Undergrad advising: When to hold em and when to fold em

Feb 28 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Last night I got in a conversation over twitter based on the following:

My reasoning for disagreeing with this statement and the conversation it spurred are complicated and better suited to a post than a back and forth on twitter.

I'll start out by saying that grades are an imperfect measure of a student's abilities and I don't think a failure here or there is a big deal. Yes, I had some bad grades on my transcript and have never been an A student. When I'm considering graduate student applicants, GPA is not something I put a huge amount of weight on so I am in no way saying that a student who does poorly in a couple of classes should be directed to another major.


I advise a lot of undergraduates. Because our major is large and our faculty numbers are not huge, I have ~60 advisees a year. These students are all declared majors who have completed at least one year at the university. Whereas the numbers are hard to pull together because my list can fluctuate from year to year, I would guess I've probably had advising sessions with roughly 200 different students. These are students from a wide range of backgrounds with different sets of constraints.

Most of these students make my job easy, but the rest can make up the difference. I'll provide a hypothetical student to illustrate what I see on a semi-regular basis. Let's call him George.

I request a meeting with George because he is on my "concern list" from the Dean's office. He's a third year student with a 2.8 GPA, but he's taken Chem 101 3 times and still can't clear the grade threshold to move on. Considering our major requires 4 chemistry classes, this is an issue.

I look closer at his transcript and the 2.8 GPA is misleading. In the classes for George's major, he's got a 2.1 GPA and it's his minor in Psych that is pulling his overall GPA up. While the proximate cause for our meeting is George's chemistry problem, ultimately he is in danger of not graduating because his Major GPA is so low (we require a 2.0).

There are two options here:

1) I can get George in touch with tutoring services for Chemistry if he hasn't already been working with them. I can encourage him to get additional help in his biology courses, but tutoring is rarely available for upper-level classes. I can tell him to keep soldiering on and cross my fingers that he's not going to drop below a 2.0 in the next few semesters and be faced with completing enough credits to graduate but not being allowed to with a Biology major.


2) I can talk to George about why he wants to get a bio degree and try and understand the motivation to pursue something that is clearly very difficult for him. I can point out that he does quite well in Psych and wonder if he could see himself going in that direction. I can work with him to see what his options are and how he can move forward.

The first choice is the easy one for me. It requires me to do little but hand out some phone numbers and move on with my day. But here's why I think it's the wrong choice.

First, the numbers at my university demonstrate that a shocking* number of the students who never graduate from here drop out within a credit-year of completion. Why is that? Well, from my experience I see students get told "You can do it!" for so long that they give up when they realize they are nearly done but would need to get straight A's for their last semester or two just to graduate with the major they have been pursuing. And the message "Anybody can do it if they just try!" isn't exactly comforting to these students and alienates them.

Second, a large number of the students I see who are in grade trouble don't really want to be biology majors. This cohort of students is disproportionately "first generation in college" students who have parents expecting them to graduate and become doctors, etc. The number of "premeds" with sub 3.0 GPAs I have had to have a frank conversation with is mind numbing. I may not care about GPA and standardized test scores, but you know who really does? Med schools. Generally these students are unhappy and have interests elsewhere, but needed to be helped to see other options.

Third, college isn't getting any cheaper and some of my students need to get into the workforce with a degree. Letting them spin their wheels while they hemorrhage money is not doing them any favors. If there is a reasonable alternative that they can sink their teeth into, it's worth a discussion.

Fourth, it is easy for us to say "I failed a class and look at me now!" because through whatever turn of events, it worked out for us. But we do so without ever thinking about how many students had a similar trajectory and never made it. People use revisionist history all the time to wax poetic on how they got where they are. But where this gets especially problematic is when one is dealing with ethnic, socioeconomic or other factors that stack the deck against certain students making it by perseverance. I know this is where people like @DNLee5 where coming from at times during our conversation, and I agree. Sometimes there isn't an easy solution, but I would rather see a student get a degree in a different major than see them walk away from university, 75% of the way done.

