Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) -

I don't think science is intrinsically more challenging than any other curriculum. I suppose it is harder to fake proficiency. But ultimately it is all a question of degree of difficulty and standards. And that is where the liberal arts have shot themselves in the heart.

Liberal arts grading is much more generous, and the curriculum can be even more so. A savvy student can duck hard classes, since there is not much of a core curriculum any longer. So as a credential--and that's 90% of what a degree represents, a credential--a liberal arts degree is a much less reliable marker than a science/engineering degree.

Doesn't have to be that way, but it's how things have evolved.


  1. You really don't think organic chemistry for example is intrinsically, objectively harder than just about any grad-level liberal arts seminar? I definitely do.

  2. Yeah, I really do tend to think that. It's a question of what is demanded by the coursework. For instance, if the hurdle to getting an A in a poetry class were to write poetry that doesn't make the reader gag, I think you would find the curve would mirror that in engineering classes (where only 15-20% of students get an A). Or in a history class, to come up with original ideas connecting a leader, era or events with some other period in history--that is not even necessarily part of the coursework, and thus would require self-guided, outside research.

    (To take the O-Chem example in particular--the field is traditionally a weed-out, and requires TONS of memorization.)