Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Science Majors Bail

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just SoDarn Hard)

·         Science is fun in MS and HS because more interactive, but STEM subjects in college is “math-science death march”

·         Roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree.

o   Increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to data from UCLA

o   That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors.

·         Why Students Switch Majors

o   Some students still lack math preparation or “aren’t willing to work hard enough”

o   Proliferation of grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences, which provides another incentive for students to leave STEM majors.

o   Bright students may have breezed through high school without developing disciplined habits. By contrast, students in China and India focus relentlessly on math and science from an early age.

§  “We’re in a worldwide competition, and we’ve got to retain as many of our students as we can,” Dean Kilpatrick says. “But we’re not doing kids a favor if we’re not teaching them good life and study skills.”

·         Research confirmed in the 1990s that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game or designing an alternative energy system, than listening to lectures.

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

·         Association of American Universities, which represents 61 of the largest research institutions, announced five-year initiative to encourage faculty members in STEM fields to use more interactive teaching techniques.

MATTHEW MONIZ bailed out of engineering at Notre Dame in the fall of his sophomore year. He had been the kind of recruit most engineering departments dream about. He had scored an 800 in math on the SAT and in the 700s in both reading and writing. He also had taken Calculus BC and five other Advanced Placement courses at a prep school in Washington, D.C., and had long planned to major in engineering.

But as Mr. Moniz sat in his mechanics class in 2009, he realized he had already had enough. “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Do these practice problems, then you’re on your own.’ ” And as he looked ahead at the curriculum, he did not see much relief on the horizon.