In the end, I see it as my job to make sure the students get a degree that they can use. Sometimes that means rethinking priorities or re-evaluating the student's own interests. Sometimes the pressures keeping them swimming against the current are internal and sometimes external. But the answer in not always just to stick with it, because that ignores (and exacerbates) the loss.

*I can't recall the number off hand, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50%, which floored me.

27 responses so far

  • Alex says:

    These are the dilemmas that I deal with every day in advising. If somebody shows up in college and placement tests put them into a class way prior to calculus, and they need to repeat one of those classes...why are they physics majors? Yeah, yeah, placement tests aren't perfect, grades aren't everything, but if math is just a hard slog for you, why, exactly, are you a physics major again?

    In my introductory physics classes, I often pull the transcripts of the students at the bottom and a random assortment above the bottom. Anybody can have the occasional bad grade, but when you see somebody in his third year and still taking "freshman" physics, after repeating calculus a few times, why are they engineers? Yeah, yeah, math classes aren't the only measure of engineering ability, but if slogging through classes that involve math and calculation is an exercise in frustration for them, how are they ever going to cross the finish line to an engineering degree?

    It gets more complicated with the first generation issue and whatnot because our campus gets a lot of grants for STEM workforce/pipeline/bridge/etc. issues. Producing more STEM grads from disadvantaged backgrounds is a matter of (usually justified) pride for us, but it's also a conflict of interest on some level. I see students who were smart enough to get into college and should major in _something_, just not STEM, or at least not the STEM discipline that they're currently in. It's hard to have the "Have you ever looked at our excellent business school?" conversation, but it's necessary sometimes.

  • DNLee says:

    Very good points; and you're absolutely right: Twitter was not able to communicate the details of what you were trying to say.

    I agree with this approach - helping students discern (for themselves) why they may not be doing well in a certain class/es and steering them to a promising future. Helping someone find his/her path is very different than telling them they shouldn't participate at all.

    Sadly, I don't think most students come across advisers like you - who listen, pay attention to what a student is saying/not saying.

    I think this scenario also hints to other issues - like better early college preparation for underclassmen. Better counseling services - academically and 'other stuff' I call soft skills is sometimes sorely needed. Some schools require students to apply for a major after their freshman year. That may not be a bad thing.

    I also know among some ethnic students that having access to college advisers who they can relate to and 'keep it real' makes a huge difference. In my experiences, it's not just that students get the 'stick it out' speech from them, they also hear the 'get off your ass' speech. I know many might disagree, but underclassmen are merely high school kids playing grown. Yes, they deserve room for growth, but they still need the occasional oversight and firm word of a mature adult to tell them the truth and to get back in line.

    No student should arrive to his/her junior year failing classes in his/her major. It doesn't matter if it's STEM or not.

    In the end I think we kind of agree on telling students to stick it out. You want to make sure they end up with a degree - in a subject that they actually enjoy and excel in. I want that, too - even if it isn't in science. I agree that it is a shame for students to 'stop out' in the junior or senior year of college. That presents some extra problems for the students - student loans to pay out but no degree or job prospects to counter it.

  • RP says:

    This is a really good post. So much could be commented on, but my mainly:

    Unrelated to "George," I think another issue is that many high school students do not know of any other life science besides biology. Not wanting to spend more \( than necessary, they declare biology right away instead of exploring their options. Since their heart isn't 100% into it, the classes in their major--which should be the most interesting to them--are a struggle, in part because they do not really want to be there. At a larger university they can switch to another disciple, but at a small college they may be/feel stuck.

    Also, there are so many other good health-related fields besides MD. Yes, you may not make as much \), but you have less debt and start your career sooner. And maybe are happier. Some are still direct patient care (NP, OT, etc), while others are not. But when the family pressure says "MD..."

