Bill Purves purves at MUDDCS.CS.HMC.EDU
Sat Feb 22 19:12:16 EST 1997

At 03:31 PM 2/22/97 -0800, David Robinson wrote:

>If the majority of biology majors are not really committed to the hard
>work and inquisitiveness that it takes to be a biologist are we
>really doing them any great favors by being "namby/pamby" with them the
>first semester? I'm not saying that we should purposely make the first
>semester difficult just to "screen out" the students who are really
>committed from the ones who are just attracted by the salary and prestige
>of being surgeons. But I do wonder if starting out with the more
>challenging concepts of molecules, cells, metabolism, and genetics 
>is a better way to let students know if they "have what it takes to get
>into medical school" right from the start, rather than encouraging their
>delusions for a couple semesters more. Isn't this codependence?
>Alternatively, though, maybe we should be more concerned with biology's
>generally lousy retention rates by making the courses more relevant and
>interesting. Does biology always have to have the worse retention of all
>the undergraduate disciplines?

Interesting thoughts about a phenomenon we've probably all thought about!

Two comments to the group:

1. If you're not familiar with Sheila Tobias's little book "They're Not
Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier," I commend it to
your attention.  The book is published by Research Corporation (1990).
If one buys into Tobias's thesis (as do I), one will incline to some
version of David's "alternative" suggestion.

2. There are campus-political reasons, personal-satisfaction reasons,
and others to be concerned about losses of majors.  But we might
also think about the phenomenon of students arriving in droves,
thinking (often with poor reason) that they want to become physicians.
Do we want to retain them all as physicians? as bio or botany majors?
What good reasons are there for any student to major in biology?  Do
our programs serve their real needs?  If somebody does a lousy job
in an introductory course, does this mean that the person has no
future in biology? or in college?  If somebody finds a course "hostile,"
is it the student's fault?  If somebody does a GREAT job in a biology
curriculum, should we feel bad if she decides to go off and do
something else?


William K. Purves              phone: 909.626.4859
2817 N. Mountain Avenue   voice mail: 909.621.8021
Claremont, CA 91711-1550         fax: 909.626.7030
USA                    e-mail: Bill_Purves at

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