Friday, July 19, 2013

A very confused paragraph at U.S. News on pre-meds

It's common to hear sweeping generalizations among STEM advocates about the lack of diversity and interest across all STEM fields. One educator took aim at this idea in a Tuesday panel discussion at the U.S. News Stem Solutions 2013 conference. 
"Not all STEM fields are created equal," said Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College. "If I look at biology and chemistry classes, they are probably about 60 percent female, and there are a lot of students of color in those classes." 
That sounds like a great thing, but Klawe cautioned that there is not job market demand for all of those students once they graduate. "They all think they're going to be doctors and the vast majority of them will not become doctors," she said. 
While these students have advanced science skills, they may not command the same salary and employer interest as a computer programmer. Women and students of color are least represented in computer science, electrical engineering, and computer engineering, said Klawe.
One imagines that President Klawe was referring to the difficulty in achieving entry into medical school; the reporter seems to have missed that one.

[If I were cynical, I would note that a not-insignificant portion of chemical and biological academia is involved in training pre-meds who will not become physicians. It is not a wonder that the upper-level majors courses seem to be more desirable for faculty to teach, as opposed to Chemistry 201.]

I would not tell a group of pre-meds "Hey, if you don't make it into med school, go become a chemist!" However, I would tell a group of pre-meds, "hey, you should think about the computer skills of the future, and try to get some of them." Readers, how about you?  


  1. When I was a TA I would often tell my students that there's no such thing as a pre-med, only a future former pre-med. I don't think they fully appreciated my subtle wit...

  2. Considering the president was from HMC she was probably not referring to premed. She was referring to PhDs. HMC is the top chemistry undergraduate school in the United States. It is expected that the majority of the class will go to graduate school to obtain a PhD. However, more and more Mudders are quitting with MS degrees due to the poor job market for chemists.

    1. Innnnteresting. Care to comment more? E-mail me at chemjobber-at-gmail/dot/com.

  3. Any Mudder could get into a good medical school.

    1. I was one of ~2 "pre-meds" in my class at Mudd a couple years back. I majored in chemistry, thesis research in a synthetic organic lab. ("Pre-med" at Harvey Mudd usually translates to being a normal chem or bio major, with a couple schedule restrictions, the MCAT, and a greater desire to overcome the low-GPA effect. I never met any stereotypical pre-meds there.)

      I didn't get into med school during my senior year, and the second round (admittedly with undistinguished work record during time off) I only barely squeaked in. So I would change your statement to:
      Any Mudder with above-average time management, sufficient clinical experience, and good explanatory skills could get into a good medical school.

      I've also heard through the grapevine of a couple Mudd classmates that have quit grad school at a Master's (or before). Or ones who get the Ph.D. and want to leave lab work.

    2. "Any Mudder could get into a good medical school" - yes, but the underinflated Mudd GPA is a problem at many top-tier MD schools. Once you're in, though, the coursework isn't harder than a challenging lower-division course like stems or P-chem.

  4. I don't know, it seems to me that computer skills are overrated when it comes to ensuring a career or job security. It's hard to tell, also, what the market is really for - there seems to be more of a market for ephemeral coding "needs" and not much of one for higher level thinking and analysis skills; also the market for "maintenance and troubleshooting" skills is probably best of all *provided one can get on the inside track* which absent geography, personal contacts or experience seems incredibly hard to do. Also being *on the inside track* apparently means that your employers will overlook any lack of formal credentials (e.g. a college degree, or actual computer classes).

    My personal experience (and looking at others I know) - having computing skills doesn't hurt, but it doesn't really help either - and most employers are all too willing to send available (related) positions overseas. I lost interest when it became overwhelmingly apparent that my government was more interested in importing students and teaching them this material, and overlooking whatever problems were apparent in that process (e.g. dishonesty, cheating, lack of applicable English-language skills, incapacity to communicate effectively), than it was in having citizens train and find applicable work - moreover, that my government was willing to badmouth its own citizens in that position.