    At least, that was my experience 17 years ago as a bio major. Most of my study buddies realized during the first year that we didn't want to be a bio major. Some stuck it out (and now have careers not related to biology), some stuck it out and went to grad school in another life science discipline (bio engineering, neuro sci etc), and others of us changed to more appropriate but related majors (health sciences, kinesiology, sci teaching, etc). Once I changed majors my GPA shot up. I wasn't a bad student--I was a bad biology major because I only wanted to study humans, and going into college I thought biology was the way to get there. It is so much easier to study when 80% of your classes are really interesting to you.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Alex, I think a lot of us face similar situations and these are hard conversations to have.

    DNLee, reading through the conversation again I realized that you were coming more from the angle of "don't turn students away from a degree", rather than "from science". I was reading your comments as the latter last night, which might be part of why we were talking past each other.

    RP, I agree that I think it is critical to educate students about their options. Coming out of high school they just don't know the breadth of what is possible. We've tried hard recently to make the first two years of several related degree programs to be as close to indentical as we can. This allows students to switch majors without having to take a huge load of new classes.

  • Alex says:

    Anyway, enough griping, on to solutions:

    I have started to say "OK, since you haven't passed [prereqs], it's going to be a little while before you're in [some advanced sequence]. You have room in your schedule, what is another subject that you're interested in, either as a minor or as a possible alternative major?" Then I tell them to go take a course from that department. If they can satisfy GE requirements with it, great, but if not, well, usually they have room in their schedules because they've already done a bunch of GEs but they haven't advanced to any of the advanced sequences in their major.

    I've only started this recently, so we'll see what the long-term result is.

  • DrClam says:

    Yes!!! To all of the above!!

    My interactions with undergrads are slightly less, being in the medical school wing of the undergrad campus...HOWEVER, the pressure that many of the 1st generationers in college feel to go on medical school is tremendous. I probably see this swath of undergrads more, because they are looking for research opportunities.....and yes, if they are in my lab and I see them heading down the wrong path, I try to encourage them to study towards their strengths. These conversations typically don't change their path towards medical school, which is a shame. One student keeps pushing off graduation....so I think we all see where that is sadly going....

  • Zuska says:

    Alex's comment above makes me shiver. Basically, calculus classes are a measure of calculus ability. Not engineering ability. Engineers know that calculus serves as a weed out function (and physics, too, to a lesser extent) and there has been discussion in recent years about reforming the engineering curriculum to make much less calculus loaded in the first years. Or at least get more of the major course spooned up sooner. I wouldn't want to send any 1st gen students Alex's way, based on that comment above. It makes me sad.

    All the reasons cited above for why students fail and switch out of STEM are exactly wrong, according to the research. These are not sufficient to account for the attrition rates, and especially for the increased attrition rates of women and students of color compared to white male students. See my post and the research by Seymour & Hewitt reference therein. http://scientopia.org/blogs/thusspakezuska/2013/02/28/rethinking-the-normality-of-attrition/

  • Zuska says:

    It is frustrating that this research has been available for so long and has made so little change in the myths of undergraduate attrition.

  • Alex says:

    I don't claim to be an expert on all of the factors that predict success in the engineering curriculum, and I'm happy to stand corrected if success in mathematical coursework is a poor predictor of success in undergraduate engineering programs.

    However, as to this:
    I wouldn't want to send any 1st gen students Alex's way, based on that comment above. It makes me sad.

    This goes beyond statistical data on predictors of academic success, and goes to implications about my ability to work with students. I'd be happy to share a list of undergraduate students who have published research with me in peer-reviewed journals, and include a break-down of gender, race, and socioeconomic status, as well as their subsequent advancement in the STEM pipeline. I always have more to learn as I improve my skills in working with students, but I am hardly a danger to the success of our students.

  • Bashir says:

    I have ~60 advisees a year.

    !!! wow.

    I am very happy I picked a small major in college. ~100 students total. Wasn't by design, but was very helpful.

  • antistokes (allison l. stelling) says:

    I TAed and graded a lot of premeds when I was a chemistry PhD student at Stony Brook University from 2004 to 2008. This was for intro chem, and the organic chem for premeds course (aka, easy ochem). If a kid couldn't hack it, I would tell them point blank to not waste their money on med school. (One of my undergrad profs at Reed College who taught physical chemistry once said, "grad school is a scam, just not as big a scam as medical school...")

