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Megan Brown mbrown at fred
Mon Nov 24 15:56:32 EST 1997

l sian gramates (siang at wilde.oit.umass.edu) wrote:
: Amanda Kesner (kesner at aecom.yu.edu) wrote:
: : 
: : I'm sorry to say that this was my experience, too, at MIT.  Most of my
: : classes WERE aimed at the pre-meds, and therefore, were almost solely
: : focused on memorizing the "facts"  that the profs wanted you to
: : regurgitate, rather than learning concepts and critical thinking.  Very,
: : very few of my bio courses taught these really important skills, and the
: : students that were there to learn, rather than get into med school,
: : suffered greatly.  (I am forced to admit, however, that during my time at
: : MIT, I knew exactly 2 bio majors other than myself who were not pre-med. 
: : One is in law school, now, and the other is planning on entering grad
: : school next fall like me.  So much for teaching the future researchers...) 
: : Just my gripes on the subject...

: that's incredibly disturbing to hear!  i was an undergrad at MIT over
: a decade ago, and my experience was completely the opposite; biology
: teaching then was geared almost entirely towards critical thinking
: with very little regurgitation of facts.  there was a minimum of
: catering to the desires of premeds (who were expected to learn to
: reason just like those of us headed towards research.  and most of
: us were).  nearly every exam i took in my major was open book & open
: notes.

In some ways, I'm not surprised to hear this discrepancy in the two MIT
grads' experiences. Funding has really tightened up in the last 10-15
years and perhaps one result has been that PIs have even less time to
devote to their teaching, but must devote day and night to their research
efforts. I'm sorry that undergrads at such a well-respected place as MIT
have to suffer these results.

Occasionally I see calls in various forums
or the media for a "teacher-class" of scientists, who would be responsible
for instructing undergrads at research-oriented universities.
(Perhaps this system is already in place at some institutions.) These
professional teachers would have Ph.D.s but not have their own labs.
Presumably they would be excellent teachers and really interested in
providing a quality education experience for the undergrads and so
undergrads would benefit. I have mixed feelings about such proposals. On
the one hand, having excellent teachers really dedicated to their craft
would be a plus, and certainly the difficult science job market might
improve if more positions were to materialize. But on the other hand,
perhaps it is important that young students be exposed to professors who
are actively engaged in research. These professors might bring something
valuable to their classroom lectures that derive from their research
experiences that cannot be provided by non-research teachers, who
would keep up on research by reading journals and going to seminars rather
than by actually doing it.


Megan Brown
mbrown at fred.fhcrc.org
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Seattle, Washington

home page at http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/4707

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