years at Mizzou, I think I was taught by exactly one professor full time. The rest were TA's (including one I banged. Those were the days).

    I was paying out of state tuition.

    At Chattanooga, I was taught in each and every class by professors, most of whom were well known in their fields, and almost all clearly enjoyed teaching. I learned far more from them, and paid in-state tuition.
  4. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    1) If the average college student changes his major three times, I don't know if a 40 percent departure rate among science and engineering students is out of whack. I don't believe the article include comparison numbers from other fields.

    2) Science and engineering jobs these days are not all they are cracked up to be. When industry says we aren't producing enough engineers in America, what they often mean is we aren't producing engineers in America who will work for the peanuts we pay people in India or come over here as indentured servants on H1B visas. Check your local unemployment rolls and you will find many people with computer science or electrical engineering degrees who can't find sufficient work in those fields to provide for their families, even as companies lobby on Capitol Hill for loosened restrictions on work visas.

    3) A truly worthwhile science degree is going to have to be a master's or Ph.D. And that's going to mean years of your own indentured servitude under the research model McNuggetsMan details. So you'll be 25 or even 30 years old, and possibly buried in student debt, before you start to earn any money.

    If a degree is going to be that difficult to get, and it isn't going to allow for any more rewarding career path than an easier degree, can you blame someone for taking the easy route?
  5. linotype

    linotype Well-Known Member

    I'm one of the ones who changed his mind. I was a biology major for my first 1 1/2 years of undergrad, added chemistry for a double major midway through freshman year and was dead set on going to medical school.

    Then as a sophomore, I took a part-time gig at a local newspaper doing prep roundups and occasional features, and right around that time, my organic chemistry class started to kick my ass. So, I switched. I'd like to say I never looked back, but with the state of our industry today, that would be a lie.
  6. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    LTL - Good points. I, too, can't blame the students one bit. This is how the incentive system is set up. And they respond. Even brilliant science kids who did get through are often lost to patent law, which pays far better.
  7. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    Don't get me wrong, though, I want my son to get a degree in computer science or electrical engineering. I plan to get a Big Ass 3DTV with an indoor/outdoor sound system in 10 years, and I hope to control every light in the house through the remote control, and I don't want to pay someone to come in and install all that.
  8. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    When I say I wish I'd gotten a science degree, I don't think that I'd want to go be a research monkey for somebody. I'd have used it to go to medical school, go to law school and do patent law, or become a science journalist of some sort. I used to think academia was appealing. I don't think so any more.
  9. Greenhorn

    Greenhorn Active Member

    There is a lot of validity in what McNuggetsMan said about his friend wanting to focus on undergrad education. Job candidates with stellar teaching evaluations from their students (but without a research agenda deemed cutting edge or a good fit etc.) will have zero chance of landing the job. It is all about research regardless of field when one is trying to land a teaching job at the university level (not college or community college).

    Weak teaching in the undergrad classes will not engender a lot of student support for attaining graduate degrees, let alone bad feelings in regards to the money spent on said education.
  10. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    I started my studies as an electrical engineer. Frankly, I tried to do too much in my freshman year and burnt out. I think curriculum needs to evolve to include a seminar course every semester where students work on different projects instead of having students learning just all theory, but not able to apply it in "real-world" situations.
  11. albert77

    albert77 Well-Known Member

    My daughter (age 20 and a junior in college) is a true science geek and she's majoring in biology. Loves it. She wants to get into a field called astrobiology, which is the study of other planets, solar systems and (if it ever comes about) alien life forms. Don't laugh. She's got it all mapped out. She already knows she's going to have to go for a PhD to get anywhere, and she's taking the teaching cert curriculum as Plan B, if she needs to work before going on to grad school and beyond. It's ambitious, but it beats the hell out of where she was a year ago, when she was out of school, out of work and battling bi-polar disorder.
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