    And you know what? They usually really appreciated my honesty, as opposed to being lied to about their ability for the sake of milking tuition dollars out of them. I'd try to do it nicely-- esp. for the girls-- and make suggestions for different career trajectories than "famous rich prestigious MD". For example, what I was going to do before I caught the research bug was get an undergrad degree in a physical science (I was a chem major), and then go to law school and be a patent lawyer for a tech company. One of my old college buddies got an undergrad physics degree and went to law school. He's doing fine now.

    Also, there were 5 chemistry majors in my year at Reed (this was the class of 2004). I am the only one who went to grad school, and the only one to do a postdoc. (It was a German postdoc though, which seen as a permanent research position. I was expected to manage my own projects and students, and publish without any help from a mentor.) The rest of my friends got "real jobs" at chemical companies, and are a lot happier than I am right now. (I just got my tumor biomarker paper accepted, so I'm hoping that'll get me an interview.)

    Reed was not afraid to wash out students that couldn't hack it-- in fact, it's quite proud of its attrition rate. Other USA universities should stop seeing undergrads as cash cows and start seeing them like they used to in my grandfather's day-- a national resource to be carefully trained and cultivated. Not everyone can hack the math, and that's OK. But these kids should be re-directed into something useful that will earn them a living, not pushed into careers they have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to pursue for the rest of their lives.

  • Zuska says:

    Yes, EVERYBODY'S proud of their attrition rate. It's how we know how badass we are and how we only keep the Best 'n' BrightestTM and how we know we aren't lowering our standards despite all that nattering on about diversity. So glad to know you are extra-kind to the girls.

    What the research says, unfortunately, is that high attrition rates mean your uni/dept is Doing It Rong, and wasting the very talent pools they might most want to keep. And these are not, necessarily, identified by who can crush a weed-out calculus or organic Chem exam, despite our mythology to the contrary.

  • antistokes (allison l. stelling) says:

    Ah, Reed is more "famous" for its dropouts (Steve Jobs) than for a lot of its graduates. And from what I've been reading, many uni administrators of the state school are keen to keep kids in programs-- but, proflikesubstance's post say, when do you know when to let 'em go? You're told right from the get-go that Reed (and academia in general) is not the real world, and esp. that academic research (as opposed to applied fields/career choices like medicine and engineering) is not for everyone. We need more MDs and engineers than we need profs in societies.

    A major reason I went to Stony Brook for grad school was because it's a "good working school" and is fairly well know for getting its chemistry grads good industry jobs-- I wanted to work for a pharma company and make drugs all day; but I got lured into physical chemistry by my PhD adviser (mostly 'cause I thought lasers were spiffy, to be honest).

    I wasn't "extra-kind" to the girls. I just didn't tell them they were idiots if they had majors troubles with the premed workload-- I suggested that perhaps there was something else they'd be better at, and tried to help them discover what that might be. And, if I thought they could "hack it" but could see they were just having trouble with one aspect of the course, I tried to help them as much as I could.

    I suspect a lot of the current USA situation in the unis (esp. the large public unis)--- too many students, and profs under pressure to either weed them out, or the opposite, keep them in when they should leave, would be helped if we hadn't gutted our K-12 public school systems.....

  • DrivingBy says:

    ... these are not, necessarily, identified by who can crush a weed-out calculus or organic Chem exam, despite our mythology to the contrary.

    So what's a better way than "hard" intro courses to identify those who can cut it versus those who can't? Also, among failing students, how are we supposed to identify those who truly can't cut it versus those who could cut it in principle, but need a morale boost/hand holding/something? Who is to identify that something which the students who perform poorly but could potentially do well need, and who is responsible for providing it to them?

    It's not like students were raised in vacuum, and the first human contact they have is with university professors and advisors. They have families and friends, and they also have to take some responsibility for identifying what ails them and seeking help.

