STEM vs. humanities: a conversational guide

Picture this: you’re sitting in the Blue Room munching on a French toast muffin alone and someone asks to join your booth. You of course say yes, and in an effort to make sharing a table a little less awkward with a complete stranger, you look to the notes they are pulling out to make small talk about their classes. But alas! It’s all chemistry and calculus, and all you know is humanities. Disillusioned, you are forced to return to the uncomfortable silence and weird looks when you accidentally play footsie with your STEM stranger.

We all know and love and stress about Brown’s open curriculum, which gives us the freedom to take (or not take) whatever classes we choose. But the ability to focus on either STEM or humanities creates a gap in understanding our friends on the dark side (the dark side being up to interpretation).  Those awkward pauses in conversation when you have no idea how to comment on some class a friend is complaining about, or straight up don’t know what they are talking, are avoidable. We want to help you navigate those conversations with confidence, so study up.

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STEM:

CS 15: First of all, I had no idea what CS stood for, and in the interest of saving others from the embarrassment of having to ask, it’s computer science. CS 15 in particular is essentially Intro to Computer Science, and the bane of existence for those students, so be sure to express extreme sympathy for people complaining about it.

Fishbowl: Where dreams go to die. It’s where are aforementioned CS students go to get help during TA hours, but are usually never heard from again. If your friend says they’re going there, send regular text updates assuring them they will some day see the real sun again.

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Labs: It’s not your high school lab where things changed color and that was it. Chemistry labs in particular take up entire afternoons, and the pre-lab and lab reports that go with it, so don’t expect to see friends in lab much.

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Why humanities? Paxson weighs in

That scarf though

Questions concerning the worth of humanities may have always been present, but these concerns have become an obsession nationally—perhaps internationally—this year. There was the Florida Governor who wanted to charge students more for majoring in the non-STEM subjects. The unequivocally titled New York Times article “The Decline and Fall of the English Major” was essentially a letter to us college students, begging us not to neglect the diminishing art of writing. Closer to home, there was the Herald‘s report that 54 percent of students were concentrating in 10 subjects of our offered 79, English being the only humanity to grace the top ten. We can blame the economy, the government, the man; at the end of the day, it just means I’m scared of the fact my shopping cart has such ‘impractical’ classes.

Late this summer, The New Republic published an article by our very own President Paxson praising the humanities from an economic standpoint. While it may seem studying Plato, who never had a good idea for an app, or Jane Austen, who I doubt would have been the ideal employee for McKinsey, is both irrelevant to success in today’s world and of less value to our society than, say, taking CS-0150, Paxson argues that not immediately seeing the importance of something doesn’t diminish its importance. Translation: Randomness is key. Weird knowledge can be weirdly useful knowledge. (I’m sure we’ve all also had about five professors talk about how class they randomly took  ‘changed their lives’—I find it adorable every time.) Paxson also argues the importance of humanities concentrators in considering our place in an increasingly globalized and technologically advanced world. Whether you agree with all her points or not, it’s something to consider before Banner locks us out.

Check out The New Yorker‘s take on Paxson’s piece here.

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TEDxBrownU videos make me feel good about myself

Especially as I reach the mid-point of my senior year, I have been over-rationalizing how I’ve used my time here at Brown. Yes. yes, I said that taking all those humanities classes taught me how to think and write and explore. But maybe, just maybe, I should have been been a science major? Maybe I should be taking computer science classes??? OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE.

TEDxBrownUniversity posted videos of eleven talks that were given at the event earlier this semester. I forgot to attend had other engagements, but alumni of Brown from many fields and careers talked about “life, learning and a liberal education.”

When everyone is annoyingly asking me “What are you doing after you graduate?” and “Are you going to law school?”, these videos remind me why I came here in the first place: to learn about something I’m passionate about, not to systematically determine the most profitable field. Some people are passionate about medicine, but I’m not. History is no less “real” and I truly believe that studying humanities has taught me how to be creative, curious, critical and innovative. I am (pretty) sure I’m not just saying that to make my future seem less horribly unclear.

Notice the use of the word “unpack” at 2:02 in the video above, and watch the rest of the videos here.


(Dis)appointment 2012: “I am honored to accept your nomination…”

Ted Turner ’60 — just look at that ‘stache.

The search for Brown University’s next president is bound to be an arduous, painful process, as the committee figures out which candidate will be able to make the University the most money while simultaneously carpet-bombing the collective soul of all humanities concentrators.  But why must they choose from people with experience in managing institutions of higher ed?  After all, that hasn’t really proved to be an ironclad route to success.  Here are five candidates who undoubtedly know nothing about running a University, but who would allow us to get more excited when we see “Letter to the Community from President ______” in our inboxes.  Plus, they’re all alums.  Hooray for institutional nepotism!

1.  Lois Lowry ’58.  Yeah yeah, she dropped out her sophomore year to get married, whatever.  More important is the fact that she wrote that book we all read in fourth grade.  The one with Gandalf on the cover?  It won the Corndog Medal or something?  Point is, if we hand Lowry the helm, perhaps we can finally get some goddamn closure regarding the ending of The Giver.  I for one really want to know what happens after the protagonist and his mysterious baby friend go on that hypothermia-induced sled ride, and whether he eventually hooks up with that girl (the one who he hoped would start stripping down in an old folks’ home).  So much good thesis material there.  Continue Reading


A bit too close to home?