    If a student keeps failing a certain core course, why is it such an outrageous idea to suggest that they are not fit for a given major? Not everybody can major in everything, people vary in preparation and aptitude. I don't understand why it's everybody's duty (professor's, institution's) -- except the student's -- to discover what those aptitudes are.

    And I certainly don't think that just because someone wants to major in STEM that they automatically should, there should be some baseline skills which core courses generally do a good job of testing. I don't agree with Zuska about calculus not being important for engineers -- I don't want any kid who can't do simple integration by parts or find a second derivative to go on into major courses. As it is, the math preparation of a typical engineering student I teach is already pretty abysmal. I actually wish we'd raise the math requirements and I think we'd get better engineers in many disciplines.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    In 1953, I set out to become an aeronautical engineer. At our first freshman convocation, the Dean of Engineering told us to look to our left, and look to our right. Those two people would not make it through the curriculum. At that time there were no females or people of color to be concerned about. I managed to have a C in the first semester of calculus so I could drop it without receiving an F. Then I changed majors to geology.

  • Zuska says:

    What I'm saying, and the research suggests, is this: the STEM educational enterprise is set up with a "how do we weed 'em out" attitude. This is the exact wrong pedagogical approach if the desired end goal is a diverse group of high quality students. It works very well, however, to reduce diversity and discourage all but a narrow spectrum of personality types/thinking styles from entering STEM.

  • DrivingBy says:

    "This is the exact wrong pedagogical approach if the desired end goal is a diverse group of high quality students."

    What is the right approach? And how are we supposed to find out if they are quality students if we don't test them on something?

    And I really resent the implication that we shouldn't require people to pass calculus if we want a diverse population. It makes it sound like women and other underrepresented groups can't do calculus. That is not true and is very damaging to the idea that I think Zuska is actually defending. Maybe students from diverse backgrounds need different types of lecturing or other resources, but saying we should do away with calculus to enhance diversity likely hurts diversity more than anything.

  • antistokes (allison l. stelling) says:

    With DrivingBy here, as a chick who did AP calc in high school in Seattle (grad year 2000), and then had to repeat the course in college, since Reed doesn't accept a lot of AP courses for credit. Although I do so prefer liner algebra-- it's far more useful for quantum chem. (PS quantum chem is totally different than quantum mechanics--- far fewer math requirements.) I suppose I just think more naturally in "waves"-- molecular orbitals are like balloons with electron flows I can manipulate.

  • Terry says:

    What Zuska said. The STEM fields need to diversify, as the pool of white men becomes a small fraction of the population. This requires encouragement and support, because who wants to be a scientist if they're trying to exclude you. The pathway was smooth for me on account of my background, but my students who have a different background have to fight every bit of the way.

    We have students who consistently fail the introductory chem courses, and then rock it in upper division STEM classes when they make it through. The reason those failing the chem courses is not because of their ability or their motivation. It's amazing how bias works in insipid ways. I could tell stories, but, alas, I'm not anonymous.

  • Alex says:

    I teach at an institution that is similar to Terry's in many ways. I would say that we've been pretty progressive about setting reasonable expectations in lower-division STEM classes, taking into account where students are at when they come to us and beginning the course where they are at, and setting the level and difficulty of the tests in a way that reflects the realities of the preparation and challenges that our students bring with them. The grade distributions and pass rates reflect these efforts and realities.

    This good, progressive approach to lower-division STEM courses means that the people teaching the upper-division courses face some rather lamentable discoveries when they really probe the class's understanding. And I'm not talking about giving a hard midterm after 4 weeks of traditional "chalk and talk." No, I'm talking about people who give a reading assignment on freshman-level material, do some interactive lecture-discussions with clickers and whatnot, then give a diagnostic assessment using conceptual exercises designed by some of the more progressive pedagogy research groups in our field. And the answers that they get reflect profound misunderstandings of freshman-level material.

    BTW, the students making these mistakes are not uniformly female and minority. My list of horror stories includes males with last names that are well-represented in science, from affluent and educated families. It includes white kids from the suburbs, who grew up in the same neighborhood as some of our faculty, going to school with the children of college professors and coming to college knowing multiple college professors as family friends. Given all this, I'm not convinced that going easy in the intro classes is really serving the students well.

    Meanwhile, I'm a rather grouchy and unprogressive person who is on the more demanding and traditional end of my department. Despite that, the students who have done senior projects and summer research (much of it publishable) with me include non-trivial numbers of women and minorities who have gone on to graduate programs in STEM. Even the white and Asian males are often non-traditional students, and I am aware of at least one who has an invisible disability. I don't want to say too much more about their identities, because my pseudonymity is pretty thin and if I started giving race, gender, and field, I might identify some of my alumni, given the rather lamentable shortage of people from certain backgrounds. I'm just making the point that while I lack a progressive perspective I seem to somehow get progressive results.

    I'm willing to give anyone a chance, and a second chance, and even a third chance. But, at some point, if it just isn't working, I do say "You know, you owe it to yourself to explore multiple options, so that you either stay in STEM after an informed consideration of the alternatives, or you switch to something else after exploring it carefully." Hence my current advising strategy is to tell people that if they've had repeated failures in introductory classes it's time to balance their schedule with a mix of courses for their current major and courses that would serve as gateways to something else that they might major in (or perhaps minor in if they stay in STEM).

  • antistokes (allison l. stelling) says:

    Dear Prof. Alex,

    I am assuming you're a prof; I can just...tell. It's good of you to take the time to post here, and thanks for voicing your thoughts.

    I also know that anyone with half a brain in their heads is superbusy these days. I myself could give you a list of folks with PhDs in a science that are very .... nice-- which is apparently the latest Academic Code Word for "they're not too bad but can be kind of an idiot".

    The USA situation is esp. problematic-- a bunch of hysterical baby boomer hippie parents terrified of their child failing at anything. (I say this as the daughter of a hippie, although not a particularly hysterical one.) I mean, they had such a *great* time in college, amirite? (I personally studied my ass off and spent far more time in the library than I did socializing. College, for me, was NOT about "making lots of friends", although I did make many valuable- and fun- connections. It was more about putting in the blood/sweat/tears that are needed to earn a true degree in a science.) Not all learning is "fun", sometimes it should be painful and challenging, no matter how smart your parents think you are. (Also, do I get points every time I use the buzzword "challenging"? 'Cause I am getting a bit tired of that word now.....)

    However, America does need to educate its populace about this strange land of "science" with all its "math". And that takes time and energy and very patient teachers, who should be paid reasonably well for their time and efforts. This cannot be done on an individual "special snowflake" Reed-style level; where you get tons of one-on-one time with the prof. Use the internet. Make the textbooks free. Then, charge 'em if they have questions for your time at a rate suited to your level of expertise, and your ability to "explain things".....

    On a side note, the more I publish, the more grouchy I get.....

  • Alex says:

    I am assuming you're a prof; I can just...tell.

    Well, yes, since I mentioned teaching and advising several times in this thread, it would make sense that I'm a professor. Associate Professor, to be specific.

  • antistokes (allison l. stelling) says:

    ....no wonder you're grouchy. My PhD prof was an Associate at SBU. He was (and still is) a very busy man....I think they just made him a Director of something too. He's a Brit, and it was from him I learned the fine difference between being polite *to* someone and being polite *at* them.

    (His lab is one of the more popular ones amongst the mostly Chinese grad students that are accepted into the Chemistry graduate program. I saw it as my duty, as a USA chemist, to out-perform the Chinese kids. They were some tough competitors, and great co-workers! Whereas a number of the other USA PhD candidates, unfortunately, tended to wind up "graduating with a Master's". This was about the point that I started to truly fear for my country's future in a rapidly globalizing economic landscape...)

  • Zuska says:

    Dear Driving By: Bingo! points for pretending I am saying that everyone except white males can't really be expected to do calculus and oh noes! are we really going to have to lower our standards? I am so not saying that. I am saying that the current pedagogical styles in practice in STEM institutions DRIVE AWAY many of the best students OF BOTH GENDERS AND ALL RACES. If you don't believe me or can't comprehend my typing, read this NYT piece. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/why-science-majors-change-their-mind-its-just-so-darn-hard.html

    Because as time passes, nothing changes really. The NYT article is basically a redux of everything Seymour and Hewitt did 15 years ago, minus the nuanced attention to gender and race and the substantive conclusions and recommendations. So there you can read about how highly qualified white boys are being driven out of engineering by the stupid-assed design of our STEM pedagogy, with a resultant 40 to 60% attrition rate. Except at a few schools that have radically redesigned their pedagogical approach and oh my! have seen a dramatic increase in their retention rate, up to as high as 75%. That means an attrition rate as low as 25%, if you're having problems comparing numbers.

    And this underscores what I have said, that one professor on their own can't save all the Georges, it takes a departmental or college or university-wide approach to changing curriculum and pedagogy and changing the underlying culture from a weed-'em-out to a how-can-we-best-educate-these-bright-kids-we've-recruited style. From gate-keeping to opening the doors and ushering them in.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle. Here's a different version of the "major choice" problem: What do you say to someone who has a life dream of getting a Ph. D. but would be noncompetitive vs other Ph. D.'s for jobs but would be a "top of the heap" M.S.?

    Life is an imperfect meritocracy. If you aren't making money and value for your organization you are (eventually) gone. I don't think it's fair to award degrees to people that are not qualified to hold them, whatever the letters. Furthermore, it is unfair to the ones that earned said degree. I also firmly believe that I have an educator's duty to help my students succeed as productive graduates, not necessarily productive *chemists*.

    The diversity problem cuts across all disciplines. Also, the pedagogy part REALLY needs to be addressed at all levels, elementary through postgraduate. I've seen some really cool approaches taken at the secondary science education level in both high and low-income areas and remain hopeful for the future of a diverse STEM culture. However, if colleges do not adopt newer teaching practices these students will be even further disadvantaged IF they end up in lecture-format classrooms and can't adapt. I do think that students will get wise to schools that have more effective education practices as an institution as costs inevitably continue to rise. As an aside, college-age, lecture-conditioned students find expeditionary learning approaches extremely difficult at first. I've learned a lot trying to implement the methods with a course based on the primary literature. So far I've found that at the Ph. D. level sometimes you just have to tell them the answer to move on (at least in my hands).

    Finally, my MD significant other has a better working knowledge of chemistry (intro and organic) than many jr and sr.'s and some graduate students. They also occasionally need it in their practice. Mastery of technical concepts DOES matter and, gatekeeper or no, pre-meds DO need this stuff when they become MD's.

  • Alex says:

    I do think that students will get wise to schools that have more effective education practices as an institution as costs inevitably continue to rise.

    Putting butts in chairs to listen to somebody to talk is the cheapest way to teach. Putting interactive technology in the classroom requires support personnel for the technology, training for faculty, etc.

    Small-group discussions require smaller class size, which is not cheap.

    In principle, online classes are scalable, but the good ones require more investment and hence more scale to recover the costs. Posting your powerpoints online and saying "Read the book, skim these, and do the quiz" is cheap. Having them work through interactive exercises and whatnot? That requires more development and maintenance as browser technologies and whatnot evolve. Not so cheap.

    "Flipping" the classroom is a progressive buzzword for "Do the damn reading before class so that we can discuss applications and subtleties after you've gotten the basics down." There are reasons, related to the human nature of students and faculty alike, why that arrangement was rarely followed. Getting beyond that will take a lot of work by BOTH parties (students and faculty), whether they do the damn reading before class on an LCD or on paper. If "flipping" works better with digital technology, it will be because administering quizzes online before class gets the faculty more information faster than administering a quiz on paper at the beginning of class.

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